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Hiroyuki Usui - Sings the Blues [VHF; 2014]
Usui takes one step more toward a true reveal. Once a member of pivotal (well, to particular American audiences) Japanese groups such as Ghost and Fushitsusha, Usui’s legend was entrenched early among a growing avant garde by its slow emergence from passed around magazines toward the end of the 90s. As L, Usui began blending traditional Japanese folk with not-so traditional techniques and applications that produced the heavy (in spirit) Holy Letters. Collaborating with Ben Chasny, Usui clung to the rawer sounds of his oeuvre while also giving more of himself to his partner and audience.
Sings the Blues, which boasts most of Usui’s given name, goes further. Some of these tunes were offered to Chasny for a long anticipated follow-up to August Born’s first LP, but these confessional strands are best kept as Usui revelations. It’s a stark gamut, with much of the album a practice in solitude. Usui strums or beats a pattern, often offering up a spoken glimpse (language barrier aside) of what encompasses each blues inspired piece. Though there isn’t a 12-bar variety to be found, it’s the feeling of isolation and abandonment that has long held all disparate ideas of blues together that is truly universal. Be damned the method or lyric, if you’ve had real problems you can relate to Usui’s bared soul. Sings the Blues isn’t all pity, with a pair of songs titled “A Fake Blues” providing more playful melodies that speak to the haunted passageways of Americana’s twisted Southern twang. Truth is, no matter the source these are powerful tunes that speak to the essence of existence. That they are the product of Usui means much more because rarely does even the most forthright artist give so much of themselves and their creations openly.

Hiroyuki Usui - Sings the Blues [VHF; 2014]

Usui takes one step more toward a true reveal. Once a member of pivotal (well, to particular American audiences) Japanese groups such as Ghost and Fushitsusha, Usui’s legend was entrenched early among a growing avant garde by its slow emergence from passed around magazines toward the end of the 90s. As L, Usui began blending traditional Japanese folk with not-so traditional techniques and applications that produced the heavy (in spirit) Holy Letters. Collaborating with Ben Chasny, Usui clung to the rawer sounds of his oeuvre while also giving more of himself to his partner and audience.

Sings the Blues, which boasts most of Usui’s given name, goes further. Some of these tunes were offered to Chasny for a long anticipated follow-up to August Born’s first LP, but these confessional strands are best kept as Usui revelations. It’s a stark gamut, with much of the album a practice in solitude. Usui strums or beats a pattern, often offering up a spoken glimpse (language barrier aside) of what encompasses each blues inspired piece. Though there isn’t a 12-bar variety to be found, it’s the feeling of isolation and abandonment that has long held all disparate ideas of blues together that is truly universal. Be damned the method or lyric, if you’ve had real problems you can relate to Usui’s bared soul. Sings the Blues isn’t all pity, with a pair of songs titled “A Fake Blues” providing more playful melodies that speak to the haunted passageways of Americana’s twisted Southern twang. Truth is, no matter the source these are powerful tunes that speak to the essence of existence. That they are the product of Usui means much more because rarely does even the most forthright artist give so much of themselves and their creations openly.

DF Lull - Pressing Schedule [Standard Issue Press; 2014] 
The interrupting solitude of Zach Bodtorf’s alter ego is a continued ear punch. Shimmering guitar melodies are dissected by angry buzzing; an idyllic summer picnic being infested with wasps hungry for jello and ants picking at the meaty corpse between two slices of bread. Pressing Schedule’s title hearken to the constant tug of daily perfection with the struggle to measure up to the status quo. We all want to have our time in the sun but the steamroller of expectation (work, commitment, time) is always pressing down on our few moments of peace. As Bodtorf escapes the city life for the country, the album distances itself from its earlier horrors and blossoms into zen. Rather than a metaphor, it allows us to live in that picture inside our head. But the cassette’s finale serves as an ominous reminder that behind every rock and around every trunk is our dread waiting to reclaim us. Enjoy the weekend because the weekdays are ganging up.

DF Lull - Pressing Schedule [Standard Issue Press; 2014] 

The interrupting solitude of Zach Bodtorf’s alter ego is a continued ear punch. Shimmering guitar melodies are dissected by angry buzzing; an idyllic summer picnic being infested with wasps hungry for jello and ants picking at the meaty corpse between two slices of bread. Pressing Schedule’s title hearken to the constant tug of daily perfection with the struggle to measure up to the status quo. We all want to have our time in the sun but the steamroller of expectation (work, commitment, time) is always pressing down on our few moments of peace. As Bodtorf escapes the city life for the country, the album distances itself from its earlier horrors and blossoms into zen. Rather than a metaphor, it allows us to live in that picture inside our head. But the cassette’s finale serves as an ominous reminder that behind every rock and around every trunk is our dread waiting to reclaim us. Enjoy the weekend because the weekdays are ganging up.

Various Artists - FSDC Vol. 3 [Gloryhole; 2014]
Gloryhole penetrates its third round of hat-in-hand collections from Fountain Square’s porch dwellers and shed tinkerers. The up and coming Indianapolis neighborhood that pops up the hippest new eating establishment and arts districts also plays mother to the garage, surf, and experimental pop and hip-hop of a generation tired of Baby Boomer philosophy and the continued yuppie evolution of Generation X (turns out we turned out just like our parents but they took all the monies). Those days spent playing SNES on the television fed outside the broken window into the backyard were also lightning rods of creativity for Fountain Square denizens making all sorts of noise. What makes FSDC (Fountain Square Don’t Care, FYI) such an interesting stop for people looking to Midwestern subcultures is how it doesn’t hedge any musical bets based on trend, yet amalgamates all of them. The Icks are stranded between the rock of synthesized pop goo and and serpentine rock and roll. It’s oddly (and poetically) followed by the traditional rock sways of Caleb McCoach. Peter & the Kings are a futuristic Smog, the enigmatic vocal malaise of the titular front man strangely erotic like the ticks of Bill Callahan. Sadly The Bloody Mess’ “FreeBallin’” isn’t quite the “Free Fallin’” parody I desired but it’s still the same creepo ram jam I love from the duo. When the gentrification of Fountain Square runs the cockroaches out from their interstate row houses, we’ll still have FSDC. It ain’t Paris but it’ll get you as high as the Eiffel Tower.

Various Artists - FSDC Vol. 3 [Gloryhole; 2014]

Gloryhole penetrates its third round of hat-in-hand collections from Fountain Square’s porch dwellers and shed tinkerers. The up and coming Indianapolis neighborhood that pops up the hippest new eating establishment and arts districts also plays mother to the garage, surf, and experimental pop and hip-hop of a generation tired of Baby Boomer philosophy and the continued yuppie evolution of Generation X (turns out we turned out just like our parents but they took all the monies). Those days spent playing SNES on the television fed outside the broken window into the backyard were also lightning rods of creativity for Fountain Square denizens making all sorts of noise. What makes FSDC (Fountain Square Don’t Care, FYI) such an interesting stop for people looking to Midwestern subcultures is how it doesn’t hedge any musical bets based on trend, yet amalgamates all of them. The Icks are stranded between the rock of synthesized pop goo and and serpentine rock and roll. It’s oddly (and poetically) followed by the traditional rock sways of Caleb McCoach. Peter & the Kings are a futuristic Smog, the enigmatic vocal malaise of the titular front man strangely erotic like the ticks of Bill Callahan. Sadly The Bloody Mess’ “FreeBallin’” isn’t quite the “Free Fallin’” parody I desired but it’s still the same creepo ram jam I love from the duo. When the gentrification of Fountain Square runs the cockroaches out from their interstate row houses, we’ll still have FSDC. It ain’t Paris but it’ll get you as high as the Eiffel Tower.

Brave Radar - Message Centre [Fixture; 2014]
Five years is far too long in between Brave Radar albums, but when you’re on the fringe of poverty and pauper, sacrifices must occur. Considering I would have been too poor to buy a cassette of their during large swatches of that time, the wait has been worth it. Message Centre reignites the Micky Dolenz simplicity that made them such a find all those years ago (and a great inclusion on Kinnta’s The Lemon Tape in 2012). There is nothing fancy here, the result of a band on a budget but understanding how to get the most out of the least. It’s classic pop ruminations sung sweetly and played quickly. Not to tie the band’s fortunes to the Oneders but this is the evolution of Playtone with the same State Fair ethos of coming out, soaking up the admiration of young girls in tight sweaters and boys in letter jackets. Plug in, play, and get off the stage before the crowd gets bored and moves onto something else. But that part of the equation never happens. Something about the warm embrace of these tunes makes you smitten with Brave Radar. And like that first rush of stomach butterflies and goosebumps, you never forget it. You may have long thrown away your first love but the feeling remains. Message Centre is that fuzzy memory that keeps you chasing the phantom. You can settle down with Brave Radar, you’ll always have that chill.

