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Islaja - SUU [Monika Enterprise; 2014]
Four years have passed since 2010’s Keraaminen Pää, an image of Islaja as ethereal folk pixie strength. The events of the prolonged silence, summed up by the change-of-direction of SUU, has diminished the old image of Merja Kokkonen. In its place, the rise of an avant electro-clash diva confident in voice and vision.“I am so vain/Only making my music/I am so vain that I guess it keeps me sane/Talking to myself like a friend”
SUU will have its detractors who preferred the foggy temperament of past Islaja releases. But change drives artistry and in the four years between releases, Kokkonen has found a new voice (never mind much of it being English) within her adopted Berlin. SUU beacons to the days of the divided monolith, where musicians played the songs of emancipation against the backdrop of an imprisoning wall.
The starkness of a scarred Berlin façade dots SUU. The thinning melody of opener “Skeleton Walk” introduces a bony character scrounging for a meal amid a desolate city. The throbbing beat and distant growls of follow-up “See No Sun,” brings heat to a cold city. It’s a theme present through much of SUU; a trope Kokkonen has not abandoned.
As Islaja, minimalism has long been the foundation for Kokkonen’s work. But with SUU, she’s editing down thoughts and sound further until they grab raw nerves. Even the most flawed moments (the clumsy itinerary of “Travel Light,” and overtly lengthy “Sandals of Alice”) become part of the arching narrative, sprouting into anthems rather than failures.
“I let the shit hit the fan”
Though her mouth ceremoniously agape (SUU being Finnish for mouth), the real Islaja emerges in the silences, speaking volumes to what is heard when we close our mouths. Though she claims a fear of slightly overdoing it during “Shit Hit the Fan,” truth is by allowing herself to follow course, she’s found a new, confident voice without betraying her previous iteration. One last reflection of SUU brings to mind Laurie Anderson’s “From the Air,” and its sage observation: “This is the record of the time/This is the time/And this is the record of the time.”

Islaja - SUU [Monika Enterprise; 2014]

Four years have passed since 2010’s Keraaminen Pää, an image of Islaja as ethereal folk pixie strength. The events of the prolonged silence, summed up by the change-of-direction of SUU, has diminished the old image of Merja Kokkonen. In its place, the rise of an avant electro-clash diva confident in voice and vision.

“I am so vain/Only making my music/I am so vain that I guess it keeps me sane/Talking to myself like a friend”

SUU will have its detractors who preferred the foggy temperament of past Islaja releases. But change drives artistry and in the four years between releases, Kokkonen has found a new voice (never mind much of it being English) within her adopted Berlin. SUU beacons to the days of the divided monolith, where musicians played the songs of emancipation against the backdrop of an imprisoning wall.

The starkness of a scarred Berlin façade dots SUU. The thinning melody of opener “Skeleton Walk” introduces a bony character scrounging for a meal amid a desolate city. The throbbing beat and distant growls of follow-up “See No Sun,” brings heat to a cold city. It’s a theme present through much of SUU; a trope Kokkonen has not abandoned.

As Islaja, minimalism has long been the foundation for Kokkonen’s work. But with SUU, she’s editing down thoughts and sound further until they grab raw nerves. Even the most flawed moments (the clumsy itinerary of “Travel Light,” and overtly lengthy “Sandals of Alice”) become part of the arching narrative, sprouting into anthems rather than failures.

“I let the shit hit the fan”

Though her mouth ceremoniously agape (SUU being Finnish for mouth), the real Islaja emerges in the silences, speaking volumes to what is heard when we close our mouths. Though she claims a fear of slightly overdoing it during “Shit Hit the Fan,” truth is by allowing herself to follow course, she’s found a new, confident voice without betraying her previous iteration. One last reflection of SUU brings to mind Laurie Anderson’s “From the Air,” and its sage observation: “This is the record of the time/This is the time/And this is the record of the time.”

Thee Tsunamis - Delirium & Dark Waters [Magnetic South; 2014]
As most like-minded bands chase the future, Thee Tsunamis retreat deeper into a kitschy past. And in that womb of horror b-roll and microfiche news print,Delirium & Dark Waters exists as the testament to rock and roll as an ancient storytelling device; the evils and ills that society still has not exorcised. Thee Tsunamis are always in the midst of a horrible night (for a curse), running around in the Mystery Machine to unmask misbehaving men, feral sexuality, and forgotten anti-heroes of swamp blues and psychedelic panhandlers. One giant ghost hunt that uncovers so much to drive us toward our eventual evolution. Until such a time when we advance toward whatever bright future we’ve promised ourselves in the annuls of science fiction for 100 years, we’ll keep our noses in the pulp of Delirium & Dark Waters. At least in these depths, we’ve found kindred spirits that see that there’s much to still understand about the past before we can move on. All that garage and surf to rejuvenate our poorly souls. May Thee Tsunamis have mercy on us until, letting us rejoice in their splendor before the Rapture.

Thee Tsunamis - Delirium & Dark Waters [Magnetic South; 2014]

As most like-minded bands chase the future, Thee Tsunamis retreat deeper into a kitschy past. And in that womb of horror b-roll and microfiche news print,Delirium & Dark Waters exists as the testament to rock and roll as an ancient storytelling device; the evils and ills that society still has not exorcised. Thee Tsunamis are always in the midst of a horrible night (for a curse), running around in the Mystery Machine to unmask misbehaving men, feral sexuality, and forgotten anti-heroes of swamp blues and psychedelic panhandlers. One giant ghost hunt that uncovers so much to drive us toward our eventual evolution. Until such a time when we advance toward whatever bright future we’ve promised ourselves in the annuls of science fiction for 100 years, we’ll keep our noses in the pulp of Delirium & Dark Waters. At least in these depths, we’ve found kindred spirits that see that there’s much to still understand about the past before we can move on. All that garage and surf to rejuvenate our poorly souls. May Thee Tsunamis have mercy on us until, letting us rejoice in their splendor before the Rapture.

Michael Wohl - Eight Pieces for Solo Guitar [Self-Released; 2014]
Scabs and all; it’s the sound of playing guitar in which Eight Pieces for Solo Guitar elegantly floats down its sea of Alphabets and milk (at least that’s what Michael Wohl’s cover resembles). The Seattle musician eschews the city’s current penchant for pop folk and synthesized experiments in favor of some traditional plucking, sliding, and strumming. All the old analogies myself and myriad reviewers have unpacked for decades worth of Fahey/Basho/Kottke revelry could occupy your hotel room with this album (Wohl even includes his own brand of Fahey’s “Poor Boy Long Way from Home”) and so what? When you turn to isolated guitar signatures for vacation accouterments, it’s what you want. Eight Pieces keeps it bare so you can hear the skill and jubilation of playing guitar rather than the heady study of the art form. That way Wohl makes sure to leave space in your luggage for the plush hotel robe, as warm as the music Wohl envelopes us with on what is hopefully just the start of his travel agent/guitar aficionado cross-over career.

Michael Wohl - Eight Pieces for Solo Guitar [Self-Released; 2014]

Scabs and all; it’s the sound of playing guitar in which Eight Pieces for Solo Guitar elegantly floats down its sea of Alphabets and milk (at least that’s what Michael Wohl’s cover resembles). The Seattle musician eschews the city’s current penchant for pop folk and synthesized experiments in favor of some traditional plucking, sliding, and strumming. All the old analogies myself and myriad reviewers have unpacked for decades worth of Fahey/Basho/Kottke revelry could occupy your hotel room with this album (Wohl even includes his own brand of Fahey’s “Poor Boy Long Way from Home”) and so what? When you turn to isolated guitar signatures for vacation accouterments, it’s what you want. Eight Pieces keeps it bare so you can hear the skill and jubilation of playing guitar rather than the heady study of the art form. That way Wohl makes sure to leave space in your luggage for the plush hotel robe, as warm as the music Wohl envelopes us with on what is hopefully just the start of his travel agent/guitar aficionado cross-over career.

C.J. Boyd - The Space Between Us [Joyful Noise; 2014]
What does a man possess if that man possesses nothing? The clothes on his back, the tool(s) of his trade, and the comfort of the road. For a man proclaiming to be perpetually traveling–without a home–one wonders what C.J. Boyd has beyond the simplest means to identify himself. But maybe it’s the wrong question. Not to get all Tyler Durden, but we have become possessed by our possessions. I’m not giving up anything hard-gained, but I can’t help but feel that C.J. Boyd is passionately (if exhaustively) living out the nomad in all of us.
But it renders his music breathtaking. That is literal. Every time I put the needle down on his records, all the air goes straight to the abyss of Boyd’s rumbling bass. It feeds on it like fire, belching up a smoke stack as it washes over the room. The Space Between Us serves as a 14-minute teaser to Boyd’s upcoming album but is greater served as its own entity. Two 7-minute tracks of menacing, hard-knuckled musings that hum like the pavement underneath Boyd’s tires. There is no need for wanton mentions of life on the road or unending weariness; the excesses of classic rock stardom do not weigh heavy on Boyd’s conscious. His life as a vagabond is chosen because to survive in music today, you must be a road warrior or a hit maker. Boyd’s craft is not the latter and be glad it isn’t. These are hits of a different caliber, and the power within these 14-minutes speaks volumes of what true gifts Boyd possesses. They are more valuable than just about any commodity I own.

C.J. Boyd - The Space Between Us [Joyful Noise; 2014]

What does a man possess if that man possesses nothing? The clothes on his back, the tool(s) of his trade, and the comfort of the road. For a man proclaiming to be perpetually traveling–without a home–one wonders what C.J. Boyd has beyond the simplest means to identify himself. But maybe it’s the wrong question. Not to get all Tyler Durden, but we have become possessed by our possessions. I’m not giving up anything hard-gained, but I can’t help but feel that C.J. Boyd is passionately (if exhaustively) living out the nomad in all of us.

But it renders his music breathtaking. That is literal. Every time I put the needle down on his records, all the air goes straight to the abyss of Boyd’s rumbling bass. It feeds on it like fire, belching up a smoke stack as it washes over the room. The Space Between Us serves as a 14-minute teaser to Boyd’s upcoming album but is greater served as its own entity. Two 7-minute tracks of menacing, hard-knuckled musings that hum like the pavement underneath Boyd’s tires. There is no need for wanton mentions of life on the road or unending weariness; the excesses of classic rock stardom do not weigh heavy on Boyd’s conscious. His life as a vagabond is chosen because to survive in music today, you must be a road warrior or a hit maker. Boyd’s craft is not the latter and be glad it isn’t. These are hits of a different caliber, and the power within these 14-minutes speaks volumes of what true gifts Boyd possesses. They are more valuable than just about any commodity I own.

Hobo Cubes - Apex Ideals [Debacle; 2014] 
What’s long been the draw of Francesco De Gallo’s work is the line it straddles between all-out noise and all-in ambiance. A gifted composer able to combine the serene with the severe,Apex Ideals comes heavy with a lofty proclamation and knocks us cold with its fascist fist of proof. Step inside “Subtle Sleep” and realize for all its slumbering melody, eyelid flutters, nighttime buzzes and creaks, and short circuiting synapses interrupt truly peaceful dreams. The restless “Unit” cuts through the white noise with a pulsating buzz saw, not unlike the Art Deco rainbow that scores the blank canvas of the album’s cover. It’s a never-ending cascade of colorful annoyances that ruins tranquility and subverts the everyday fracas. De Gallo, you truly have presented a thesis statement of heft and to truly understand it – you’re going to have to give me a lifetime. For now, let’s just say it’s well worth the research for 249 adventurous listeners.

Hobo Cubes - Apex Ideals [Debacle; 2014] 

What’s long been the draw of Francesco De Gallo’s work is the line it straddles between all-out noise and all-in ambiance. A gifted composer able to combine the serene with the severe,Apex Ideals comes heavy with a lofty proclamation and knocks us cold with its fascist fist of proof. Step inside “Subtle Sleep” and realize for all its slumbering melody, eyelid flutters, nighttime buzzes and creaks, and short circuiting synapses interrupt truly peaceful dreams. The restless “Unit” cuts through the white noise with a pulsating buzz saw, not unlike the Art Deco rainbow that scores the blank canvas of the album’s cover. It’s a never-ending cascade of colorful annoyances that ruins tranquility and subverts the everyday fracas. De Gallo, you truly have presented a thesis statement of heft and to truly understand it – you’re going to have to give me a lifetime. For now, let’s just say it’s well worth the research for 249 adventurous listeners.

Recent Asheville transplant Angel Olsen and I began our chat communing over the abundance of trees in our respective locations. Then the psychological profiling began, which is really just a stuttering journalist with a notebook full of questions timidly asking Angel her thoughts on inspiration, characterization, and optimism.
Turns out, just like most of your favorite pop stars, Angel isn’t really singing about herself in her music, but that doesn’t stop it from being engaging and relatable, as evidenced by the addition of a full band and louder sound on the newly minted Burn Your Fire for No Witness.
We talk to Angel about her new bandmates, songwriting, and her dark humor.
When did writing Burn Your Fire for No Witness begin?
It began right before Half Way Home was released, as well as “May as Well,” which comes along with the album. It was written when I wasn’t touring for Half Way Home and a few more songs two weeks before getting into the studio.
Where these songs written with Half Way Home in mind that didn’t fit with the tone of that album?
I was just ready to write different stuff. Much of Half Way Home was old music, which was written right after Strange Cacti and I went on tour with Bonnie “Prince” Billy. And I even did a single called “Sweet Dreams,” which is very much like [Burn Your Fire for No Witness].
It’s this idea of going back and forth between that kind of music and a loud kind of music. A lot is written sporadically, but this year it just all happened within the same time period.
You mention loud music. Were you aiming to write louder?
After the release of Half Way Home I went on a solo tour and I realized I wanted to work with a band because I thought it would bring more sound to what I was already doing. I think it all fell into place. I was writing material that, in my mind, would go better with more musicians. Also, I was ready to share what I had written and figure out how to communicate it with people. Before that I wasn’t really ready to work with anyone.
Ultimately, I got the band together and that created that sound — we all created that sound.
Did you have anyone specific in mind when putting together a band?
Not really. What happened was [Half Way Home] came out and I was working at a café with a drummer (Joshua Jaeger) but didn’t know that he played music. So he wrote me one day and said ‘I play drums’ and I was like ‘You play drums?’
So we got some coffee and I wasn’t expecting him to be good [Laughs]. But we ended up playing music and he had already listened to the EP and the album and practiced along to the songs. To me, it showed he really wanted to play with me in a band and be a part of something musical.
Then Josh introduced me to his friend, Stewart (Bronaugh). I didn’t understand him at first. He was very quiet at first and kind of dirty. I was like ‘Who is this guy?’ Now Stewart and I are best buds. Anyway, they’re also in a band and had a communication down as far as playing together. We practiced a lot during the winter and went on tour in the spring for Half Way Home.
When I introduced the new material over time, they were ready for it and into it. Especially since it was a different vibe from the quieter stuff. They were open to the minimal stuff as well, but I think they were psyched to be doing something a little different.
What was their input into the direction or sound of the songs?
Josh plays organ on “Slow Dance Decades” and Stewart plays piano on “Hi-Five” and “High & Wild,” so some of [their contributions] were like that. Other things were we’d make a sound and Stewart would make that sound happen.
We would go back and forth. They would practice without me and then say, ‘We have to show you something.’ And I’d be, ‘That’s really cool’ or, ‘That’s not the way the song is going.’ We were all honest with each other about it. By the time we got into the studio we had pretty much figured out what the album would sound like and what songs wouldn’t have a band on them.
Speaking of “Hi-Five” and “High & Wild,” they seem to take a different tact than some of the other songs on the album. Was that influenced by Stewart’s playing or a specific sound you were trying to create?
Funny, after writing “High & Wild,” it reminds me of Lou Reed. I don’t know, maybe I’m giving myself too much credit. The vibe of it — it being dark and the fact that I’m not really singing at first — I hadn’t really written anything like it. I was entering a world of country mixed with… maybe… The Velvet Underground.
Stewart and Josh have a way of taking something I present to them… they play along to it immediately and get it. They really understand the sounds I’m hearing in my head. I feel like it’s kind of fucked up, actually. It’s cool to be working with these people who are growing with me and have a punk-rock kind of training instead of being, “We’ve worked with so-and-so.” They don’t have that attitude.
With a title like Burn Your Fire for No Witness and the imagery of isolation it presents, do you think there is a sense of isolation in the music though some of it has been a collaboration?
Oh yeah! The songs haven’t changed that much from the skeleton I presented them with. There’s still a lot of solitude going on and they’re pretty respectful of the songs. They were even like, ‘Dude, you need to sing that song by yourself.’ They were very encouraging and I think it’s cool that they are very supportive of that. I see there’s been a change in what I’m writing, especially with a band, but I feel my writing goes to both extremes. I’ll still continue to write quiet songs even when working with people.
I like to celebrate transparency. I like the idea of taking your life and, even if you don’t have a problem, creating a character or world. I feel a lot of the songs are emotions coming from characters in my life, or characters that I’ve been, or characters that I’ve seen that are resurfacing as I reflect, as I’m living life.
Maybe this is a lofty thing to say, but I feel like in interviews, it’s difficult because people will ask questions and I’ll want to say something intelligent. But at the same time, I don’t want to talk too much about it because it’s not that big of a deal; it’s just the writing process.
I think it’s different for everyone. For me, it makes for reflecting and I don’t know if those feelings are real or if they are created feelings. And then I write a song about it.
So don’t overthink it.
Yeah. And sometimes later on I’ll realize that maybe it had something to do with me. Or sometimes I just don’t know where it came from. I think that’s true for a lot of writers. I read something the other day: A question was asked to some novelist: ‘Do you have a concept in mind for your writing?’ Though I feel like a lot of writers have a storyline and a concept that’s created, sometimes people just take something from the writing that the writer has no control over. That’s the fun part of writing something, not explaining it and letting people find their own story in it.
But I feel like the writing I’m putting out on this record and previous stuff is very bare, but I don’t feel like I’m the only one that’s ever written about it. And I’m never embarrassed performing it because I’m not attached to it in a way that it might seem on an album.
Are you trying to separate yourself from your characters?
I’m definitely a different person in my songs than I am in my daily interactions with friends. Those characters are different. What happens is I have an extreme thought and I put it into song and it has a power that can become a mantra — it’s like you’re repeating it over and over again. There are things I think about that are passing thoughts. They aren’t things I’m going to think about forever or even all day.
Part of it is just allowing myself to do what I just naturally do.
Do you save darker thoughts for your songs?
Yeah, I have a dark sense of humor and I think about dark things but I also think about happy things every day. I just think a lot and tend to put whatever it is that I’ve witnessed people struggling with, or what I’ve struggled with myself, into my writing. Sometimes it ends up in songs and then I’m like, ‘Wow, I don’t really feel that way anymore but it’s cool because somebody else feels that.’ I’ll share it. I’ll put it in a song.
Was there any purpose behind ending the album with the more optimistic “Windows”?
Putting all the songs together after they were finished, it made sense, but I didn’t plan it like that. To me, the song is different to the other material we recorded. There are four others songs that we recorded like it and they didn’t end up on the album — they have a similar feel to them — and I think “Windows” is the strongest of them. I thought it would be interesting to end on a note like that. Something completely different.
Is the theme of letting go one you are exploring more?
Maybe. A couple of songs that didn’t make Burn Your Fire for No Witnessfollow that theme. I hope to put them out on a 7-inch or something.
I’m already writing a lot of new material now and I can tell that it is a bit more upbeat stuff. Maybe it’s just what I’ve been listening to or my mindset has changed. I’m just changing as a human being [Laughs] and inspired by different things.
I don’t know what my next thing will be like. It could take me another three years to write something or it could be ready in a few months.

Recent Asheville transplant Angel Olsen and I began our chat communing over the abundance of trees in our respective locations. Then the psychological profiling began, which is really just a stuttering journalist with a notebook full of questions timidly asking Angel her thoughts on inspiration, characterization, and optimism.

Turns out, just like most of your favorite pop stars, Angel isn’t really singing about herself in her music, but that doesn’t stop it from being engaging and relatable, as evidenced by the addition of a full band and louder sound on the newly minted Burn Your Fire for No Witness.

We talk to Angel about her new bandmates, songwriting, and her dark humor.


When did writing Burn Your Fire for No Witness begin?

It began right before Half Way Home was released, as well as “May as Well,” which comes along with the album. It was written when I wasn’t touring for Half Way Home and a few more songs two weeks before getting into the studio.

Where these songs written with Half Way Home in mind that didn’t fit with the tone of that album?

I was just ready to write different stuff. Much of Half Way Home was old music, which was written right after Strange Cacti and I went on tour with Bonnie “Prince” Billy. And I even did a single called “Sweet Dreams,” which is very much like [Burn Your Fire for No Witness].

It’s this idea of going back and forth between that kind of music and a loud kind of music. A lot is written sporadically, but this year it just all happened within the same time period.

You mention loud music. Were you aiming to write louder?

After the release of Half Way Home I went on a solo tour and I realized I wanted to work with a band because I thought it would bring more sound to what I was already doing. I think it all fell into place. I was writing material that, in my mind, would go better with more musicians. Also, I was ready to share what I had written and figure out how to communicate it with people. Before that I wasn’t really ready to work with anyone.

Ultimately, I got the band together and that created that sound — we all created that sound.

Did you have anyone specific in mind when putting together a band?

Not really. What happened was [Half Way Home] came out and I was working at a café with a drummer (Joshua Jaeger) but didn’t know that he played music. So he wrote me one day and said ‘I play drums’ and I was like ‘You play drums?’

So we got some coffee and I wasn’t expecting him to be good [Laughs]. But we ended up playing music and he had already listened to the EP and the album and practiced along to the songs. To me, it showed he really wanted to play with me in a band and be a part of something musical.

Then Josh introduced me to his friend, Stewart (Bronaugh). I didn’t understand him at first. He was very quiet at first and kind of dirty. I was like ‘Who is this guy?’ Now Stewart and I are best buds. Anyway, they’re also in a band and had a communication down as far as playing together. We practiced a lot during the winter and went on tour in the spring for Half Way Home.

When I introduced the new material over time, they were ready for it and into it. Especially since it was a different vibe from the quieter stuff. They were open to the minimal stuff as well, but I think they were psyched to be doing something a little different.

What was their input into the direction or sound of the songs?

Josh plays organ on “Slow Dance Decades” and Stewart plays piano on “Hi-Five” and “High & Wild,” so some of [their contributions] were like that. Other things were we’d make a sound and Stewart would make that sound happen.

We would go back and forth. They would practice without me and then say, ‘We have to show you something.’ And I’d be, ‘That’s really cool’ or, ‘That’s not the way the song is going.’ We were all honest with each other about it. By the time we got into the studio we had pretty much figured out what the album would sound like and what songs wouldn’t have a band on them.

Speaking of “Hi-Five” and “High & Wild,” they seem to take a different tact than some of the other songs on the album. Was that influenced by Stewart’s playing or a specific sound you were trying to create?

Funny, after writing “High & Wild,” it reminds me of Lou Reed. I don’t know, maybe I’m giving myself too much credit. The vibe of it — it being dark and the fact that I’m not really singing at first — I hadn’t really written anything like it. I was entering a world of country mixed with… maybe… The Velvet Underground.

Stewart and Josh have a way of taking something I present to them… they play along to it immediately and get it. They really understand the sounds I’m hearing in my head. I feel like it’s kind of fucked up, actually. It’s cool to be working with these people who are growing with me and have a punk-rock kind of training instead of being, “We’ve worked with so-and-so.” They don’t have that attitude.

With a title like Burn Your Fire for No Witness and the imagery of isolation it presents, do you think there is a sense of isolation in the music though some of it has been a collaboration?