Brave Radar - Message Centre [Fixture; 2014]

Five years is far too long in between Brave Radar albums, but when you’re on the fringe of poverty and pauper, sacrifices must occur. Considering I would have been too poor to buy a cassette of their during large swatches of that time, the wait has been worth it. Message Centre reignites the Micky Dolenz simplicity that made them such a find all those years ago (and a great inclusion on Kinnta’s The Lemon Tape in 2012). There is nothing fancy here, the result of a band on a budget but understanding how to get the most out of the least. It’s classic pop ruminations sung sweetly and played quickly. Not to tie the band’s fortunes to the Oneders but this is the evolution of Playtone with the same State Fair ethos of coming out, soaking up the admiration of young girls in tight sweaters and boys in letter jackets. Plug in, play, and get off the stage before the crowd gets bored and moves onto something else. But that part of the equation never happens. Something about the warm embrace of these tunes makes you smitten with Brave Radar. And like that first rush of stomach butterflies and goosebumps, you never forget it. You may have long thrown away your first love but the feeling remains. Message Centre is that fuzzy memory that keeps you chasing the phantom. You can settle down with Brave Radar, you’ll always have that chill.

Unicity - Self-Titled [Constellation Tatsu; 2014]
For some reason, the retrospective design of the latest Constellation Tatsu batch has me remembering PBS programming of yore, particularly Secret City as it applies the similarly named Unicity. Thanks to an overindulgence in astrophysics (I need a break from the Ship of the Imagination), I was prepared to tune out this galactic artifact. But I couldn’t. It wouldn’t let me. It hurled by like a meteor on course to destroy my world, to make me rethink how I was viewing the astronomical. So I returned to the solace of Secret City, not so much for a drawing tutorial, but for the purpose of transforming lines and shapes all too familiar into new representations and ideas. Turns out Self-Titled isn’t another jettisoned trip into outer space but rather into the outer reaches of where we are and where we could be. Imagination is a powerful tool and though it can grow dull from neglect or run amok from too much use, making sure it remains part of your balanced daily breakfast is crucial to understanding. PBS really did transform me into a sinkhole of liberal idealization and free-thought. Otherwise, I might be some dweeb too cool to give Unicity a chance and rediscover a part of myself not out of nostalgia, but of necessity, to continue to grow.

Unicity - Self-Titled [Constellation Tatsu; 2014]

For some reason, the retrospective design of the latest Constellation Tatsu batch has me remembering PBS programming of yore, particularly Secret City as it applies the similarly named Unicity. Thanks to an overindulgence in astrophysics (I need a break from the Ship of the Imagination), I was prepared to tune out this galactic artifact. But I couldn’t. It wouldn’t let me. It hurled by like a meteor on course to destroy my world, to make me rethink how I was viewing the astronomical. So I returned to the solace of Secret City, not so much for a drawing tutorial, but for the purpose of transforming lines and shapes all too familiar into new representations and ideas. Turns out Self-Titled isn’t another jettisoned trip into outer space but rather into the outer reaches of where we are and where we could be. Imagination is a powerful tool and though it can grow dull from neglect or run amok from too much use, making sure it remains part of your balanced daily breakfast is crucial to understanding. PBS really did transform me into a sinkhole of liberal idealization and free-thought. Otherwise, I might be some dweeb too cool to give Unicity a chance and rediscover a part of myself not out of nostalgia, but of necessity, to continue to grow.

Vacation Club - Heaven is Too High [Magnetic South; 2014]
The maturity of surf and garage has been a slow process, largely because its carefree roots make it the music of self-anarchy. The rules governing it are weak, if they even exist – and should they, they are readily (and wisely) ignored.

Yet Heaven is Too High, the latest from Indianapolis misfits Vacation Club, is very much the product of a maturing band. Of course age does not diminish the childlike spectacle and recklessness of the band’s anything goes spirit. But it’s a more taught, fitter, and happier album because it fears not the simplest classification or melodies in pursuit of an endless summer.

It’s a strange potluck that is had throughout Heaven is Too High. A viscous mixture of Midwestern humidity and clear beach skies, wrapped up in influences from the 1960s California and 1980s Athens pop. Though I doubt the replacements of Frankie and Annette were ever members of Let’s Active, it’s how Heaven is Too High functions with its blend of out of sight imagery and tightly wound hooks. Though the subject matter may carry a devil-may-care air, the truth is Vacation Club care deeply how the music surrounding easy-going manifests transfers the message from sender to receiver.

Now’s the time to recognize that despite their years of being pulled into retro-fitting categories of description, Vacation Club have tossed aside archaic definitions in favor of being a proud representative of a sound and time affixed in the now. Heaven is Too High, for all its influences and borrowed sounds, could not have been made until 2014. We finally have our beach makeout soundtrack, even if it’s in a landlocked state or the dead of winter.

Vacation Club - Heaven is Too High [Magnetic South; 2014]

The maturity of surf and garage has been a slow process, largely because its carefree roots make it the music of self-anarchy. The rules governing it are weak, if they even exist – and should they, they are readily (and wisely) ignored.

Yet Heaven is Too High, the latest from Indianapolis misfits Vacation Club, is very much the product of a maturing band. Of course age does not diminish the childlike spectacle and recklessness of the band’s anything goes spirit. But it’s a more taught, fitter, and happier album because it fears not the simplest classification or melodies in pursuit of an endless summer.

It’s a strange potluck that is had throughout Heaven is Too High. A viscous mixture of Midwestern humidity and clear beach skies, wrapped up in influences from the 1960s California and 1980s Athens pop. Though I doubt the replacements of Frankie and Annette were ever members of Let’s Active, it’s how Heaven is Too High functions with its blend of out of sight imagery and tightly wound hooks. Though the subject matter may carry a devil-may-care air, the truth is Vacation Club care deeply how the music surrounding easy-going manifests transfers the message from sender to receiver.

Now’s the time to recognize that despite their years of being pulled into retro-fitting categories of description, Vacation Club have tossed aside archaic definitions in favor of being a proud representative of a sound and time affixed in the now. Heaven is Too High, for all its influences and borrowed sounds, could not have been made until 2014. We finally have our beach makeout soundtrack, even if it’s in a landlocked state or the dead of winter.

Various Artists - BRAINCLUB Vol. II [Holodeck; 2014]
Extremely limited (150 copies per volume) and barebones, BRAINCLUB is a culmination of outsider Austin. As I type it, the sumabitch in me scoffs because how more outside the lines can the Texas oasis become? It’s known just as much for its event horizon as it is for its neon lights and huge music showcases. Yet here I stand stunned at what I’m learning about a town that I have some experience with but has yet to hold me to her bosom as so many before and after me. Cerberus familiars crop up on this 7 track follow-up (Silent Land Time Machine, Ex-Person) but it’s the exotic sounds that make me see Austin a new light. Bill Converse opener “Baboonatic” is 100% Silk turned down 25%, because I can only handle about 75% Silk (less for Rayon). Pizza Hut is likely to get its pizza cred disrupted by fervent coverage of that Home Alone kid’s VU pizza shits and giggles take-off, but “Rockets” is a white-sauced delight for fans of avant 90s bands that were gone before they ever began. That makes Pizza Hut far more respectable and blog worthy than a filthy animal. Malcolm Elijah may be the keystone, combining a rich tapestry of notable sounds past and present into a composition not too far remove from early Sean McCann (before McCann went head first into classical). A new presentation to something familiar, though that is the M.O. of BRAINCLUB at its heart. A quick listen of outsiders truly disrupting from the inside. They are part of Austin, unafraid of the connotation or stereotype. From that perch, they’ve taken expectations and turned them into blown up bucket list goals. Smart men and women messing up all your Cheerios.

Various Artists - BRAINCLUB Vol. II [Holodeck; 2014]

Extremely limited (150 copies per volume) and barebones, BRAINCLUB is a culmination of outsider Austin. As I type it, the sumabitch in me scoffs because how more outside the lines can the Texas oasis become? It’s known just as much for its event horizon as it is for its neon lights and huge music showcases. Yet here I stand stunned at what I’m learning about a town that I have some experience with but has yet to hold me to her bosom as so many before and after me. Cerberus familiars crop up on this 7 track follow-up (Silent Land Time Machine, Ex-Person) but it’s the exotic sounds that make me see Austin a new light. Bill Converse opener “Baboonatic” is 100% Silk turned down 25%, because I can only handle about 75% Silk (less for Rayon). Pizza Hut is likely to get its pizza cred disrupted by fervent coverage of that Home Alone kid’s VU pizza shits and giggles take-off, but “Rockets” is a white-sauced delight for fans of avant 90s bands that were gone before they ever began. That makes Pizza Hut far more respectable and blog worthy than a filthy animal. Malcolm Elijah may be the keystone, combining a rich tapestry of notable sounds past and present into a composition not too far remove from early Sean McCann (before McCann went head first into classical). A new presentation to something familiar, though that is the M.O. of BRAINCLUB at its heart. A quick listen of outsiders truly disrupting from the inside. They are part of Austin, unafraid of the connotation or stereotype. From that perch, they’ve taken expectations and turned them into blown up bucket list goals. Smart men and women messing up all your Cheerios.