Oh yeah! The songs haven’t changed that much from the skeleton I presented them with. There’s still a lot of solitude going on and they’re pretty respectful of the songs. They were even like, ‘Dude, you need to sing that song by yourself.’ They were very encouraging and I think it’s cool that they are very supportive of that. I see there’s been a change in what I’m writing, especially with a band, but I feel my writing goes to both extremes. I’ll still continue to write quiet songs even when working with people.

I like to celebrate transparency. I like the idea of taking your life and, even if you don’t have a problem, creating a character or world. I feel a lot of the songs are emotions coming from characters in my life, or characters that I’ve been, or characters that I’ve seen that are resurfacing as I reflect, as I’m living life.

Maybe this is a lofty thing to say, but I feel like in interviews, it’s difficult because people will ask questions and I’ll want to say something intelligent. But at the same time, I don’t want to talk too much about it because it’s not that big of a deal; it’s just the writing process.

I think it’s different for everyone. For me, it makes for reflecting and I don’t know if those feelings are real or if they are created feelings. And then I write a song about it.

So don’t overthink it.

Yeah. And sometimes later on I’ll realize that maybe it had something to do with me. Or sometimes I just don’t know where it came from. I think that’s true for a lot of writers. I read something the other day: A question was asked to some novelist: ‘Do you have a concept in mind for your writing?’ Though I feel like a lot of writers have a storyline and a concept that’s created, sometimes people just take something from the writing that the writer has no control over. That’s the fun part of writing something, not explaining it and letting people find their own story in it.

But I feel like the writing I’m putting out on this record and previous stuff is very bare, but I don’t feel like I’m the only one that’s ever written about it. And I’m never embarrassed performing it because I’m not attached to it in a way that it might seem on an album.

Are you trying to separate yourself from your characters?

I’m definitely a different person in my songs than I am in my daily interactions with friends. Those characters are different. What happens is I have an extreme thought and I put it into song and it has a power that can become a mantra — it’s like you’re repeating it over and over again. There are things I think about that are passing thoughts. They aren’t things I’m going to think about forever or even all day.

Part of it is just allowing myself to do what I just naturally do.

Do you save darker thoughts for your songs?

Yeah, I have a dark sense of humor and I think about dark things but I also think about happy things every day. I just think a lot and tend to put whatever it is that I’ve witnessed people struggling with, or what I’ve struggled with myself, into my writing. Sometimes it ends up in songs and then I’m like, ‘Wow, I don’t really feel that way anymore but it’s cool because somebody else feels that.’ I’ll share it. I’ll put it in a song.

Was there any purpose behind ending the album with the more optimistic “Windows”?

Putting all the songs together after they were finished, it made sense, but I didn’t plan it like that. To me, the song is different to the other material we recorded. There are four others songs that we recorded like it and they didn’t end up on the album — they have a similar feel to them — and I think “Windows” is the strongest of them. I thought it would be interesting to end on a note like that. Something completely different.

Is the theme of letting go one you are exploring more?

Maybe. A couple of songs that didn’t make Burn Your Fire for No Witnessfollow that theme. I hope to put them out on a 7-inch or something.

I’m already writing a lot of new material now and I can tell that it is a bit more upbeat stuff. Maybe it’s just what I’ve been listening to or my mindset has changed. I’m just changing as a human being [Laughs] and inspired by different things.

I don’t know what my next thing will be like. It could take me another three years to write something or it could be ready in a few months.

Mark McGuire - Along the Way [Dead Oceans; 2014]
Today marks an end. An era must come to a close. It is time to say goodnight to a staple of Agitated Atmosphere: Mark McGuire.This is not because McGuire has graduated to the big leagues but as happens, sometimes an old flame says goodbye and you must set them free. Along the Way, McGuire’s hefty double LP, is a slow motion wave farewell. Across that body of ocean and time, perched proudly upon the deck, he sails into the sunset as I stand on the port where emotions remain unchanged but the literal gap speaks to our growing philosophical changes.
Along the Way is a collection of McGuire’s previous work, be in the now-extinct Emeralds or as a young solo guitarist slowly picking out the notes and progressions worth following. The culmination of years of trial and error have led to this definitive statement on his place in the musical frontier and the path he chooses to follow. It’s a deft blend of the new age drone of Emeralds, with more of the skillful pop melodies he’s carved across a smattering of looped pastiche. The crowning achievement: how it all effortless blends together, not only from one song to the next but as pieces per composition.
Though we wave a hearty bon voyage between the watery rift, we are not going our separate ways. It’s a metaphorical goodbye to what was and acknowledgement that something new is to come. Along the Way is the frozen moment-in-time to capture this feeling before it floats way.

Mark McGuire - Along the Way [Dead Oceans; 2014]

Today marks an end. An era must come to a close. It is time to say goodnight to a staple of Agitated Atmosphere: Mark McGuire.

This is not because McGuire has graduated to the big leagues but as happens, sometimes an old flame says goodbye and you must set them free. Along the Way, McGuire’s hefty double LP, is a slow motion wave farewell. Across that body of ocean and time, perched proudly upon the deck, he sails into the sunset as I stand on the port where emotions remain unchanged but the literal gap speaks to our growing philosophical changes.

Along the Way is a collection of McGuire’s previous work, be in the now-extinct Emeralds or as a young solo guitarist slowly picking out the notes and progressions worth following. The culmination of years of trial and error have led to this definitive statement on his place in the musical frontier and the path he chooses to follow. It’s a deft blend of the new age drone of Emeralds, with more of the skillful pop melodies he’s carved across a smattering of looped pastiche. The crowning achievement: how it all effortless blends together, not only from one song to the next but as pieces per composition.

Though we wave a hearty bon voyage between the watery rift, we are not going our separate ways. It’s a metaphorical goodbye to what was and acknowledgement that something new is to come. Along the Way is the frozen moment-in-time to capture this feeling before it floats way.

Universal Son - Universal Son [Drone Warfare; 2014]
As a child weened on late 80s and early 90s alterna-rock, I find myself often gravitating toward sounds that replicate those melodies and build upon them. It seems what was brewing at the time was cut short by the resurgence of bubblegum and boy band teen beats. Of course, maybe it had run its course naturally and I just ignored it. No matter, as Universal Son dust off those treasured moments and plug them into the now. Familiar strains of melodious guitar and simple drum beats. Yes, it seems all too easy and clean. Which is where Universal Son changes it up a bit, adding distortion and odd interruptions in the most peculiar places. Seemingly on the track of 1994, Universal Son’s self-titled cassette is curious reinvention not unlike David Bowie; a chameleon able to change color and mood mid-song. Is it a joke on a genre or a forward tear down and repair – one never knows with the Thin White Duke. Though let’s not put Universal Son in such thin air, the lack of oxygen experience at one point in their life cycle has ruined traditional alternative machinations. In their place, this cassette of mismatched ideas that speak to the sum of parts. Much like the rhetoric of this review, so goes Universal Son all to our benefit. Go in expecting the unexpected and still come away surprised in spite of its familiarity.

Universal Son - Universal Son [Drone Warfare; 2014]

As a child weened on late 80s and early 90s alterna-rock, I find myself often gravitating toward sounds that replicate those melodies and build upon them. It seems what was brewing at the time was cut short by the resurgence of bubblegum and boy band teen beats. Of course, maybe it had run its course naturally and I just ignored it. No matter, as Universal Son dust off those treasured moments and plug them into the now. Familiar strains of melodious guitar and simple drum beats. Yes, it seems all too easy and clean. Which is where Universal Son changes it up a bit, adding distortion and odd interruptions in the most peculiar places. Seemingly on the track of 1994, Universal Son’s self-titled cassette is curious reinvention not unlike David Bowie; a chameleon able to change color and mood mid-song. Is it a joke on a genre or a forward tear down and repair – one never knows with the Thin White Duke. Though let’s not put Universal Son in such thin air, the lack of oxygen experience at one point in their life cycle has ruined traditional alternative machinations. In their place, this cassette of mismatched ideas that speak to the sum of parts. Much like the rhetoric of this review, so goes Universal Son all to our benefit. Go in expecting the unexpected and still come away surprised in spite of its familiarity.

Bill Baird - Diamond Eyepatch [Moon Glyph; 2014]
I’d like to teach the world to sing or some form of positivity that will be viewed cynically in our fast-paced megalomaniacal society where one’s social media triumph is also their disaster. But this is not the world of Bill Baird, who blissfully ignorant of trend and tradition, stands still in that perfect flower child moment of advertising genius – without the popular soft drink and in its place genuine awe at the world of sun, trees, hippies and sentimentality. I don’t know if “Trapped in Paradise” is some psychedelic pastiche of this idealism or just me projecting all of this on the asymmetrical pop of Diamond Eyepatchbut allow me this mistake if only to live in a fantasy where we’re all holding hands in a circle in an effort to stop the asteroid of division from striking us where we stand. I do know the 9-minute triptych that anchors the geodesic wander of this cassette will ward off the galactic Armageddon for awhile longer as we stand inside our Don Draper dream, oblivious to the bucolic nightmare that awaits once it hits in 1994. And in a flash, Baird will disappear and this future joy we’re having circa the past will go with it. But at least he taught the world to sing in imperfect harmony before saying goodbye to our broken planet. Now brought to you by Coke and consumerism.

Bill Baird - Diamond Eyepatch [Moon Glyph; 2014]

I’d like to teach the world to sing or some form of positivity that will be viewed cynically in our fast-paced megalomaniacal society where one’s social media triumph is also their disaster. But this is not the world of Bill Baird, who blissfully ignorant of trend and tradition, stands still in that perfect flower child moment of advertising genius – without the popular soft drink and in its place genuine awe at the world of sun, trees, hippies and sentimentality. I don’t know if “Trapped in Paradise” is some psychedelic pastiche of this idealism or just me projecting all of this on the asymmetrical pop of Diamond Eyepatchbut allow me this mistake if only to live in a fantasy where we’re all holding hands in a circle in an effort to stop the asteroid of division from striking us where we stand. I do know the 9-minute triptych that anchors the geodesic wander of this cassette will ward off the galactic Armageddon for awhile longer as we stand inside our Don Draper dream, oblivious to the bucolic nightmare that awaits once it hits in 1994. And in a flash, Baird will disappear and this future joy we’re having circa the past will go with it. But at least he taught the world to sing in imperfect harmony before saying goodbye to our broken planet. Now brought to you by Coke and consumerism.

Honey Radar - A Ballerina in Focus [Third Uncle; 2014]
My love of Jason Henn’s Honey Radar spills into 2014. Though promises of a hiatus makes me nervous, I can be assuaged by this super limited lathe (which you can still buy – seriously, have you not poured over these glowing praises). A rough and tumble way to debut a promised last romp in the sheets; piss stains and empty beer bottles littering our pleasure-dome but this is the life of a groupie. You take the skid marks with the rocket fueled 4 minutes of sloshed ecstasy. But Honey Radar are attentive lovers, even in their haggard state. A woozy blend of broken folk tricks and renegade rubbings of the muff. As a mere foreplay teaser, it’s a damn good tip to get in the ol’ midge. Break yourself off one of these lathes before the roll of 20 is spent on other groupies in disparate watering holes. Take to Tinder and make the hook-up. Any pregnancy caused by A Ballerina in Focus is accidental and Honey Radar cannot be held responsible for pushing their seed in your bush for life.

Honey Radar - A Ballerina in Focus [Third Uncle; 2014]

My love of Jason Henn’s Honey Radar spills into 2014. Though promises of a hiatus makes me nervous, I can be assuaged by this super limited lathe (which you can still buy – seriously, have you not poured over these glowing praises). A rough and tumble way to debut a promised last romp in the sheets; piss stains and empty beer bottles littering our pleasure-dome but this is the life of a groupie. You take the skid marks with the rocket fueled 4 minutes of sloshed ecstasy. But Honey Radar are attentive lovers, even in their haggard state. A woozy blend of broken folk tricks and renegade rubbings of the muff. As a mere foreplay teaser, it’s a damn good tip to get in the ol’ midge. Break yourself off one of these lathes before the roll of 20 is spent on other groupies in disparate watering holes. Take to Tinder and make the hook-up. Any pregnancy caused by A Ballerina in Focus is accidental and Honey Radar cannot be held responsible for pushing their seed in your bush for life.

Southern Femisphere - Three Questions for Integrating [Standard Issue; 2014]
At one moment co-opting riot grrrl with a few more rolls off the tongue; at others embracing the in-your-house togetherness of close knit rock and roll, Southern Femisphere continue to explore the satellites of past revolutions in the modern sphere. But unlike the stoic teacher in front of the classroom,3Q4I embarks on a field trip to collect all the fucked up artifacts of society for public display. Inspired by poems and prose, Three Questions showcases a band on the rise and maturing with each release (going so far as to provide an alternate version of “Transgander Pt. 2” from last year’s Houses that is rawer but more apropos for the mood of the band). Unlike the roots from which Southern Femisphere’s work sprang, I don’t feel reprimanded with every shout nor shoved out of the room whenever they throw elbows in tight quarters. Exploring media, emotions, and lifestyles different from mine is what keeps me enthralled with each SF release and the intensity – not mistaken as authoritative anger – keeps me engaged. This is a band growing more complicated in idea as they continue to keep it simple with poppy melodies and hook-laden harmonies. When anything of interest has already been said, what’s the harm in revisiting it and finding what fell between the cracks? 3Q4I may be rich in history but its own course has yet to be plotted. Nab the tape and pass it on to a new generation ignorant of the old.

Southern Femisphere - Three Questions for Integrating [Standard Issue; 2014]

At one moment co-opting riot grrrl with a few more rolls off the tongue; at others embracing the in-your-house togetherness of close knit rock and roll, Southern Femisphere continue to explore the satellites of past revolutions in the modern sphere. But unlike the stoic teacher in front of the classroom,3Q4I embarks on a field trip to collect all the fucked up artifacts of society for public display. Inspired by poems and prose, Three Questions showcases a band on the rise and maturing with each release (going so far as to provide an alternate version of “Transgander Pt. 2” from last year’s Houses that is rawer but more apropos for the mood of the band). Unlike the roots from which Southern Femisphere’s work sprang, I don’t feel reprimanded with every shout nor shoved out of the room whenever they throw elbows in tight quarters. Exploring media, emotions, and lifestyles different from mine is what keeps me enthralled with each SF release and the intensity – not mistaken as authoritative anger – keeps me engaged. This is a band growing more complicated in idea as they continue to keep it simple with poppy melodies and hook-laden harmonies. When anything of interest has already been said, what’s the harm in revisiting it and finding what fell between the cracks? 3Q4I may be rich in history but its own course has yet to be plotted. Nab the tape and pass it on to a new generation ignorant of the old.

Celer - Voyeur [Humming Conch; 2014]
The work of Will and Dani Long continues to stretch its willowed fingers into the next frontier, this time courtesy of Berlin-based Humming Conch. And much like the label from wince it came,Voyeur is an intimately aural affair that benefits from cusping the stereo speaker up against the ear and listening at a hushed volume. It whispers of airy waves and whistling breezes; the noise of silence. There are crests, as if playing with the proximity of the shell to the ear canal. This is a marriage of sheer perfection – an album that captures the beauty of every day, the electronic elegance of Berlin, and worldly melodies. And when I must dust the sand out of my pants after each listen, Voyeur proves an oasis in the middle of suburbia needed in times such as ours. I scavenge shells in its absence in hopes of recreating its real world symphonics. Alas, it cannot top this…

Celer - Voyeur [Humming Conch; 2014]

The work of Will and Dani Long continues to stretch its willowed fingers into the next frontier, this time courtesy of Berlin-based Humming Conch. And much like the label from wince it came,Voyeur is an intimately aural affair that benefits from cusping the stereo speaker up against the ear and listening at a hushed volume. It whispers of airy waves and whistling breezes; the noise of silence. There are crests, as if playing with the proximity of the shell to the ear canal. This is a marriage of sheer perfection – an album that captures the beauty of every day, the electronic elegance of Berlin, and worldly melodies. And when I must dust the sand out of my pants after each listen, Voyeur proves an oasis in the middle of suburbia needed in times such as ours. I scavenge shells in its absence in hopes of recreating its real world symphonics. Alas, it cannot top this…

Marissa Nadler - July [Sacred Bones; 2014]
For a decade, Marissa Nadler has long played the floating chanteuse-in-clam-shell but hardly in sound. Though her bare bones approach has gifted her albums a sheen of mysticism and mystery, it seems unfair to paint her with the waif brush. It’s a strange double life that has made pinning down Nadler’s artistic point of view difficult.With July, not only has Nadler ended the restlessness of frivolous genre demarcation, she’s created the most complete piece of art in a maturing career. On its surface, July seems to play like any other folk-tinged album, but its combination of  vocal style (akin to Hope Sandoval at her most haunting) and lyrics-as-melody break the spell of some of her less engaging peers.
Memories attach to every song: windswept escapes from the mundane (“Drive”), hopelessness in familiarity (“Dead City Emily”), and love among the ruins (a very Karen Carpenter-esque “Nothing in my Heart”). Yet these fascinations with loss and despair do not equate a sad album. Nadler’s uplifting throughout, using the strength of the material to propel her.
The subject matter may be transparent but a good heart-on-your-sleeve album always leaves the biggest impression. Coupled with friend Angel Olsen’s Burn Your Fire for No Witness, it’ll be easy to find solace amid the turmoil of complicated matters and oblique double meanings. Life is a mountain, not a beach; there’s beauty in such a simple fact. Such as it is throughout July.

Marissa Nadler - July [Sacred Bones; 2014]

For a decade, Marissa Nadler has long played the floating chanteuse-in-clam-shell but hardly in sound. Though her bare bones approach has gifted her albums a sheen of mysticism and mystery, it seems unfair to paint her with the waif brush. It’s a strange double life that has made pinning down Nadler’s artistic point of view difficult.

With July, not only has Nadler ended the restlessness of frivolous genre demarcation, she’s created the most complete piece of art in a maturing career. On its surface, July seems to play like any other folk-tinged album, but its combination of  vocal style (akin to Hope Sandoval at her most haunting) and lyrics-as-melody break the spell of some of her less engaging peers.

Memories attach to every song: windswept escapes from the mundane (“Drive”), hopelessness in familiarity (“Dead City Emily”), and love among the ruins (a very Karen Carpenter-esque “Nothing in my Heart”). Yet these fascinations with loss and despair do not equate a sad album. Nadler’s uplifting throughout, using the strength of the material to propel her.

The subject matter may be transparent but a good heart-on-your-sleeve album always leaves the biggest impression. Coupled with friend Angel Olsen’s Burn Your Fire for No Witness, it’ll be easy to find solace amid the turmoil of complicated matters and oblique double meanings. Life is a mountain, not a beach; there’s beauty in such a simple fact. Such as it is throughout July.

New Bums - Slim Volume [Self-Released; 2013]
First off, Chasny’s mustache is 70s porn star awesome. If he had a paunch belly and was a fame whore, he’d potentially be the Ron Jeremy of new weird genres of his choice. I’m sure somewhere he has that scribbled in a diary. Quinn, on the other hand, seems resolute, steeled to make music with a friend and to ground the duo’s facial hair aesthetic by appearing mostly clean shaven. When they flipped the coin to decide who got to grow the ‘stache, Quinn was well aware that his baby face would likely be a just outcome.
But this is more than facial hair, this is about Chasny adding yet another friend to the backyard plastic pool to play games and swim laps. As New Bums, the guitar twosome display a different set of chops beyond the follicle. This is a duo more concerned with stripped down rock, the sort of psych-pop hybrids that meld with early blood brothers Jim and Will Reid. There’s a bare soulfulness to the simple melodies and effortless doodles of Quinn and Chasny, no surprise to fans of either (or both). Something that seems so mundane – a newly minted friendship – can seem so fragile in the light of day, especially with the sadder timbre of Slim Volume. But New Bums seem rock hard with a full-length and a tour on the horizon. So consider this a baby picture, when the lads had quaint expressions before the ZZ Top beards and Eliminators began piling up. Facial hair and guitar chops is straight cash money.

New Bums - Slim Volume [Self-Released; 2013]

First off, Chasny’s mustache is 70s porn star awesome. If he had a paunch belly and was a fame whore, he’d potentially be the Ron Jeremy of new weird genres of his choice. I’m sure somewhere he has that scribbled in a diary. Quinn, on the other hand, seems resolute, steeled to make music with a friend and to ground the duo’s facial hair aesthetic by appearing mostly clean shaven. When they flipped the coin to decide who got to grow the ‘stache, Quinn was well aware that his baby face would likely be a just outcome.

But this is more than facial hair, this is about Chasny adding yet another friend to the backyard plastic pool to play games and swim laps. As New Bums, the guitar twosome display a different set of chops beyond the follicle. This is a duo more concerned with stripped down rock, the sort of psych-pop hybrids that meld with early blood brothers Jim and Will Reid. There’s a bare soulfulness to the simple melodies and effortless doodles of Quinn and Chasny, no surprise to fans of either (or both). Something that seems so mundane – a newly minted friendship – can seem so fragile in the light of day, especially with the sadder timbre of Slim Volume. But New Bums seem rock hard with a full-length and a tour on the horizon. So consider this a baby picture, when the lads had quaint expressions before the ZZ Top beards and Eliminators began piling up. Facial hair and guitar chops is straight cash money.

Hakobune - Looping Around the Forest I Thought I Remembered [Constellation Tatsu; 2014]
Embrace the embryonic, naturalistic ease of Hakobune. Every time I come back to the Japanese master of tranquility, I feel more childlike and less stressed. But Looping is much more than a meditative mantra or a momentary attempt at recapturing lost youth. With similar run times, each song speaks to our inner rhythms, helping to concentrate unparalleled thoughts into similar streams of consciousness. We can begin to notice the patterns of our routine and then begin to stretch them thin. Looping is about finding the details in our larger picture, breaking our habits to see what we’ve been missing. It’s a subtle trick Hakobune has played on more than 30 releases. It’s been training for this; the time when our patience and practice can be honed to spot those integral moments beyond our peripheral. It’s been a gentle coax from Takahiro Yorifuji, carefully crafting an identity and tone. But now we must pay attention to everything around us, for letting it go to waste not only sours our relationship with this broken cassette, but with the shattered reality we’ve neglected for too long. The sun rise; the falling dew; the frolicking deer; the flat tire, the busted gasket; the missed mortgage payment; the sick and the hungry – it’s all part of our beautiful world and with focus we can understand it. With Looping, we can better it.

Hakobune - Looping Around the Forest I Thought I Remembered [Constellation Tatsu; 2014]

Embrace the embryonic, naturalistic ease of Hakobune. Every time I come back to the Japanese master of tranquility, I feel more childlike and less stressed. But Looping is much more than a meditative mantra or a momentary attempt at recapturing lost youth. With similar run times, each song speaks to our inner rhythms, helping to concentrate unparalleled thoughts into similar streams of consciousness. We can begin to notice the patterns of our routine and then begin to stretch them thin. Looping is about finding the details in our larger picture, breaking our habits to see what we’ve been missing. It’s a subtle trick Hakobune has played on more than 30 releases. It’s been training for this; the time when our patience and practice can be honed to spot those integral moments beyond our peripheral. It’s been a gentle coax from Takahiro Yorifuji, carefully crafting an identity and tone. But now we must pay attention to everything around us, for letting it go to waste not only sours our relationship with this broken cassette, but with the shattered reality we’ve neglected for too long. The sun rise; the falling dew; the frolicking deer; the flat tire, the busted gasket; the missed mortgage payment; the sick and the hungry – it’s all part of our beautiful world and with focus we can understand it. With Looping, we can better it.