Les Halles - Invisible Cities [Constellation Tatsu; 2014]
The life and times of Bob Ross has transformed into a calming center. Fans of the PBS known painter have found themselves in deep ruminations about the cosmic beauty of evolutionary design. Those brushed evergreens look bright contrasted against the white fluffy clouds and sunlit blue sky. Ross continues to teach new generations about the inherent self that resides in all. But what does Ross’ meditations jam to, because this is a not a man built on Dylan and Baez. Though very much a product of now, one can’t help but think of the zen instructor when listening to the triumphant hums of Invisible Cities. At once New Age and mystic as it is tangible and face-front, the latest Les Halles cassette is a similar study in the forms of our physical world and how with each mistreatment of the environment, we are scarring ourselves. Though it sounds ridiculous to devote time to repairing our souls in a world overwrought and rotting, there is no solution to our ills without self-examination. Les Halles may be a bit too serene in its reflection, but it serves as a means to find your nearest purveyor of punk, noise, and nihilism. Whatever gets you thinking about our smallness and largeness. It wouldn’t hurt to worship a few happy trees either.

Les Halles - Invisible Cities [Constellation Tatsu; 2014]

The life and times of Bob Ross has transformed into a calming center. Fans of the PBS known painter have found themselves in deep ruminations about the cosmic beauty of evolutionary design. Those brushed evergreens look bright contrasted against the white fluffy clouds and sunlit blue sky. Ross continues to teach new generations about the inherent self that resides in all. But what does Ross’ meditations jam to, because this is a not a man built on Dylan and Baez. Though very much a product of now, one can’t help but think of the zen instructor when listening to the triumphant hums of Invisible Cities. At once New Age and mystic as it is tangible and face-front, the latest Les Halles cassette is a similar study in the forms of our physical world and how with each mistreatment of the environment, we are scarring ourselves. Though it sounds ridiculous to devote time to repairing our souls in a world overwrought and rotting, there is no solution to our ills without self-examination. Les Halles may be a bit too serene in its reflection, but it serves as a means to find your nearest purveyor of punk, noise, and nihilism. Whatever gets you thinking about our smallness and largeness. It wouldn’t hurt to worship a few happy trees either.

Richard Youngs - A Stolen Ringbuoy [Dirty Knobby; 2014]
Judging by the marquee names gracing the available records page of Seattle’s Dirty Knobby (Mind Over Mirrors, Pumice, The Fresh & Onlys), we are a world unaware of this great small pressings label. So perhaps our simpleton nature won’t cause us dismay when listening to the latest 7-inch from Richard Youngs, who does his best self-impression through the oscilloscope of a drunk Bob Pollard. I mean, look no further than the mangled title (A Stolen Ringbuoy) and a history of Youngs desecrating pop music in whatever two bit hole in the wall he can muster scattered notes and the obvious comparisons of the two heavy hitters seems apropos, if only for a fleeting moment. But this moment is one that is now captured on soul black wax, a reminder that even the most expressive revisionist is capable of brilliant bursts of uncomplicated pop music. Of course, what you and I call pop music might differ greatly, so perhaps this is your gateway drug to fuzz and skronk and my ticket out of the tangled forest of atonality.

Richard Youngs - A Stolen Ringbuoy [Dirty Knobby; 2014]

Judging by the marquee names gracing the available records page of Seattle’s Dirty Knobby (Mind Over Mirrors, Pumice, The Fresh & Onlys), we are a world unaware of this great small pressings label. So perhaps our simpleton nature won’t cause us dismay when listening to the latest 7-inch from Richard Youngs, who does his best self-impression through the oscilloscope of a drunk Bob Pollard. I mean, look no further than the mangled title (A Stolen Ringbuoy) and a history of Youngs desecrating pop music in whatever two bit hole in the wall he can muster scattered notes and the obvious comparisons of the two heavy hitters seems apropos, if only for a fleeting moment. But this moment is one that is now captured on soul black wax, a reminder that even the most expressive revisionist is capable of brilliant bursts of uncomplicated pop music. Of course, what you and I call pop music might differ greatly, so perhaps this is your gateway drug to fuzz and skronk and my ticket out of the tangled forest of atonality.

Fennesz - Becs [Editions Mego; 2014]
The first listen of Bécs was not my first listen of Bécs.

Four years ago during his performance at the 2010 Decibel Festival, Fennesz first played what has become the supposed kin of his storied 2001 album, Endless Summer. It was a visceral experience, every composition growing louder and more emotional with each passing phrase.

The memory of that performance never left me. So when I first listened, it felt familiar and my mind began searching itself. As the album continued forth, I was flooded with the same excitement and intrigue of that September evening. Clearly that evening was where Bécs was born for me, even if it had long been festering in Fennesz (and likely so).
The same descriptions that held true of the live performance stand the test of time. Though the visual component is not included, that doesn’t mean anyone with imagination couldn’t feel the cruelty and chaos of nature’s embrace as it plays out in Fennesz’s latest flirtation with antique California tropes possessed by modern day cynicism.
Much like the hope and dreams of the public facing Beach Boys brought a glimmer of hope in the madness of the 60s love and politics, Bécs too puts forward a thoughtful but optimistic view of the winds of change. Land may erode, sea waters may rise, but at some point the metamorphosis will be complete. As a planet, we will all arrive at the point we need to be for a better world. We will draw upon eons of emotion, experience, and etymology to draw a new definition of what we feel, what we went through, and how to explain it to future generations.

It may have been four years ago but Bécs was an unexpected time capsule. Not only will it remind me of a place and time for the rest of my days, it will serve as a constant to an era before change came; the positive and negative forces of nature embodied by the equally persuasive power of music.

Fennesz - Becs [Editions Mego; 2014]

The first listen of Bécs was not my first listen of Bécs.

Four years ago during his performance at the 2010 Decibel Festival, Fennesz first played what has become the supposed kin of his storied 2001 album, Endless Summer. It was a visceral experience, every composition growing louder and more emotional with each passing phrase.

The memory of that performance never left me. So when I first listened, it felt familiar and my mind began searching itself. As the album continued forth, I was flooded with the same excitement and intrigue of that September evening. Clearly that evening was where Bécs was born for me, even if it had long been festering in Fennesz (and likely so).

The same descriptions that held true of the live performance stand the test of time. Though the visual component is not included, that doesn’t mean anyone with imagination couldn’t feel the cruelty and chaos of nature’s embrace as it plays out in Fennesz’s latest flirtation with antique California tropes possessed by modern day cynicism.

Much like the hope and dreams of the public facing Beach Boys brought a glimmer of hope in the madness of the 60s love and politics, Bécs too puts forward a thoughtful but optimistic view of the winds of change. Land may erode, sea waters may rise, but at some point the metamorphosis will be complete. As a planet, we will all arrive at the point we need to be for a better world. We will draw upon eons of emotion, experience, and etymology to draw a new definition of what we feel, what we went through, and how to explain it to future generations.

It may have been four years ago but Bécs was an unexpected time capsule. Not only will it remind me of a place and time for the rest of my days, it will serve as a constant to an era before change came; the positive and negative forces of nature embodied by the equally persuasive power of music.

Michael O. - Face the Facts EP [Fruits & Flowers; 2014]
Giving an honest representation of self in music is a fun exploration of id. But often it becomes a battle of ego, and we’re stuck with Mariah Carey insisting her lovers play her music while they make love or whatever the hell you call it when two filthy rich people have sex in a 46th floor loft full of candles without romance. But Michael Olivares spent that time in his Oakland…well, we don’t want to know what else he was doing but making sides that have lead to this 7-inch. Though focusing in on the quick one-two of the A, let’s first focus on the cover of Scorpions’ “Speedy’s Coming” on the B, because nothing is as honest as admitting to a less than flattering love of a band that hasn’t been hip since a Berlin Wall ballad 20-odd years ago. Olivares’ honest pop rendition is a carryover from the same crackling pop-rock from a bygone era that envelopes the two originals (the EP’s namesake and the sub-minute “Fear of Balance.” Again, there’s a genuine to feel to Face the Facts because as en vogue as it should be in a world of Real Estate and Beach Fossils, there’ still an earnest simplicity that makes this basement made EP just different enough that the freaks and geeks can gravitate toward it and claim it as their secret crush in 10-20 years when they continue to cycle of releasing their own truths from their own basements.