Islaja - SUU [Monika Enterprise; 2014]
Four years have passed since 2010’s Keraaminen Pää, an image of Islaja as ethereal folk pixie strength. The events of the prolonged silence, summed up by the change-of-direction of SUU, has diminished the old image of Merja Kokkonen. In its place, the rise of an avant electro-clash diva confident in voice and vision.“I am so vain/Only making my music/I am so vain that I guess it keeps me sane/Talking to myself like a friend”
SUU will have its detractors who preferred the foggy temperament of past Islaja releases. But change drives artistry and in the four years between releases, Kokkonen has found a new voice (never mind much of it being English) within her adopted Berlin. SUU beacons to the days of the divided monolith, where musicians played the songs of emancipation against the backdrop of an imprisoning wall.
The starkness of a scarred Berlin façade dots SUU. The thinning melody of opener “Skeleton Walk” introduces a bony character scrounging for a meal amid a desolate city. The throbbing beat and distant growls of follow-up “See No Sun,” brings heat to a cold city. It’s a theme present through much of SUU; a trope Kokkonen has not abandoned.
As Islaja, minimalism has long been the foundation for Kokkonen’s work. But with SUU, she’s editing down thoughts and sound further until they grab raw nerves. Even the most flawed moments (the clumsy itinerary of “Travel Light,” and overtly lengthy “Sandals of Alice”) become part of the arching narrative, sprouting into anthems rather than failures.
“I let the shit hit the fan”
Though her mouth ceremoniously agape (SUU being Finnish for mouth), the real Islaja emerges in the silences, speaking volumes to what is heard when we close our mouths. Though she claims a fear of slightly overdoing it during “Shit Hit the Fan,” truth is by allowing herself to follow course, she’s found a new, confident voice without betraying her previous iteration. One last reflection of SUU brings to mind Laurie Anderson’s “From the Air,” and its sage observation: “This is the record of the time/This is the time/And this is the record of the time.”

Islaja - SUU [Monika Enterprise; 2014]

Four years have passed since 2010’s Keraaminen Pää, an image of Islaja as ethereal folk pixie strength. The events of the prolonged silence, summed up by the change-of-direction of SUU, has diminished the old image of Merja Kokkonen. In its place, the rise of an avant electro-clash diva confident in voice and vision.

“I am so vain/Only making my music/I am so vain that I guess it keeps me sane/Talking to myself like a friend”

SUU will have its detractors who preferred the foggy temperament of past Islaja releases. But change drives artistry and in the four years between releases, Kokkonen has found a new voice (never mind much of it being English) within her adopted Berlin. SUU beacons to the days of the divided monolith, where musicians played the songs of emancipation against the backdrop of an imprisoning wall.

The starkness of a scarred Berlin façade dots SUU. The thinning melody of opener “Skeleton Walk” introduces a bony character scrounging for a meal amid a desolate city. The throbbing beat and distant growls of follow-up “See No Sun,” brings heat to a cold city. It’s a theme present through much of SUU; a trope Kokkonen has not abandoned.

As Islaja, minimalism has long been the foundation for Kokkonen’s work. But with SUU, she’s editing down thoughts and sound further until they grab raw nerves. Even the most flawed moments (the clumsy itinerary of “Travel Light,” and overtly lengthy “Sandals of Alice”) become part of the arching narrative, sprouting into anthems rather than failures.

“I let the shit hit the fan”

Though her mouth ceremoniously agape (SUU being Finnish for mouth), the real Islaja emerges in the silences, speaking volumes to what is heard when we close our mouths. Though she claims a fear of slightly overdoing it during “Shit Hit the Fan,” truth is by allowing herself to follow course, she’s found a new, confident voice without betraying her previous iteration. One last reflection of SUU brings to mind Laurie Anderson’s “From the Air,” and its sage observation: “This is the record of the time/This is the time/And this is the record of the time.”

Thee Tsunamis - Delirium & Dark Waters [Magnetic South; 2014]
As most like-minded bands chase the future, Thee Tsunamis retreat deeper into a kitschy past. And in that womb of horror b-roll and microfiche news print,Delirium & Dark Waters exists as the testament to rock and roll as an ancient storytelling device; the evils and ills that society still has not exorcised. Thee Tsunamis are always in the midst of a horrible night (for a curse), running around in the Mystery Machine to unmask misbehaving men, feral sexuality, and forgotten anti-heroes of swamp blues and psychedelic panhandlers. One giant ghost hunt that uncovers so much to drive us toward our eventual evolution. Until such a time when we advance toward whatever bright future we’ve promised ourselves in the annuls of science fiction for 100 years, we’ll keep our noses in the pulp of Delirium & Dark Waters. At least in these depths, we’ve found kindred spirits that see that there’s much to still understand about the past before we can move on. All that garage and surf to rejuvenate our poorly souls. May Thee Tsunamis have mercy on us until, letting us rejoice in their splendor before the Rapture.

Thee Tsunamis - Delirium & Dark Waters [Magnetic South; 2014]

As most like-minded bands chase the future, Thee Tsunamis retreat deeper into a kitschy past. And in that womb of horror b-roll and microfiche news print,Delirium & Dark Waters exists as the testament to rock and roll as an ancient storytelling device; the evils and ills that society still has not exorcised. Thee Tsunamis are always in the midst of a horrible night (for a curse), running around in the Mystery Machine to unmask misbehaving men, feral sexuality, and forgotten anti-heroes of swamp blues and psychedelic panhandlers. One giant ghost hunt that uncovers so much to drive us toward our eventual evolution. Until such a time when we advance toward whatever bright future we’ve promised ourselves in the annuls of science fiction for 100 years, we’ll keep our noses in the pulp of Delirium & Dark Waters. At least in these depths, we’ve found kindred spirits that see that there’s much to still understand about the past before we can move on. All that garage and surf to rejuvenate our poorly souls. May Thee Tsunamis have mercy on us until, letting us rejoice in their splendor before the Rapture.

Michael Wohl - Eight Pieces for Solo Guitar [Self-Released; 2014]
Scabs and all; it’s the sound of playing guitar in which Eight Pieces for Solo Guitar elegantly floats down its sea of Alphabets and milk (at least that’s what Michael Wohl’s cover resembles). The Seattle musician eschews the city’s current penchant for pop folk and synthesized experiments in favor of some traditional plucking, sliding, and strumming. All the old analogies myself and myriad reviewers have unpacked for decades worth of Fahey/Basho/Kottke revelry could occupy your hotel room with this album (Wohl even includes his own brand of Fahey’s “Poor Boy Long Way from Home”) and so what? When you turn to isolated guitar signatures for vacation accouterments, it’s what you want. Eight Pieces keeps it bare so you can hear the skill and jubilation of playing guitar rather than the heady study of the art form. That way Wohl makes sure to leave space in your luggage for the plush hotel robe, as warm as the music Wohl envelopes us with on what is hopefully just the start of his travel agent/guitar aficionado cross-over career.

Michael Wohl - Eight Pieces for Solo Guitar [Self-Released; 2014]

Scabs and all; it’s the sound of playing guitar in which Eight Pieces for Solo Guitar elegantly floats down its sea of Alphabets and milk (at least that’s what Michael Wohl’s cover resembles). The Seattle musician eschews the city’s current penchant for pop folk and synthesized experiments in favor of some traditional plucking, sliding, and strumming. All the old analogies myself and myriad reviewers have unpacked for decades worth of Fahey/Basho/Kottke revelry could occupy your hotel room with this album (Wohl even includes his own brand of Fahey’s “Poor Boy Long Way from Home”) and so what? When you turn to isolated guitar signatures for vacation accouterments, it’s what you want. Eight Pieces keeps it bare so you can hear the skill and jubilation of playing guitar rather than the heady study of the art form. That way Wohl makes sure to leave space in your luggage for the plush hotel robe, as warm as the music Wohl envelopes us with on what is hopefully just the start of his travel agent/guitar aficionado cross-over career.

C.J. Boyd - The Space Between Us [Joyful Noise; 2014]
What does a man possess if that man possesses nothing? The clothes on his back, the tool(s) of his trade, and the comfort of the road. For a man proclaiming to be perpetually traveling–without a home–one wonders what C.J. Boyd has beyond the simplest means to identify himself. But maybe it’s the wrong question. Not to get all Tyler Durden, but we have become possessed by our possessions. I’m not giving up anything hard-gained, but I can’t help but feel that C.J. Boyd is passionately (if exhaustively) living out the nomad in all of us.
But it renders his music breathtaking. That is literal. Every time I put the needle down on his records, all the air goes straight to the abyss of Boyd’s rumbling bass. It feeds on it like fire, belching up a smoke stack as it washes over the room. The Space Between Us serves as a 14-minute teaser to Boyd’s upcoming album but is greater served as its own entity. Two 7-minute tracks of menacing, hard-knuckled musings that hum like the pavement underneath Boyd’s tires. There is no need for wanton mentions of life on the road or unending weariness; the excesses of classic rock stardom do not weigh heavy on Boyd’s conscious. His life as a vagabond is chosen because to survive in music today, you must be a road warrior or a hit maker. Boyd’s craft is not the latter and be glad it isn’t. These are hits of a different caliber, and the power within these 14-minutes speaks volumes of what true gifts Boyd possesses. They are more valuable than just about any commodity I own.

C.J. Boyd - The Space Between Us [Joyful Noise; 2014]

What does a man possess if that man possesses nothing? The clothes on his back, the tool(s) of his trade, and the comfort of the road. For a man proclaiming to be perpetually traveling–without a home–one wonders what C.J. Boyd has beyond the simplest means to identify himself. But maybe it’s the wrong question. Not to get all Tyler Durden, but we have become possessed by our possessions. I’m not giving up anything hard-gained, but I can’t help but feel that C.J. Boyd is passionately (if exhaustively) living out the nomad in all of us.

But it renders his music breathtaking. That is literal. Every time I put the needle down on his records, all the air goes straight to the abyss of Boyd’s rumbling bass. It feeds on it like fire, belching up a smoke stack as it washes over the room. The Space Between Us serves as a 14-minute teaser to Boyd’s upcoming album but is greater served as its own entity. Two 7-minute tracks of menacing, hard-knuckled musings that hum like the pavement underneath Boyd’s tires. There is no need for wanton mentions of life on the road or unending weariness; the excesses of classic rock stardom do not weigh heavy on Boyd’s conscious. His life as a vagabond is chosen because to survive in music today, you must be a road warrior or a hit maker. Boyd’s craft is not the latter and be glad it isn’t. These are hits of a different caliber, and the power within these 14-minutes speaks volumes of what true gifts Boyd possesses. They are more valuable than just about any commodity I own.

Hobo Cubes - Apex Ideals [Debacle; 2014] 
What’s long been the draw of Francesco De Gallo’s work is the line it straddles between all-out noise and all-in ambiance. A gifted composer able to combine the serene with the severe,Apex Ideals comes heavy with a lofty proclamation and knocks us cold with its fascist fist of proof. Step inside “Subtle Sleep” and realize for all its slumbering melody, eyelid flutters, nighttime buzzes and creaks, and short circuiting synapses interrupt truly peaceful dreams. The restless “Unit” cuts through the white noise with a pulsating buzz saw, not unlike the Art Deco rainbow that scores the blank canvas of the album’s cover. It’s a never-ending cascade of colorful annoyances that ruins tranquility and subverts the everyday fracas. De Gallo, you truly have presented a thesis statement of heft and to truly understand it – you’re going to have to give me a lifetime. For now, let’s just say it’s well worth the research for 249 adventurous listeners.

Hobo Cubes - Apex Ideals [Debacle; 2014] 

What’s long been the draw of Francesco De Gallo’s work is the line it straddles between all-out noise and all-in ambiance. A gifted composer able to combine the serene with the severe,Apex Ideals comes heavy with a lofty proclamation and knocks us cold with its fascist fist of proof. Step inside “Subtle Sleep” and realize for all its slumbering melody, eyelid flutters, nighttime buzzes and creaks, and short circuiting synapses interrupt truly peaceful dreams. The restless “Unit” cuts through the white noise with a pulsating buzz saw, not unlike the Art Deco rainbow that scores the blank canvas of the album’s cover. It’s a never-ending cascade of colorful annoyances that ruins tranquility and subverts the everyday fracas. De Gallo, you truly have presented a thesis statement of heft and to truly understand it – you’re going to have to give me a lifetime. For now, let’s just say it’s well worth the research for 249 adventurous listeners.

Recent Asheville transplant Angel Olsen and I began our chat communing over the abundance of trees in our respective locations. Then the psychological profiling began, which is really just a stuttering journalist with a notebook full of questions timidly asking Angel her thoughts on inspiration, characterization, and optimism.
Turns out, just like most of your favorite pop stars, Angel isn’t really singing about herself in her music, but that doesn’t stop it from being engaging and relatable, as evidenced by the addition of a full band and louder sound on the newly minted Burn Your Fire for No Witness.
We talk to Angel about her new bandmates, songwriting, and her dark humor.
When did writing Burn Your Fire for No Witness begin?
It began right before Half Way Home was released, as well as “May as Well,” which comes along with the album. It was written when I wasn’t touring for Half Way Home and a few more songs two weeks before getting into the studio.
Where these songs written with Half Way Home in mind that didn’t fit with the tone of that album?
I was just ready to write different stuff. Much of Half Way Home was old music, which was written right after Strange Cacti and I went on tour with Bonnie “Prince” Billy. And I even did a single called “Sweet Dreams,” which is very much like [Burn Your Fire for No Witness].
It’s this idea of going back and forth between that kind of music and a loud kind of music. A lot is written sporadically, but this year it just all happened within the same time period.
You mention loud music. Were you aiming to write louder?
After the release of Half Way Home I went on a solo tour and I realized I wanted to work with a band because I thought it would bring more sound to what I was already doing. I think it all fell into place. I was writing material that, in my mind, would go better with more musicians. Also, I was ready to share what I had written and figure out how to communicate it with people. Before that I wasn’t really ready to work with anyone.
Ultimately, I got the band together and that created that sound — we all created that sound.
Did you have anyone specific in mind when putting together a band?
Not really. What happened was [Half Way Home] came out and I was working at a café with a drummer (Joshua Jaeger) but didn’t know that he played music. So he wrote me one day and said ‘I play drums’ and I was like ‘You play drums?’
So we got some coffee and I wasn’t expecting him to be good [Laughs]. But we ended up playing music and he had already listened to the EP and the album and practiced along to the songs. To me, it showed he really wanted to play with me in a band and be a part of something musical.
Then Josh introduced me to his friend, Stewart (Bronaugh). I didn’t understand him at first. He was very quiet at first and kind of dirty. I was like ‘Who is this guy?’ Now Stewart and I are best buds. Anyway, they’re also in a band and had a communication down as far as playing together. We practiced a lot during the winter and went on tour in the spring for Half Way Home.
When I introduced the new material over time, they were ready for it and into it. Especially since it was a different vibe from the quieter stuff. They were open to the minimal stuff as well, but I think they were psyched to be doing something a little different.
What was their input into the direction or sound of the songs?
Josh plays organ on “Slow Dance Decades” and Stewart plays piano on “Hi-Five” and “High & Wild,” so some of [their contributions] were like that. Other things were we’d make a sound and Stewart would make that sound happen.
We would go back and forth. They would practice without me and then say, ‘We have to show you something.’ And I’d be, ‘That’s really cool’ or, ‘That’s not the way the song is going.’ We were all honest with each other about it. By the time we got into the studio we had pretty much figured out what the album would sound like and what songs wouldn’t have a band on them.
Speaking of “Hi-Five” and “High & Wild,” they seem to take a different tact than some of the other songs on the album. Was that influenced by Stewart’s playing or a specific sound you were trying to create?
Funny, after writing “High & Wild,” it reminds me of Lou Reed. I don’t know, maybe I’m giving myself too much credit. The vibe of it — it being dark and the fact that I’m not really singing at first — I hadn’t really written anything like it. I was entering a world of country mixed with… maybe… The Velvet Underground.
Stewart and Josh have a way of taking something I present to them… they play along to it immediately and get it. They really understand the sounds I’m hearing in my head. I feel like it’s kind of fucked up, actually. It’s cool to be working with these people who are growing with me and have a punk-rock kind of training instead of being, “We’ve worked with so-and-so.” They don’t have that attitude.
With a title like Burn Your Fire for No Witness and the imagery of isolation it presents, do you think there is a sense of isolation in the music though some of it has been a collaboration?
Oh yeah! The songs haven’t changed that much from the skeleton I presented them with. There’s still a lot of solitude going on and they’re pretty respectful of the songs. They were even like, ‘Dude, you need to sing that song by yourself.’ They were very encouraging and I think it’s cool that they are very supportive of that. I see there’s been a change in what I’m writing, especially with a band, but I feel my writing goes to both extremes. I’ll still continue to write quiet songs even when working with people.
I like to celebrate transparency. I like the idea of taking your life and, even if you don’t have a problem, creating a character or world. I feel a lot of the songs are emotions coming from characters in my life, or characters that I’ve been, or characters that I’ve seen that are resurfacing as I reflect, as I’m living life.
Maybe this is a lofty thing to say, but I feel like in interviews, it’s difficult because people will ask questions and I’ll want to say something intelligent. But at the same time, I don’t want to talk too much about it because it’s not that big of a deal; it’s just the writing process.
I think it’s different for everyone. For me, it makes for reflecting and I don’t know if those feelings are real or if they are created feelings. And then I write a song about it.
So don’t overthink it.
Yeah. And sometimes later on I’ll realize that maybe it had something to do with me. Or sometimes I just don’t know where it came from. I think that’s true for a lot of writers. I read something the other day: A question was asked to some novelist: ‘Do you have a concept in mind for your writing?’ Though I feel like a lot of writers have a storyline and a concept that’s created, sometimes people just take something from the writing that the writer has no control over. That’s the fun part of writing something, not explaining it and letting people find their own story in it.
But I feel like the writing I’m putting out on this record and previous stuff is very bare, but I don’t feel like I’m the only one that’s ever written about it. And I’m never embarrassed performing it because I’m not attached to it in a way that it might seem on an album.
Are you trying to separate yourself from your characters?
I’m definitely a different person in my songs than I am in my daily interactions with friends. Those characters are different. What happens is I have an extreme thought and I put it into song and it has a power that can become a mantra — it’s like you’re repeating it over and over again. There are things I think about that are passing thoughts. They aren’t things I’m going to think about forever or even all day.
Part of it is just allowing myself to do what I just naturally do.
Do you save darker thoughts for your songs?
Yeah, I have a dark sense of humor and I think about dark things but I also think about happy things every day. I just think a lot and tend to put whatever it is that I’ve witnessed people struggling with, or what I’ve struggled with myself, into my writing. Sometimes it ends up in songs and then I’m like, ‘Wow, I don’t really feel that way anymore but it’s cool because somebody else feels that.’ I’ll share it. I’ll put it in a song.
Was there any purpose behind ending the album with the more optimistic “Windows”?
Putting all the songs together after they were finished, it made sense, but I didn’t plan it like that. To me, the song is different to the other material we recorded. There are four others songs that we recorded like it and they didn’t end up on the album — they have a similar feel to them — and I think “Windows” is the strongest of them. I thought it would be interesting to end on a note like that. Something completely different.
Is the theme of letting go one you are exploring more?
Maybe. A couple of songs that didn’t make Burn Your Fire for No Witnessfollow that theme. I hope to put them out on a 7-inch or something.
I’m already writing a lot of new material now and I can tell that it is a bit more upbeat stuff. Maybe it’s just what I’ve been listening to or my mindset has changed. I’m just changing as a human being [Laughs] and inspired by different things.
I don’t know what my next thing will be like. It could take me another three years to write something or it could be ready in a few months.

Recent Asheville transplant Angel Olsen and I began our chat communing over the abundance of trees in our respective locations. Then the psychological profiling began, which is really just a stuttering journalist with a notebook full of questions timidly asking Angel her thoughts on inspiration, characterization, and optimism.

Turns out, just like most of your favorite pop stars, Angel isn’t really singing about herself in her music, but that doesn’t stop it from being engaging and relatable, as evidenced by the addition of a full band and louder sound on the newly minted Burn Your Fire for No Witness.

We talk to Angel about her new bandmates, songwriting, and her dark humor.


When did writing Burn Your Fire for No Witness begin?

It began right before Half Way Home was released, as well as “May as Well,” which comes along with the album. It was written when I wasn’t touring for Half Way Home and a few more songs two weeks before getting into the studio.

Where these songs written with Half Way Home in mind that didn’t fit with the tone of that album?

I was just ready to write different stuff. Much of Half Way Home was old music, which was written right after Strange Cacti and I went on tour with Bonnie “Prince” Billy. And I even did a single called “Sweet Dreams,” which is very much like [Burn Your Fire for No Witness].

It’s this idea of going back and forth between that kind of music and a loud kind of music. A lot is written sporadically, but this year it just all happened within the same time period.

You mention loud music. Were you aiming to write louder?

After the release of Half Way Home I went on a solo tour and I realized I wanted to work with a band because I thought it would bring more sound to what I was already doing. I think it all fell into place. I was writing material that, in my mind, would go better with more musicians. Also, I was ready to share what I had written and figure out how to communicate it with people. Before that I wasn’t really ready to work with anyone.

Ultimately, I got the band together and that created that sound — we all created that sound.

Did you have anyone specific in mind when putting together a band?

Not really. What happened was [Half Way Home] came out and I was working at a café with a drummer (Joshua Jaeger) but didn’t know that he played music. So he wrote me one day and said ‘I play drums’ and I was like ‘You play drums?’

So we got some coffee and I wasn’t expecting him to be good [Laughs]. But we ended up playing music and he had already listened to the EP and the album and practiced along to the songs. To me, it showed he really wanted to play with me in a band and be a part of something musical.

Then Josh introduced me to his friend, Stewart (Bronaugh). I didn’t understand him at first. He was very quiet at first and kind of dirty. I was like ‘Who is this guy?’ Now Stewart and I are best buds. Anyway, they’re also in a band and had a communication down as far as playing together. We practiced a lot during the winter and went on tour in the spring for Half Way Home.

When I introduced the new material over time, they were ready for it and into it. Especially since it was a different vibe from the quieter stuff. They were open to the minimal stuff as well, but I think they were psyched to be doing something a little different.

What was their input into the direction or sound of the songs?

Josh plays organ on “Slow Dance Decades” and Stewart plays piano on “Hi-Five” and “High & Wild,” so some of [their contributions] were like that. Other things were we’d make a sound and Stewart would make that sound happen.

We would go back and forth. They would practice without me and then say, ‘We have to show you something.’ And I’d be, ‘That’s really cool’ or, ‘That’s not the way the song is going.’ We were all honest with each other about it. By the time we got into the studio we had pretty much figured out what the album would sound like and what songs wouldn’t have a band on them.

Speaking of “Hi-Five” and “High & Wild,” they seem to take a different tact than some of the other songs on the album. Was that influenced by Stewart’s playing or a specific sound you were trying to create?

Funny, after writing “High & Wild,” it reminds me of Lou Reed. I don’t know, maybe I’m giving myself too much credit. The vibe of it — it being dark and the fact that I’m not really singing at first — I hadn’t really written anything like it. I was entering a world of country mixed with… maybe… The Velvet Underground.

Stewart and Josh have a way of taking something I present to them… they play along to it immediately and get it. They really understand the sounds I’m hearing in my head. I feel like it’s kind of fucked up, actually. It’s cool to be working with these people who are growing with me and have a punk-rock kind of training instead of being, “We’ve worked with so-and-so.” They don’t have that attitude.

With a title like Burn Your Fire for No Witness and the imagery of isolation it presents, do you think there is a sense of isolation in the music though some of it has been a collaboration?

Oh yeah! The songs haven’t changed that much from the skeleton I presented them with. There’s still a lot of solitude going on and they’re pretty respectful of the songs. They were even like, ‘Dude, you need to sing that song by yourself.’ They were very encouraging and I think it’s cool that they are very supportive of that. I see there’s been a change in what I’m writing, especially with a band, but I feel my writing goes to both extremes. I’ll still continue to write quiet songs even when working with people.