Michael O. - Face the Facts EP [Fruits & Flowers; 2014]

Giving an honest representation of self in music is a fun exploration of id. But often it becomes a battle of ego, and we’re stuck with Mariah Carey insisting her lovers play her music while they make love or whatever the hell you call it when two filthy rich people have sex in a 46th floor loft full of candles without romance. But Michael Olivares spent that time in his Oakland…well, we don’t want to know what else he was doing but making sides that have lead to this 7-inch. Though focusing in on the quick one-two of the A, let’s first focus on the cover of Scorpions’ “Speedy’s Coming” on the B, because nothing is as honest as admitting to a less than flattering love of a band that hasn’t been hip since a Berlin Wall ballad 20-odd years ago. Olivares’ honest pop rendition is a carryover from the same crackling pop-rock from a bygone era that envelopes the two originals (the EP’s namesake and the sub-minute “Fear of Balance.” Again, there’s a genuine to feel to Face the Facts because as en vogue as it should be in a world of Real Estate and Beach Fossils, there’ still an earnest simplicity that makes this basement made EP just different enough that the freaks and geeks can gravitate toward it and claim it as their secret crush in 10-20 years when they continue to cycle of releasing their own truths from their own basements.

Scarab - Progression Towards the Unknown [Mental Groove; 2014]
To explain such an artifact such as this seems a task for an archaeology or sociologist, and though we often don our fedoras and brandish a collegiate diploma, it does little to surmise the true patterns and disruptions to an unfamiliar nation or culture. The translucent amber on which a darkly mysterious echo is carried is the brainchild of artist Sandrine Pelletier and Oliver Ducret, the ominous beauty of its music from Egyptian black metal outfit Scarab, Only 9 exist in its true form but here I am, starring at the loving intricacies of the amber shellac as it spins on my turntable. Already at 11 inches, the album is playing its first track – to set up my turntable for 10 or 12 to slightly speed up or slow down the message. The forbidden nature of the recording bear Gizah’s pyramids adds a particular weightiness to the unintelligible yet international message of hope and loss encased within its amber rings. Change has been brutal to Egypt in the past few years, but it also brings with it a light of freedom. We know only what we are told; most of us separated from the norms of everyday Egypt, and the brand of freedom many wish for and many are dying for on a daily basis. It’s all captured in the heart-wrenching compositions of Scarab, who forego any typical telling of black metal tropes in favor of lyrical eulogies. It’s touching and eerie, so Scarab still maintain a bit of mysticism and terror in the face of an otherwise ecumenical hymnal of what so many of us take for granted. But this is all from a semi-privileged, semi-adult male whose suffering amounts to growing up slightly poor in a well-to-do town. It’s not up for me to decipher, just to protect. This is beyond an artistic piece, it is an artifact and one I will cherish until such a time I can hand it to the right person for its proper presentation.

Scarab - Progression Towards the Unknown [Mental Groove; 2014]

To explain such an artifact such as this seems a task for an archaeology or sociologist, and though we often don our fedoras and brandish a collegiate diploma, it does little to surmise the true patterns and disruptions to an unfamiliar nation or culture. The translucent amber on which a darkly mysterious echo is carried is the brainchild of artist Sandrine Pelletier and Oliver Ducret, the ominous beauty of its music from Egyptian black metal outfit Scarab, Only 9 exist in its true form but here I am, starring at the loving intricacies of the amber shellac as it spins on my turntable. Already at 11 inches, the album is playing its first track – to set up my turntable for 10 or 12 to slightly speed up or slow down the message. The forbidden nature of the recording bear Gizah’s pyramids adds a particular weightiness to the unintelligible yet international message of hope and loss encased within its amber rings. Change has been brutal to Egypt in the past few years, but it also brings with it a light of freedom. We know only what we are told; most of us separated from the norms of everyday Egypt, and the brand of freedom many wish for and many are dying for on a daily basis. It’s all captured in the heart-wrenching compositions of Scarab, who forego any typical telling of black metal tropes in favor of lyrical eulogies. It’s touching and eerie, so Scarab still maintain a bit of mysticism and terror in the face of an otherwise ecumenical hymnal of what so many of us take for granted. But this is all from a semi-privileged, semi-adult male whose suffering amounts to growing up slightly poor in a well-to-do town. It’s not up for me to decipher, just to protect. This is beyond an artistic piece, it is an artifact and one I will cherish until such a time I can hand it to the right person for its proper presentation.

Zapoppin’ - Ugly Musick [Damnsonic; 2014]
I lost my soul. I lost a sole. I lost the sol. I’m lost.

It’s a manic episode that attacks Ugly Musick, which is neither ugly nor sick despite the oddness of Zapoppin’. Truth is, the frantic speed and topsy-turvy nature of this latest disasterpiece from the noise-pop outfit is exactly the deconstructed regurgitation of all things mainstream needed to truly appreciate where we’ve been and where we’re going. No pretentiousness, unafraid of making the obvious lyrical flourish, Ugly Musick transforms you into something unrecognizable for only a moment, but it’s the sort of pigbelly mindless tramps oopsy-daisy tallywacker that upsets the rhythm of….look, a bluejay!

Soul is lost. Sole is last. Sol is bueno. Am I lost?

Zapoppin’ - Ugly Musick [Damnsonic; 2014]

I lost my soul. I lost a sole. I lost the sol. I’m lost.

It’s a manic episode that attacks Ugly Musick, which is neither ugly nor sick despite the oddness of Zapoppin’. Truth is, the frantic speed and topsy-turvy nature of this latest disasterpiece from the noise-pop outfit is exactly the deconstructed regurgitation of all things mainstream needed to truly appreciate where we’ve been and where we’re going. No pretentiousness, unafraid of making the obvious lyrical flourish, Ugly Musick transforms you into something unrecognizable for only a moment, but it’s the sort of pigbelly mindless tramps oopsy-daisy tallywacker that upsets the rhythm of….look, a bluejay!

Soul is lost. Sole is last. Sol is bueno. Am I lost?

The Skywriters - Skywriter Blue 1998-2000 [Lost Sound; 2014]
My name is Justin and I am stuck in the 90s. Pay no mind to my obligations to this sub-section of Tiny Mix Tapes, where I toil neck deep in all sorts of belches, screams, and telepathic microwaves. It’s all a front. Sure, my flannels are a bit more tailored, my jeans nowhere as baggy, and my hair much more tame but I still spend waking hours in front of a computer living out a 9-to-5 fantasy propped up by a lengthy (and ever-growing) playlist of 90s alterna-hits and has-beens. And it’s a fight that I hope someday warrants Gumball or Drop Nineteens a 10 cent royalty after 1,000 plays. It’s not a pay-it-forward I can pass onto defunct Philadelphia outfit The Skywriters, who find themselves out of place and time with the retrospective cassette, Skywriter Blue. But so what? I still have a stash of mid-90s CMJ mix CDs and I can’t help but think fondly of how well The Skywriters would have snuggled up next to Sun 60 or Jen Trynin. But the look back of this cassette is between 1998 and 2000, a two year stretch that signaled the decline of the always cloudy grunge forecast for bubblegum droplets and blooming foliage. And though the attitude of the late 90s pop scene is reflected throughout, The Skywriters were a few years too late to be anything more than a footnote. But considering we stand 15 years removed from that rose-colored decade, it was for the best. Hearing Skywriter Blue now is a much needed reminder that there was something left unsaid at the end of the 90s. The asteroid crash that killed off grunge all-too-soon meant a different species emerged, even if it’s taken too long for us to notice.