I like to celebrate transparency. I like the idea of taking your life and, even if you don’t have a problem, creating a character or world. I feel a lot of the songs are emotions coming from characters in my life, or characters that I’ve been, or characters that I’ve seen that are resurfacing as I reflect, as I’m living life.

Maybe this is a lofty thing to say, but I feel like in interviews, it’s difficult because people will ask questions and I’ll want to say something intelligent. But at the same time, I don’t want to talk too much about it because it’s not that big of a deal; it’s just the writing process.

I think it’s different for everyone. For me, it makes for reflecting and I don’t know if those feelings are real or if they are created feelings. And then I write a song about it.

So don’t overthink it.

Yeah. And sometimes later on I’ll realize that maybe it had something to do with me. Or sometimes I just don’t know where it came from. I think that’s true for a lot of writers. I read something the other day: A question was asked to some novelist: ‘Do you have a concept in mind for your writing?’ Though I feel like a lot of writers have a storyline and a concept that’s created, sometimes people just take something from the writing that the writer has no control over. That’s the fun part of writing something, not explaining it and letting people find their own story in it.

But I feel like the writing I’m putting out on this record and previous stuff is very bare, but I don’t feel like I’m the only one that’s ever written about it. And I’m never embarrassed performing it because I’m not attached to it in a way that it might seem on an album.

Are you trying to separate yourself from your characters?

I’m definitely a different person in my songs than I am in my daily interactions with friends. Those characters are different. What happens is I have an extreme thought and I put it into song and it has a power that can become a mantra — it’s like you’re repeating it over and over again. There are things I think about that are passing thoughts. They aren’t things I’m going to think about forever or even all day.

Part of it is just allowing myself to do what I just naturally do.

Do you save darker thoughts for your songs?

Yeah, I have a dark sense of humor and I think about dark things but I also think about happy things every day. I just think a lot and tend to put whatever it is that I’ve witnessed people struggling with, or what I’ve struggled with myself, into my writing. Sometimes it ends up in songs and then I’m like, ‘Wow, I don’t really feel that way anymore but it’s cool because somebody else feels that.’ I’ll share it. I’ll put it in a song.

Was there any purpose behind ending the album with the more optimistic “Windows”?

Putting all the songs together after they were finished, it made sense, but I didn’t plan it like that. To me, the song is different to the other material we recorded. There are four others songs that we recorded like it and they didn’t end up on the album — they have a similar feel to them — and I think “Windows” is the strongest of them. I thought it would be interesting to end on a note like that. Something completely different.

Is the theme of letting go one you are exploring more?

Maybe. A couple of songs that didn’t make Burn Your Fire for No Witnessfollow that theme. I hope to put them out on a 7-inch or something.

I’m already writing a lot of new material now and I can tell that it is a bit more upbeat stuff. Maybe it’s just what I’ve been listening to or my mindset has changed. I’m just changing as a human being [Laughs] and inspired by different things.

I don’t know what my next thing will be like. It could take me another three years to write something or it could be ready in a few months.

Mark McGuire - Along the Way [Dead Oceans; 2014]
Today marks an end. An era must come to a close. It is time to say goodnight to a staple of Agitated Atmosphere: Mark McGuire.This is not because McGuire has graduated to the big leagues but as happens, sometimes an old flame says goodbye and you must set them free. Along the Way, McGuire’s hefty double LP, is a slow motion wave farewell. Across that body of ocean and time, perched proudly upon the deck, he sails into the sunset as I stand on the port where emotions remain unchanged but the literal gap speaks to our growing philosophical changes.
Along the Way is a collection of McGuire’s previous work, be in the now-extinct Emeralds or as a young solo guitarist slowly picking out the notes and progressions worth following. The culmination of years of trial and error have led to this definitive statement on his place in the musical frontier and the path he chooses to follow. It’s a deft blend of the new age drone of Emeralds, with more of the skillful pop melodies he’s carved across a smattering of looped pastiche. The crowning achievement: how it all effortless blends together, not only from one song to the next but as pieces per composition.
Though we wave a hearty bon voyage between the watery rift, we are not going our separate ways. It’s a metaphorical goodbye to what was and acknowledgement that something new is to come. Along the Way is the frozen moment-in-time to capture this feeling before it floats way.

Mark McGuire - Along the Way [Dead Oceans; 2014]

Today marks an end. An era must come to a close. It is time to say goodnight to a staple of Agitated Atmosphere: Mark McGuire.

This is not because McGuire has graduated to the big leagues but as happens, sometimes an old flame says goodbye and you must set them free. Along the Way, McGuire’s hefty double LP, is a slow motion wave farewell. Across that body of ocean and time, perched proudly upon the deck, he sails into the sunset as I stand on the port where emotions remain unchanged but the literal gap speaks to our growing philosophical changes.

Along the Way is a collection of McGuire’s previous work, be in the now-extinct Emeralds or as a young solo guitarist slowly picking out the notes and progressions worth following. The culmination of years of trial and error have led to this definitive statement on his place in the musical frontier and the path he chooses to follow. It’s a deft blend of the new age drone of Emeralds, with more of the skillful pop melodies he’s carved across a smattering of looped pastiche. The crowning achievement: how it all effortless blends together, not only from one song to the next but as pieces per composition.

Though we wave a hearty bon voyage between the watery rift, we are not going our separate ways. It’s a metaphorical goodbye to what was and acknowledgement that something new is to come. Along the Way is the frozen moment-in-time to capture this feeling before it floats way.

Universal Son - Universal Son [Drone Warfare; 2014]
As a child weened on late 80s and early 90s alterna-rock, I find myself often gravitating toward sounds that replicate those melodies and build upon them. It seems what was brewing at the time was cut short by the resurgence of bubblegum and boy band teen beats. Of course, maybe it had run its course naturally and I just ignored it. No matter, as Universal Son dust off those treasured moments and plug them into the now. Familiar strains of melodious guitar and simple drum beats. Yes, it seems all too easy and clean. Which is where Universal Son changes it up a bit, adding distortion and odd interruptions in the most peculiar places. Seemingly on the track of 1994, Universal Son’s self-titled cassette is curious reinvention not unlike David Bowie; a chameleon able to change color and mood mid-song. Is it a joke on a genre or a forward tear down and repair – one never knows with the Thin White Duke. Though let’s not put Universal Son in such thin air, the lack of oxygen experience at one point in their life cycle has ruined traditional alternative machinations. In their place, this cassette of mismatched ideas that speak to the sum of parts. Much like the rhetoric of this review, so goes Universal Son all to our benefit. Go in expecting the unexpected and still come away surprised in spite of its familiarity.

Universal Son - Universal Son [Drone Warfare; 2014]

As a child weened on late 80s and early 90s alterna-rock, I find myself often gravitating toward sounds that replicate those melodies and build upon them. It seems what was brewing at the time was cut short by the resurgence of bubblegum and boy band teen beats. Of course, maybe it had run its course naturally and I just ignored it. No matter, as Universal Son dust off those treasured moments and plug them into the now. Familiar strains of melodious guitar and simple drum beats. Yes, it seems all too easy and clean. Which is where Universal Son changes it up a bit, adding distortion and odd interruptions in the most peculiar places. Seemingly on the track of 1994, Universal Son’s self-titled cassette is curious reinvention not unlike David Bowie; a chameleon able to change color and mood mid-song. Is it a joke on a genre or a forward tear down and repair – one never knows with the Thin White Duke. Though let’s not put Universal Son in such thin air, the lack of oxygen experience at one point in their life cycle has ruined traditional alternative machinations. In their place, this cassette of mismatched ideas that speak to the sum of parts. Much like the rhetoric of this review, so goes Universal Son all to our benefit. Go in expecting the unexpected and still come away surprised in spite of its familiarity.

Bill Baird - Diamond Eyepatch [Moon Glyph; 2014]
I’d like to teach the world to sing or some form of positivity that will be viewed cynically in our fast-paced megalomaniacal society where one’s social media triumph is also their disaster. But this is not the world of Bill Baird, who blissfully ignorant of trend and tradition, stands still in that perfect flower child moment of advertising genius – without the popular soft drink and in its place genuine awe at the world of sun, trees, hippies and sentimentality. I don’t know if “Trapped in Paradise” is some psychedelic pastiche of this idealism or just me projecting all of this on the asymmetrical pop of Diamond Eyepatchbut allow me this mistake if only to live in a fantasy where we’re all holding hands in a circle in an effort to stop the asteroid of division from striking us where we stand. I do know the 9-minute triptych that anchors the geodesic wander of this cassette will ward off the galactic Armageddon for awhile longer as we stand inside our Don Draper dream, oblivious to the bucolic nightmare that awaits once it hits in 1994. And in a flash, Baird will disappear and this future joy we’re having circa the past will go with it. But at least he taught the world to sing in imperfect harmony before saying goodbye to our broken planet. Now brought to you by Coke and consumerism.

Bill Baird - Diamond Eyepatch [Moon Glyph; 2014]

I’d like to teach the world to sing or some form of positivity that will be viewed cynically in our fast-paced megalomaniacal society where one’s social media triumph is also their disaster. But this is not the world of Bill Baird, who blissfully ignorant of trend and tradition, stands still in that perfect flower child moment of advertising genius – without the popular soft drink and in its place genuine awe at the world of sun, trees, hippies and sentimentality. I don’t know if “Trapped in Paradise” is some psychedelic pastiche of this idealism or just me projecting all of this on the asymmetrical pop of Diamond Eyepatchbut allow me this mistake if only to live in a fantasy where we’re all holding hands in a circle in an effort to stop the asteroid of division from striking us where we stand. I do know the 9-minute triptych that anchors the geodesic wander of this cassette will ward off the galactic Armageddon for awhile longer as we stand inside our Don Draper dream, oblivious to the bucolic nightmare that awaits once it hits in 1994. And in a flash, Baird will disappear and this future joy we’re having circa the past will go with it. But at least he taught the world to sing in imperfect harmony before saying goodbye to our broken planet. Now brought to you by Coke and consumerism.

Honey Radar - A Ballerina in Focus [Third Uncle; 2014]
My love of Jason Henn’s Honey Radar spills into 2014. Though promises of a hiatus makes me nervous, I can be assuaged by this super limited lathe (which you can still buy – seriously, have you not poured over these glowing praises). A rough and tumble way to debut a promised last romp in the sheets; piss stains and empty beer bottles littering our pleasure-dome but this is the life of a groupie. You take the skid marks with the rocket fueled 4 minutes of sloshed ecstasy. But Honey Radar are attentive lovers, even in their haggard state. A woozy blend of broken folk tricks and renegade rubbings of the muff. As a mere foreplay teaser, it’s a damn good tip to get in the ol’ midge. Break yourself off one of these lathes before the roll of 20 is spent on other groupies in disparate watering holes. Take to Tinder and make the hook-up. Any pregnancy caused by A Ballerina in Focus is accidental and Honey Radar cannot be held responsible for pushing their seed in your bush for life.

Honey Radar - A Ballerina in Focus [Third Uncle; 2014]

My love of Jason Henn’s Honey Radar spills into 2014. Though promises of a hiatus makes me nervous, I can be assuaged by this super limited lathe (which you can still buy – seriously, have you not poured over these glowing praises). A rough and tumble way to debut a promised last romp in the sheets; piss stains and empty beer bottles littering our pleasure-dome but this is the life of a groupie. You take the skid marks with the rocket fueled 4 minutes of sloshed ecstasy. But Honey Radar are attentive lovers, even in their haggard state. A woozy blend of broken folk tricks and renegade rubbings of the muff. As a mere foreplay teaser, it’s a damn good tip to get in the ol’ midge. Break yourself off one of these lathes before the roll of 20 is spent on other groupies in disparate watering holes. Take to Tinder and make the hook-up. Any pregnancy caused by A Ballerina in Focus is accidental and Honey Radar cannot be held responsible for pushing their seed in your bush for life.

Southern Femisphere - Three Questions for Integrating [Standard Issue; 2014]
At one moment co-opting riot grrrl with a few more rolls off the tongue; at others embracing the in-your-house togetherness of close knit rock and roll, Southern Femisphere continue to explore the satellites of past revolutions in the modern sphere. But unlike the stoic teacher in front of the classroom,3Q4I embarks on a field trip to collect all the fucked up artifacts of society for public display. Inspired by poems and prose, Three Questions showcases a band on the rise and maturing with each release (going so far as to provide an alternate version of “Transgander Pt. 2” from last year’s Houses that is rawer but more apropos for the mood of the band). Unlike the roots from which Southern Femisphere’s work sprang, I don’t feel reprimanded with every shout nor shoved out of the room whenever they throw elbows in tight quarters. Exploring media, emotions, and lifestyles different from mine is what keeps me enthralled with each SF release and the intensity – not mistaken as authoritative anger – keeps me engaged. This is a band growing more complicated in idea as they continue to keep it simple with poppy melodies and hook-laden harmonies. When anything of interest has already been said, what’s the harm in revisiting it and finding what fell between the cracks? 3Q4I may be rich in history but its own course has yet to be plotted. Nab the tape and pass it on to a new generation ignorant of the old.

Southern Femisphere - Three Questions for Integrating [Standard Issue; 2014]

At one moment co-opting riot grrrl with a few more rolls off the tongue; at others embracing the in-your-house togetherness of close knit rock and roll, Southern Femisphere continue to explore the satellites of past revolutions in the modern sphere. But unlike the stoic teacher in front of the classroom,3Q4I embarks on a field trip to collect all the fucked up artifacts of society for public display. Inspired by poems and prose, Three Questions showcases a band on the rise and maturing with each release (going so far as to provide an alternate version of “Transgander Pt. 2” from last year’s Houses that is rawer but more apropos for the mood of the band). Unlike the roots from which Southern Femisphere’s work sprang, I don’t feel reprimanded with every shout nor shoved out of the room whenever they throw elbows in tight quarters. Exploring media, emotions, and lifestyles different from mine is what keeps me enthralled with each SF release and the intensity – not mistaken as authoritative anger – keeps me engaged. This is a band growing more complicated in idea as they continue to keep it simple with poppy melodies and hook-laden harmonies. When anything of interest has already been said, what’s the harm in revisiting it and finding what fell between the cracks? 3Q4I may be rich in history but its own course has yet to be plotted. Nab the tape and pass it on to a new generation ignorant of the old.

Celer - Voyeur [Humming Conch; 2014]
The work of Will and Dani Long continues to stretch its willowed fingers into the next frontier, this time courtesy of Berlin-based Humming Conch. And much like the label from wince it came,Voyeur is an intimately aural affair that benefits from cusping the stereo speaker up against the ear and listening at a hushed volume. It whispers of airy waves and whistling breezes; the noise of silence. There are crests, as if playing with the proximity of the shell to the ear canal. This is a marriage of sheer perfection – an album that captures the beauty of every day, the electronic elegance of Berlin, and worldly melodies. And when I must dust the sand out of my pants after each listen, Voyeur proves an oasis in the middle of suburbia needed in times such as ours. I scavenge shells in its absence in hopes of recreating its real world symphonics. Alas, it cannot top this…

Celer - Voyeur [Humming Conch; 2014]

The work of Will and Dani Long continues to stretch its willowed fingers into the next frontier, this time courtesy of Berlin-based Humming Conch. And much like the label from wince it came,Voyeur is an intimately aural affair that benefits from cusping the stereo speaker up against the ear and listening at a hushed volume. It whispers of airy waves and whistling breezes; the noise of silence. There are crests, as if playing with the proximity of the shell to the ear canal. This is a marriage of sheer perfection – an album that captures the beauty of every day, the electronic elegance of Berlin, and worldly melodies. And when I must dust the sand out of my pants after each listen, Voyeur proves an oasis in the middle of suburbia needed in times such as ours. I scavenge shells in its absence in hopes of recreating its real world symphonics. Alas, it cannot top this…

Marissa Nadler - July [Sacred Bones; 2014]
For a decade, Marissa Nadler has long played the floating chanteuse-in-clam-shell but hardly in sound. Though her bare bones approach has gifted her albums a sheen of mysticism and mystery, it seems unfair to paint her with the waif brush. It’s a strange double life that has made pinning down Nadler’s artistic point of view difficult.With July, not only has Nadler ended the restlessness of frivolous genre demarcation, she’s created the most complete piece of art in a maturing career. On its surface, July seems to play like any other folk-tinged album, but its combination of  vocal style (akin to Hope Sandoval at her most haunting) and lyrics-as-melody break the spell of some of her less engaging peers.
Memories attach to every song: windswept escapes from the mundane (“Drive”), hopelessness in familiarity (“Dead City Emily”), and love among the ruins (a very Karen Carpenter-esque “Nothing in my Heart”). Yet these fascinations with loss and despair do not equate a sad album. Nadler’s uplifting throughout, using the strength of the material to propel her.
The subject matter may be transparent but a good heart-on-your-sleeve album always leaves the biggest impression. Coupled with friend Angel Olsen’s Burn Your Fire for No Witness, it’ll be easy to find solace amid the turmoil of complicated matters and oblique double meanings. Life is a mountain, not a beach; there’s beauty in such a simple fact. Such as it is throughout July.

Marissa Nadler - July [Sacred Bones; 2014]

For a decade, Marissa Nadler has long played the floating chanteuse-in-clam-shell but hardly in sound. Though her bare bones approach has gifted her albums a sheen of mysticism and mystery, it seems unfair to paint her with the waif brush. It’s a strange double life that has made pinning down Nadler’s artistic point of view difficult.

With July, not only has Nadler ended the restlessness of frivolous genre demarcation, she’s created the most complete piece of art in a maturing career. On its surface, July seems to play like any other folk-tinged album, but its combination of  vocal style (akin to Hope Sandoval at her most haunting) and lyrics-as-melody break the spell of some of her less engaging peers.

Memories attach to every song: windswept escapes from the mundane (“Drive”), hopelessness in familiarity (“Dead City Emily”), and love among the ruins (a very Karen Carpenter-esque “Nothing in my Heart”). Yet these fascinations with loss and despair do not equate a sad album. Nadler’s uplifting throughout, using the strength of the material to propel her.

The subject matter may be transparent but a good heart-on-your-sleeve album always leaves the biggest impression. Coupled with friend Angel Olsen’s Burn Your Fire for No Witness, it’ll be easy to find solace amid the turmoil of complicated matters and oblique double meanings. Life is a mountain, not a beach; there’s beauty in such a simple fact. Such as it is throughout July.

New Bums - Slim Volume [Self-Released; 2013]
First off, Chasny’s mustache is 70s porn star awesome. If he had a paunch belly and was a fame whore, he’d potentially be the Ron Jeremy of new weird genres of his choice. I’m sure somewhere he has that scribbled in a diary. Quinn, on the other hand, seems resolute, steeled to make music with a friend and to ground the duo’s facial hair aesthetic by appearing mostly clean shaven. When they flipped the coin to decide who got to grow the ‘stache, Quinn was well aware that his baby face would likely be a just outcome.
But this is more than facial hair, this is about Chasny adding yet another friend to the backyard plastic pool to play games and swim laps. As New Bums, the guitar twosome display a different set of chops beyond the follicle. This is a duo more concerned with stripped down rock, the sort of psych-pop hybrids that meld with early blood brothers Jim and Will Reid. There’s a bare soulfulness to the simple melodies and effortless doodles of Quinn and Chasny, no surprise to fans of either (or both). Something that seems so mundane – a newly minted friendship – can seem so fragile in the light of day, especially with the sadder timbre of Slim Volume. But New Bums seem rock hard with a full-length and a tour on the horizon. So consider this a baby picture, when the lads had quaint expressions before the ZZ Top beards and Eliminators began piling up. Facial hair and guitar chops is straight cash money.

New Bums - Slim Volume [Self-Released; 2013]

First off, Chasny’s mustache is 70s porn star awesome. If he had a paunch belly and was a fame whore, he’d potentially be the Ron Jeremy of new weird genres of his choice. I’m sure somewhere he has that scribbled in a diary. Quinn, on the other hand, seems resolute, steeled to make music with a friend and to ground the duo’s facial hair aesthetic by appearing mostly clean shaven. When they flipped the coin to decide who got to grow the ‘stache, Quinn was well aware that his baby face would likely be a just outcome.

But this is more than facial hair, this is about Chasny adding yet another friend to the backyard plastic pool to play games and swim laps. As New Bums, the guitar twosome display a different set of chops beyond the follicle. This is a duo more concerned with stripped down rock, the sort of psych-pop hybrids that meld with early blood brothers Jim and Will Reid. There’s a bare soulfulness to the simple melodies and effortless doodles of Quinn and Chasny, no surprise to fans of either (or both). Something that seems so mundane – a newly minted friendship – can seem so fragile in the light of day, especially with the sadder timbre of Slim Volume. But New Bums seem rock hard with a full-length and a tour on the horizon. So consider this a baby picture, when the lads had quaint expressions before the ZZ Top beards and Eliminators began piling up. Facial hair and guitar chops is straight cash money.

Hakobune - Looping Around the Forest I Thought I Remembered [Constellation Tatsu; 2014]
Embrace the embryonic, naturalistic ease of Hakobune. Every time I come back to the Japanese master of tranquility, I feel more childlike and less stressed. But Looping is much more than a meditative mantra or a momentary attempt at recapturing lost youth. With similar run times, each song speaks to our inner rhythms, helping to concentrate unparalleled thoughts into similar streams of consciousness. We can begin to notice the patterns of our routine and then begin to stretch them thin. Looping is about finding the details in our larger picture, breaking our habits to see what we’ve been missing. It’s a subtle trick Hakobune has played on more than 30 releases. It’s been training for this; the time when our patience and practice can be honed to spot those integral moments beyond our peripheral. It’s been a gentle coax from Takahiro Yorifuji, carefully crafting an identity and tone. But now we must pay attention to everything around us, for letting it go to waste not only sours our relationship with this broken cassette, but with the shattered reality we’ve neglected for too long. The sun rise; the falling dew; the frolicking deer; the flat tire, the busted gasket; the missed mortgage payment; the sick and the hungry – it’s all part of our beautiful world and with focus we can understand it. With Looping, we can better it.

Hakobune - Looping Around the Forest I Thought I Remembered [Constellation Tatsu; 2014]

Embrace the embryonic, naturalistic ease of Hakobune. Every time I come back to the Japanese master of tranquility, I feel more childlike and less stressed. But Looping is much more than a meditative mantra or a momentary attempt at recapturing lost youth. With similar run times, each song speaks to our inner rhythms, helping to concentrate unparalleled thoughts into similar streams of consciousness. We can begin to notice the patterns of our routine and then begin to stretch them thin. Looping is about finding the details in our larger picture, breaking our habits to see what we’ve been missing. It’s a subtle trick Hakobune has played on more than 30 releases. It’s been training for this; the time when our patience and practice can be honed to spot those integral moments beyond our peripheral. It’s been a gentle coax from Takahiro Yorifuji, carefully crafting an identity and tone. But now we must pay attention to everything around us, for letting it go to waste not only sours our relationship with this broken cassette, but with the shattered reality we’ve neglected for too long. The sun rise; the falling dew; the frolicking deer; the flat tire, the busted gasket; the missed mortgage payment; the sick and the hungry – it’s all part of our beautiful world and with focus we can understand it. With Looping, we can better it.

About:

Justin Spicer is a pop culture critic, writer and editor. He manages Tiny Mix Tapes' Cerberus section. He has written columns for KEXP, Ad Hoc, Impose, and SSG Music. His work has been published by The Village Voice, Brainwashed, and extinct websites and print publications across the globe. This website is a collection of many of Justin's articles, reviews, and features. You can contact him via the links in the side menu or ignore all of this completely.

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