The Skywriters - Skywriter Blue 1998-2000 [Lost Sound; 2014]

My name is Justin and I am stuck in the 90s. Pay no mind to my obligations to this sub-section of Tiny Mix Tapes, where I toil neck deep in all sorts of belches, screams, and telepathic microwaves. It’s all a front. Sure, my flannels are a bit more tailored, my jeans nowhere as baggy, and my hair much more tame but I still spend waking hours in front of a computer living out a 9-to-5 fantasy propped up by a lengthy (and ever-growing) playlist of 90s alterna-hits and has-beens. And it’s a fight that I hope someday warrants Gumball or Drop Nineteens a 10 cent royalty after 1,000 plays. It’s not a pay-it-forward I can pass onto defunct Philadelphia outfit The Skywriters, who find themselves out of place and time with the retrospective cassette, Skywriter Blue. But so what? I still have a stash of mid-90s CMJ mix CDs and I can’t help but think fondly of how well The Skywriters would have snuggled up next to Sun 60 or Jen Trynin. But the look back of this cassette is between 1998 and 2000, a two year stretch that signaled the decline of the always cloudy grunge forecast for bubblegum droplets and blooming foliage. And though the attitude of the late 90s pop scene is reflected throughout, The Skywriters were a few years too late to be anything more than a footnote. But considering we stand 15 years removed from that rose-colored decade, it was for the best. Hearing Skywriter Blue now is a much needed reminder that there was something left unsaid at the end of the 90s. The asteroid crash that killed off grunge all-too-soon meant a different species emerged, even if it’s taken too long for us to notice.

Orange Claw Hammer - untitled [Ambivalent Soap; 2014]
Teleportation technology has come. As I step inside the cassette from Orange Claw Hammer, I’m whisked away to the time of steely, droned strings plucked from their earthen bridge with wanton skill. The axis recoils with the historical ragas of yore. I see epochs pass on the crest of a reverberation. Orange Claw Hammer may not possess the engineering skill to transport my physical being to the past but the transcendental echoes herein recall a passing musical world where guitar playing was an organic, cosmic experience where heaven and hell joined into a metaphysical realm where we questioned when dinosaurs evolved and man devolved. Of course, it’s just a good two-sided jam that also reminds us all that good music still has a place in modern society free from commercial goals and critical expectations. Which is why we listen and allow ourselves the freedom of imagination to go where the music takes us – be it the physical or spiritual plane.

Orange Claw Hammer - untitled [Ambivalent Soap; 2014]

Teleportation technology has come. As I step inside the cassette from Orange Claw Hammer, I’m whisked away to the time of steely, droned strings plucked from their earthen bridge with wanton skill. The axis recoils with the historical ragas of yore. I see epochs pass on the crest of a reverberation. Orange Claw Hammer may not possess the engineering skill to transport my physical being to the past but the transcendental echoes herein recall a passing musical world where guitar playing was an organic, cosmic experience where heaven and hell joined into a metaphysical realm where we questioned when dinosaurs evolved and man devolved. Of course, it’s just a good two-sided jam that also reminds us all that good music still has a place in modern society free from commercial goals and critical expectations. Which is why we listen and allow ourselves the freedom of imagination to go where the music takes us – be it the physical or spiritual plane.

Hiroyuki Usui - Sings the Blues [VHF; 2014]
Usui takes one step more toward a true reveal. Once a member of pivotal (well, to particular American audiences) Japanese groups such as Ghost and Fushitsusha, Usui’s legend was entrenched early among a growing avant garde by its slow emergence from passed around magazines toward the end of the 90s. As L, Usui began blending traditional Japanese folk with not-so traditional techniques and applications that produced the heavy (in spirit) Holy Letters. Collaborating with Ben Chasny, Usui clung to the rawer sounds of his oeuvre while also giving more of himself to his partner and audience.
Sings the Blues, which boasts most of Usui’s given name, goes further. Some of these tunes were offered to Chasny for a long anticipated follow-up to August Born’s first LP, but these confessional strands are best kept as Usui revelations. It’s a stark gamut, with much of the album a practice in solitude. Usui strums or beats a pattern, often offering up a spoken glimpse (language barrier aside) of what encompasses each blues inspired piece. Though there isn’t a 12-bar variety to be found, it’s the feeling of isolation and abandonment that has long held all disparate ideas of blues together that is truly universal. Be damned the method or lyric, if you’ve had real problems you can relate to Usui’s bared soul. Sings the Blues isn’t all pity, with a pair of songs titled “A Fake Blues” providing more playful melodies that speak to the haunted passageways of Americana’s twisted Southern twang. Truth is, no matter the source these are powerful tunes that speak to the essence of existence. That they are the product of Usui means much more because rarely does even the most forthright artist give so much of themselves and their creations openly.

Hiroyuki Usui - Sings the Blues [VHF; 2014]

Usui takes one step more toward a true reveal. Once a member of pivotal (well, to particular American audiences) Japanese groups such as Ghost and Fushitsusha, Usui’s legend was entrenched early among a growing avant garde by its slow emergence from passed around magazines toward the end of the 90s. As L, Usui began blending traditional Japanese folk with not-so traditional techniques and applications that produced the heavy (in spirit) Holy Letters. Collaborating with Ben Chasny, Usui clung to the rawer sounds of his oeuvre while also giving more of himself to his partner and audience.

Sings the Blues, which boasts most of Usui’s given name, goes further. Some of these tunes were offered to Chasny for a long anticipated follow-up to August Born’s first LP, but these confessional strands are best kept as Usui revelations. It’s a stark gamut, with much of the album a practice in solitude. Usui strums or beats a pattern, often offering up a spoken glimpse (language barrier aside) of what encompasses each blues inspired piece. Though there isn’t a 12-bar variety to be found, it’s the feeling of isolation and abandonment that has long held all disparate ideas of blues together that is truly universal. Be damned the method or lyric, if you’ve had real problems you can relate to Usui’s bared soul. Sings the Blues isn’t all pity, with a pair of songs titled “A Fake Blues” providing more playful melodies that speak to the haunted passageways of Americana’s twisted Southern twang. Truth is, no matter the source these are powerful tunes that speak to the essence of existence. That they are the product of Usui means much more because rarely does even the most forthright artist give so much of themselves and their creations openly.

DF Lull - Pressing Schedule [Standard Issue Press; 2014] 
The interrupting solitude of Zach Bodtorf’s alter ego is a continued ear punch. Shimmering guitar melodies are dissected by angry buzzing; an idyllic summer picnic being infested with wasps hungry for jello and ants picking at the meaty corpse between two slices of bread. Pressing Schedule’s title hearken to the constant tug of daily perfection with the struggle to measure up to the status quo. We all want to have our time in the sun but the steamroller of expectation (work, commitment, time) is always pressing down on our few moments of peace. As Bodtorf escapes the city life for the country, the album distances itself from its earlier horrors and blossoms into zen. Rather than a metaphor, it allows us to live in that picture inside our head. But the cassette’s finale serves as an ominous reminder that behind every rock and around every trunk is our dread waiting to reclaim us. Enjoy the weekend because the weekdays are ganging up.

DF Lull - Pressing Schedule [Standard Issue Press; 2014] 

The interrupting solitude of Zach Bodtorf’s alter ego is a continued ear punch. Shimmering guitar melodies are dissected by angry buzzing; an idyllic summer picnic being infested with wasps hungry for jello and ants picking at the meaty corpse between two slices of bread. Pressing Schedule’s title hearken to the constant tug of daily perfection with the struggle to measure up to the status quo. We all want to have our time in the sun but the steamroller of expectation (work, commitment, time) is always pressing down on our few moments of peace. As Bodtorf escapes the city life for the country, the album distances itself from its earlier horrors and blossoms into zen. Rather than a metaphor, it allows us to live in that picture inside our head. But the cassette’s finale serves as an ominous reminder that behind every rock and around every trunk is our dread waiting to reclaim us. Enjoy the weekend because the weekdays are ganging up.

Various Artists - FSDC Vol. 3 [Gloryhole; 2014]
Gloryhole penetrates its third round of hat-in-hand collections from Fountain Square’s porch dwellers and shed tinkerers. The up and coming Indianapolis neighborhood that pops up the hippest new eating establishment and arts districts also plays mother to the garage, surf, and experimental pop and hip-hop of a generation tired of Baby Boomer philosophy and the continued yuppie evolution of Generation X (turns out we turned out just like our parents but they took all the monies). Those days spent playing SNES on the television fed outside the broken window into the backyard were also lightning rods of creativity for Fountain Square denizens making all sorts of noise. What makes FSDC (Fountain Square Don’t Care, FYI) such an interesting stop for people looking to Midwestern subcultures is how it doesn’t hedge any musical bets based on trend, yet amalgamates all of them. The Icks are stranded between the rock of synthesized pop goo and and serpentine rock and roll. It’s oddly (and poetically) followed by the traditional rock sways of Caleb McCoach. Peter & the Kings are a futuristic Smog, the enigmatic vocal malaise of the titular front man strangely erotic like the ticks of Bill Callahan. Sadly The Bloody Mess’ “FreeBallin’” isn’t quite the “Free Fallin’” parody I desired but it’s still the same creepo ram jam I love from the duo. When the gentrification of Fountain Square runs the cockroaches out from their interstate row houses, we’ll still have FSDC. It ain’t Paris but it’ll get you as high as the Eiffel Tower.

Various Artists - FSDC Vol. 3 [Gloryhole; 2014]

Gloryhole penetrates its third round of hat-in-hand collections from Fountain Square’s porch dwellers and shed tinkerers. The up and coming Indianapolis neighborhood that pops up the hippest new eating establishment and arts districts also plays mother to the garage, surf, and experimental pop and hip-hop of a generation tired of Baby Boomer philosophy and the continued yuppie evolution of Generation X (turns out we turned out just like our parents but they took all the monies). Those days spent playing SNES on the television fed outside the broken window into the backyard were also lightning rods of creativity for Fountain Square denizens making all sorts of noise. What makes FSDC (Fountain Square Don’t Care, FYI) such an interesting stop for people looking to Midwestern subcultures is how it doesn’t hedge any musical bets based on trend, yet amalgamates all of them. The Icks are stranded between the rock of synthesized pop goo and and serpentine rock and roll. It’s oddly (and poetically) followed by the traditional rock sways of Caleb McCoach. Peter & the Kings are a futuristic Smog, the enigmatic vocal malaise of the titular front man strangely erotic like the ticks of Bill Callahan. Sadly The Bloody Mess’ “FreeBallin’” isn’t quite the “Free Fallin’” parody I desired but it’s still the same creepo ram jam I love from the duo. When the gentrification of Fountain Square runs the cockroaches out from their interstate row houses, we’ll still have FSDC. It ain’t Paris but it’ll get you as high as the Eiffel Tower.

Brave Radar - Message Centre [Fixture; 2014]
Five years is far too long in between Brave Radar albums, but when you’re on the fringe of poverty and pauper, sacrifices must occur. Considering I would have been too poor to buy a cassette of their during large swatches of that time, the wait has been worth it. Message Centre reignites the Micky Dolenz simplicity that made them such a find all those years ago (and a great inclusion on Kinnta’s The Lemon Tape in 2012). There is nothing fancy here, the result of a band on a budget but understanding how to get the most out of the least. It’s classic pop ruminations sung sweetly and played quickly. Not to tie the band’s fortunes to the Oneders but this is the evolution of Playtone with the same State Fair ethos of coming out, soaking up the admiration of young girls in tight sweaters and boys in letter jackets. Plug in, play, and get off the stage before the crowd gets bored and moves onto something else. But that part of the equation never happens. Something about the warm embrace of these tunes makes you smitten with Brave Radar. And like that first rush of stomach butterflies and goosebumps, you never forget it. You may have long thrown away your first love but the feeling remains. Message Centre is that fuzzy memory that keeps you chasing the phantom. You can settle down with Brave Radar, you’ll always have that chill.

Brave Radar - Message Centre [Fixture; 2014]

Five years is far too long in between Brave Radar albums, but when you’re on the fringe of poverty and pauper, sacrifices must occur. Considering I would have been too poor to buy a cassette of their during large swatches of that time, the wait has been worth it. Message Centre reignites the Micky Dolenz simplicity that made them such a find all those years ago (and a great inclusion on Kinnta’s The Lemon Tape in 2012). There is nothing fancy here, the result of a band on a budget but understanding how to get the most out of the least. It’s classic pop ruminations sung sweetly and played quickly. Not to tie the band’s fortunes to the Oneders but this is the evolution of Playtone with the same State Fair ethos of coming out, soaking up the admiration of young girls in tight sweaters and boys in letter jackets. Plug in, play, and get off the stage before the crowd gets bored and moves onto something else. But that part of the equation never happens. Something about the warm embrace of these tunes makes you smitten with Brave Radar. And like that first rush of stomach butterflies and goosebumps, you never forget it. You may have long thrown away your first love but the feeling remains. Message Centre is that fuzzy memory that keeps you chasing the phantom. You can settle down with Brave Radar, you’ll always have that chill.

Unicity - Self-Titled [Constellation Tatsu; 2014]
For some reason, the retrospective design of the latest Constellation Tatsu batch has me remembering PBS programming of yore, particularly Secret City as it applies the similarly named Unicity. Thanks to an overindulgence in astrophysics (I need a break from the Ship of the Imagination), I was prepared to tune out this galactic artifact. But I couldn’t. It wouldn’t let me. It hurled by like a meteor on course to destroy my world, to make me rethink how I was viewing the astronomical. So I returned to the solace of Secret City, not so much for a drawing tutorial, but for the purpose of transforming lines and shapes all too familiar into new representations and ideas. Turns out Self-Titled isn’t another jettisoned trip into outer space but rather into the outer reaches of where we are and where we could be. Imagination is a powerful tool and though it can grow dull from neglect or run amok from too much use, making sure it remains part of your balanced daily breakfast is crucial to understanding. PBS really did transform me into a sinkhole of liberal idealization and free-thought. Otherwise, I might be some dweeb too cool to give Unicity a chance and rediscover a part of myself not out of nostalgia, but of necessity, to continue to grow.

Unicity - Self-Titled [Constellation Tatsu; 2014]

For some reason, the retrospective design of the latest Constellation Tatsu batch has me remembering PBS programming of yore, particularly Secret City as it applies the similarly named Unicity. Thanks to an overindulgence in astrophysics (I need a break from the Ship of the Imagination), I was prepared to tune out this galactic artifact. But I couldn’t. It wouldn’t let me. It hurled by like a meteor on course to destroy my world, to make me rethink how I was viewing the astronomical. So I returned to the solace of Secret City, not so much for a drawing tutorial, but for the purpose of transforming lines and shapes all too familiar into new representations and ideas. Turns out Self-Titled isn’t another jettisoned trip into outer space but rather into the outer reaches of where we are and where we could be. Imagination is a powerful tool and though it can grow dull from neglect or run amok from too much use, making sure it remains part of your balanced daily breakfast is crucial to understanding. PBS really did transform me into a sinkhole of liberal idealization and free-thought. Otherwise, I might be some dweeb too cool to give Unicity a chance and rediscover a part of myself not out of nostalgia, but of necessity, to continue to grow.

Vacation Club - Heaven is Too High [Magnetic South; 2014]
The maturity of surf and garage has been a slow process, largely because its carefree roots make it the music of self-anarchy. The rules governing it are weak, if they even exist – and should they, they are readily (and wisely) ignored.

Yet Heaven is Too High, the latest from Indianapolis misfits Vacation Club, is very much the product of a maturing band. Of course age does not diminish the childlike spectacle and recklessness of the band’s anything goes spirit. But it’s a more taught, fitter, and happier album because it fears not the simplest classification or melodies in pursuit of an endless summer.

It’s a strange potluck that is had throughout Heaven is Too High. A viscous mixture of Midwestern humidity and clear beach skies, wrapped up in influences from the 1960s California and 1980s Athens pop. Though I doubt the replacements of Frankie and Annette were ever members of Let’s Active, it’s how Heaven is Too High functions with its blend of out of sight imagery and tightly wound hooks. Though the subject matter may carry a devil-may-care air, the truth is Vacation Club care deeply how the music surrounding easy-going manifests transfers the message from sender to receiver.

Now’s the time to recognize that despite their years of being pulled into retro-fitting categories of description, Vacation Club have tossed aside archaic definitions in favor of being a proud representative of a sound and time affixed in the now. Heaven is Too High, for all its influences and borrowed sounds, could not have been made until 2014. We finally have our beach makeout soundtrack, even if it’s in a landlocked state or the dead of winter.

Vacation Club - Heaven is Too High [Magnetic South; 2014]

The maturity of surf and garage has been a slow process, largely because its carefree roots make it the music of self-anarchy. The rules governing it are weak, if they even exist – and should they, they are readily (and wisely) ignored.

Yet Heaven is Too High, the latest from Indianapolis misfits Vacation Club, is very much the product of a maturing band. Of course age does not diminish the childlike spectacle and recklessness of the band’s anything goes spirit. But it’s a more taught, fitter, and happier album because it fears not the simplest classification or melodies in pursuit of an endless summer.

It’s a strange potluck that is had throughout Heaven is Too High. A viscous mixture of Midwestern humidity and clear beach skies, wrapped up in influences from the 1960s California and 1980s Athens pop. Though I doubt the replacements of Frankie and Annette were ever members of Let’s Active, it’s how Heaven is Too High functions with its blend of out of sight imagery and tightly wound hooks. Though the subject matter may carry a devil-may-care air, the truth is Vacation Club care deeply how the music surrounding easy-going manifests transfers the message from sender to receiver.

Now’s the time to recognize that despite their years of being pulled into retro-fitting categories of description, Vacation Club have tossed aside archaic definitions in favor of being a proud representative of a sound and time affixed in the now. Heaven is Too High, for all its influences and borrowed sounds, could not have been made until 2014. We finally have our beach makeout soundtrack, even if it’s in a landlocked state or the dead of winter.

Various Artists - BRAINCLUB Vol. II [Holodeck; 2014]
Extremely limited (150 copies per volume) and barebones, BRAINCLUB is a culmination of outsider Austin. As I type it, the sumabitch in me scoffs because how more outside the lines can the Texas oasis become? It’s known just as much for its event horizon as it is for its neon lights and huge music showcases. Yet here I stand stunned at what I’m learning about a town that I have some experience with but has yet to hold me to her bosom as so many before and after me. Cerberus familiars crop up on this 7 track follow-up (Silent Land Time Machine, Ex-Person) but it’s the exotic sounds that make me see Austin a new light. Bill Converse opener “Baboonatic” is 100% Silk turned down 25%, because I can only handle about 75% Silk (less for Rayon). Pizza Hut is likely to get its pizza cred disrupted by fervent coverage of that Home Alone kid’s VU pizza shits and giggles take-off, but “Rockets” is a white-sauced delight for fans of avant 90s bands that were gone before they ever began. That makes Pizza Hut far more respectable and blog worthy than a filthy animal. Malcolm Elijah may be the keystone, combining a rich tapestry of notable sounds past and present into a composition not too far remove from early Sean McCann (before McCann went head first into classical). A new presentation to something familiar, though that is the M.O. of BRAINCLUB at its heart. A quick listen of outsiders truly disrupting from the inside. They are part of Austin, unafraid of the connotation or stereotype. From that perch, they’ve taken expectations and turned them into blown up bucket list goals. Smart men and women messing up all your Cheerios.

Various Artists - BRAINCLUB Vol. II [Holodeck; 2014]

Extremely limited (150 copies per volume) and barebones, BRAINCLUB is a culmination of outsider Austin. As I type it, the sumabitch in me scoffs because how more outside the lines can the Texas oasis become? It’s known just as much for its event horizon as it is for its neon lights and huge music showcases. Yet here I stand stunned at what I’m learning about a town that I have some experience with but has yet to hold me to her bosom as so many before and after me. Cerberus familiars crop up on this 7 track follow-up (Silent Land Time Machine, Ex-Person) but it’s the exotic sounds that make me see Austin a new light. Bill Converse opener “Baboonatic” is 100% Silk turned down 25%, because I can only handle about 75% Silk (less for Rayon). Pizza Hut is likely to get its pizza cred disrupted by fervent coverage of that Home Alone kid’s VU pizza shits and giggles take-off, but “Rockets” is a white-sauced delight for fans of avant 90s bands that were gone before they ever began. That makes Pizza Hut far more respectable and blog worthy than a filthy animal. Malcolm Elijah may be the keystone, combining a rich tapestry of notable sounds past and present into a composition not too far remove from early Sean McCann (before McCann went head first into classical). A new presentation to something familiar, though that is the M.O. of BRAINCLUB at its heart. A quick listen of outsiders truly disrupting from the inside. They are part of Austin, unafraid of the connotation or stereotype. From that perch, they’ve taken expectations and turned them into blown up bucket list goals. Smart men and women messing up all your Cheerios.

Les Halles - Invisible Cities [Constellation Tatsu; 2014]
The life and times of Bob Ross has transformed into a calming center. Fans of the PBS known painter have found themselves in deep ruminations about the cosmic beauty of evolutionary design. Those brushed evergreens look bright contrasted against the white fluffy clouds and sunlit blue sky. Ross continues to teach new generations about the inherent self that resides in all. But what does Ross’ meditations jam to, because this is a not a man built on Dylan and Baez. Though very much a product of now, one can’t help but think of the zen instructor when listening to the triumphant hums of Invisible Cities. At once New Age and mystic as it is tangible and face-front, the latest Les Halles cassette is a similar study in the forms of our physical world and how with each mistreatment of the environment, we are scarring ourselves. Though it sounds ridiculous to devote time to repairing our souls in a world overwrought and rotting, there is no solution to our ills without self-examination. Les Halles may be a bit too serene in its reflection, but it serves as a means to find your nearest purveyor of punk, noise, and nihilism. Whatever gets you thinking about our smallness and largeness. It wouldn’t hurt to worship a few happy trees either.

Les Halles - Invisible Cities [Constellation Tatsu; 2014]

The life and times of Bob Ross has transformed into a calming center. Fans of the PBS known painter have found themselves in deep ruminations about the cosmic beauty of evolutionary design. Those brushed evergreens look bright contrasted against the white fluffy clouds and sunlit blue sky. Ross continues to teach new generations about the inherent self that resides in all. But what does Ross’ meditations jam to, because this is a not a man built on Dylan and Baez. Though very much a product of now, one can’t help but think of the zen instructor when listening to the triumphant hums of Invisible Cities. At once New Age and mystic as it is tangible and face-front, the latest Les Halles cassette is a similar study in the forms of our physical world and how with each mistreatment of the environment, we are scarring ourselves. Though it sounds ridiculous to devote time to repairing our souls in a world overwrought and rotting, there is no solution to our ills without self-examination. Les Halles may be a bit too serene in its reflection, but it serves as a means to find your nearest purveyor of punk, noise, and nihilism. Whatever gets you thinking about our smallness and largeness. It wouldn’t hurt to worship a few happy trees either.

Richard Youngs - A Stolen Ringbuoy [Dirty Knobby; 2014]
Judging by the marquee names gracing the available records page of Seattle’s Dirty Knobby (Mind Over Mirrors, Pumice, The Fresh & Onlys), we are a world unaware of this great small pressings label. So perhaps our simpleton nature won’t cause us dismay when listening to the latest 7-inch from Richard Youngs, who does his best self-impression through the oscilloscope of a drunk Bob Pollard. I mean, look no further than the mangled title (A Stolen Ringbuoy) and a history of Youngs desecrating pop music in whatever two bit hole in the wall he can muster scattered notes and the obvious comparisons of the two heavy hitters seems apropos, if only for a fleeting moment. But this moment is one that is now captured on soul black wax, a reminder that even the most expressive revisionist is capable of brilliant bursts of uncomplicated pop music. Of course, what you and I call pop music might differ greatly, so perhaps this is your gateway drug to fuzz and skronk and my ticket out of the tangled forest of atonality.

Richard Youngs - A Stolen Ringbuoy [Dirty Knobby; 2014]

Judging by the marquee names gracing the available records page of Seattle’s Dirty Knobby (Mind Over Mirrors, Pumice, The Fresh & Onlys), we are a world unaware of this great small pressings label. So perhaps our simpleton nature won’t cause us dismay when listening to the latest 7-inch from Richard Youngs, who does his best self-impression through the oscilloscope of a drunk Bob Pollard. I mean, look no further than the mangled title (A Stolen Ringbuoy) and a history of Youngs desecrating pop music in whatever two bit hole in the wall he can muster scattered notes and the obvious comparisons of the two heavy hitters seems apropos, if only for a fleeting moment. But this moment is one that is now captured on soul black wax, a reminder that even the most expressive revisionist is capable of brilliant bursts of uncomplicated pop music. Of course, what you and I call pop music might differ greatly, so perhaps this is your gateway drug to fuzz and skronk and my ticket out of the tangled forest of atonality.

Fennesz - Becs [Editions Mego; 2014]
The first listen of Bécs was not my first listen of Bécs.

Four years ago during his performance at the 2010 Decibel Festival, Fennesz first played what has become the supposed kin of his storied 2001 album, Endless Summer. It was a visceral experience, every composition growing louder and more emotional with each passing phrase.

The memory of that performance never left me. So when I first listened, it felt familiar and my mind began searching itself. As the album continued forth, I was flooded with the same excitement and intrigue of that September evening. Clearly that evening was where Bécs was born for me, even if it had long been festering in Fennesz (and likely so).
The same descriptions that held true of the live performance stand the test of time. Though the visual component is not included, that doesn’t mean anyone with imagination couldn’t feel the cruelty and chaos of nature’s embrace as it plays out in Fennesz’s latest flirtation with antique California tropes possessed by modern day cynicism.
Much like the hope and dreams of the public facing Beach Boys brought a glimmer of hope in the madness of the 60s love and politics, Bécs too puts forward a thoughtful but optimistic view of the winds of change. Land may erode, sea waters may rise, but at some point the metamorphosis will be complete. As a planet, we will all arrive at the point we need to be for a better world. We will draw upon eons of emotion, experience, and etymology to draw a new definition of what we feel, what we went through, and how to explain it to future generations.

It may have been four years ago but Bécs was an unexpected time capsule. Not only will it remind me of a place and time for the rest of my days, it will serve as a constant to an era before change came; the positive and negative forces of nature embodied by the equally persuasive power of music.

Fennesz - Becs [Editions Mego; 2014]

The first listen of Bécs was not my first listen of Bécs.

Four years ago during his performance at the 2010 Decibel Festival, Fennesz first played what has become the supposed kin of his storied 2001 album, Endless Summer. It was a visceral experience, every composition growing louder and more emotional with each passing phrase.

The memory of that performance never left me. So when I first listened, it felt familiar and my mind began searching itself. As the album continued forth, I was flooded with the same excitement and intrigue of that September evening. Clearly that evening was where Bécs was born for me, even if it had long been festering in Fennesz (and likely so).

The same descriptions that held true of the live performance stand the test of time. Though the visual component is not included, that doesn’t mean anyone with imagination couldn’t feel the cruelty and chaos of nature’s embrace as it plays out in Fennesz’s latest flirtation with antique California tropes possessed by modern day cynicism.

Much like the hope and dreams of the public facing Beach Boys brought a glimmer of hope in the madness of the 60s love and politics, Bécs too puts forward a thoughtful but optimistic view of the winds of change. Land may erode, sea waters may rise, but at some point the metamorphosis will be complete. As a planet, we will all arrive at the point we need to be for a better world. We will draw upon eons of emotion, experience, and etymology to draw a new definition of what we feel, what we went through, and how to explain it to future generations.

It may have been four years ago but Bécs was an unexpected time capsule. Not only will it remind me of a place and time for the rest of my days, it will serve as a constant to an era before change came; the positive and negative forces of nature embodied by the equally persuasive power of music.

Michael O. - Face the Facts EP [Fruits & Flowers; 2014]
Giving an honest representation of self in music is a fun exploration of id. But often it becomes a battle of ego, and we’re stuck with Mariah Carey insisting her lovers play her music while they make love or whatever the hell you call it when two filthy rich people have sex in a 46th floor loft full of candles without romance. But Michael Olivares spent that time in his Oakland…well, we don’t want to know what else he was doing but making sides that have lead to this 7-inch. Though focusing in on the quick one-two of the A, let’s first focus on the cover of Scorpions’ “Speedy’s Coming” on the B, because nothing is as honest as admitting to a less than flattering love of a band that hasn’t been hip since a Berlin Wall ballad 20-odd years ago. Olivares’ honest pop rendition is a carryover from the same crackling pop-rock from a bygone era that envelopes the two originals (the EP’s namesake and the sub-minute “Fear of Balance.” Again, there’s a genuine to feel to Face the Facts because as en vogue as it should be in a world of Real Estate and Beach Fossils, there’ still an earnest simplicity that makes this basement made EP just different enough that the freaks and geeks can gravitate toward it and claim it as their secret crush in 10-20 years when they continue to cycle of releasing their own truths from their own basements.

Michael O. - Face the Facts EP [Fruits & Flowers; 2014]

Giving an honest representation of self in music is a fun exploration of id. But often it becomes a battle of ego, and we’re stuck with Mariah Carey insisting her lovers play her music while they make love or whatever the hell you call it when two filthy rich people have sex in a 46th floor loft full of candles without romance. But Michael Olivares spent that time in his Oakland…well, we don’t want to know what else he was doing but making sides that have lead to this 7-inch. Though focusing in on the quick one-two of the A, let’s first focus on the cover of Scorpions’ “Speedy’s Coming” on the B, because nothing is as honest as admitting to a less than flattering love of a band that hasn’t been hip since a Berlin Wall ballad 20-odd years ago. Olivares’ honest pop rendition is a carryover from the same crackling pop-rock from a bygone era that envelopes the two originals (the EP’s namesake and the sub-minute “Fear of Balance.” Again, there’s a genuine to feel to Face the Facts because as en vogue as it should be in a world of Real Estate and Beach Fossils, there’ still an earnest simplicity that makes this basement made EP just different enough that the freaks and geeks can gravitate toward it and claim it as their secret crush in 10-20 years when they continue to cycle of releasing their own truths from their own basements.

Scarab - Progression Towards the Unknown [Mental Groove; 2014]
To explain such an artifact such as this seems a task for an archaeology or sociologist, and though we often don our fedoras and brandish a collegiate diploma, it does little to surmise the true patterns and disruptions to an unfamiliar nation or culture. The translucent amber on which a darkly mysterious echo is carried is the brainchild of artist Sandrine Pelletier and Oliver Ducret, the ominous beauty of its music from Egyptian black metal outfit Scarab, Only 9 exist in its true form but here I am, starring at the loving intricacies of the amber shellac as it spins on my turntable. Already at 11 inches, the album is playing its first track – to set up my turntable for 10 or 12 to slightly speed up or slow down the message. The forbidden nature of the recording bear Gizah’s pyramids adds a particular weightiness to the unintelligible yet international message of hope and loss encased within its amber rings. Change has been brutal to Egypt in the past few years, but it also brings with it a light of freedom. We know only what we are told; most of us separated from the norms of everyday Egypt, and the brand of freedom many wish for and many are dying for on a daily basis. It’s all captured in the heart-wrenching compositions of Scarab, who forego any typical telling of black metal tropes in favor of lyrical eulogies. It’s touching and eerie, so Scarab still maintain a bit of mysticism and terror in the face of an otherwise ecumenical hymnal of what so many of us take for granted. But this is all from a semi-privileged, semi-adult male whose suffering amounts to growing up slightly poor in a well-to-do town. It’s not up for me to decipher, just to protect. This is beyond an artistic piece, it is an artifact and one I will cherish until such a time I can hand it to the right person for its proper presentation.

Scarab - Progression Towards the Unknown [Mental Groove; 2014]

To explain such an artifact such as this seems a task for an archaeology or sociologist, and though we often don our fedoras and brandish a collegiate diploma, it does little to surmise the true patterns and disruptions to an unfamiliar nation or culture. The translucent amber on which a darkly mysterious echo is carried is the brainchild of artist Sandrine Pelletier and Oliver Ducret, the ominous beauty of its music from Egyptian black metal outfit Scarab, Only 9 exist in its true form but here I am, starring at the loving intricacies of the amber shellac as it spins on my turntable. Already at 11 inches, the album is playing its first track – to set up my turntable for 10 or 12 to slightly speed up or slow down the message. The forbidden nature of the recording bear Gizah’s pyramids adds a particular weightiness to the unintelligible yet international message of hope and loss encased within its amber rings. Change has been brutal to Egypt in the past few years, but it also brings with it a light of freedom. We know only what we are told; most of us separated from the norms of everyday Egypt, and the brand of freedom many wish for and many are dying for on a daily basis. It’s all captured in the heart-wrenching compositions of Scarab, who forego any typical telling of black metal tropes in favor of lyrical eulogies. It’s touching and eerie, so Scarab still maintain a bit of mysticism and terror in the face of an otherwise ecumenical hymnal of what so many of us take for granted. But this is all from a semi-privileged, semi-adult male whose suffering amounts to growing up slightly poor in a well-to-do town. It’s not up for me to decipher, just to protect. This is beyond an artistic piece, it is an artifact and one I will cherish until such a time I can hand it to the right person for its proper presentation.

Zapoppin’ - Ugly Musick [Damnsonic; 2014]
I lost my soul. I lost a sole. I lost the sol. I’m lost.

It’s a manic episode that attacks Ugly Musick, which is neither ugly nor sick despite the oddness of Zapoppin’. Truth is, the frantic speed and topsy-turvy nature of this latest disasterpiece from the noise-pop outfit is exactly the deconstructed regurgitation of all things mainstream needed to truly appreciate where we’ve been and where we’re going. No pretentiousness, unafraid of making the obvious lyrical flourish, Ugly Musick transforms you into something unrecognizable for only a moment, but it’s the sort of pigbelly mindless tramps oopsy-daisy tallywacker that upsets the rhythm of….look, a bluejay!

Soul is lost. Sole is last. Sol is bueno. Am I lost?

Zapoppin’ - Ugly Musick [Damnsonic; 2014]

I lost my soul. I lost a sole. I lost the sol. I’m lost.

It’s a manic episode that attacks Ugly Musick, which is neither ugly nor sick despite the oddness of Zapoppin’. Truth is, the frantic speed and topsy-turvy nature of this latest disasterpiece from the noise-pop outfit is exactly the deconstructed regurgitation of all things mainstream needed to truly appreciate where we’ve been and where we’re going. No pretentiousness, unafraid of making the obvious lyrical flourish, Ugly Musick transforms you into something unrecognizable for only a moment, but it’s the sort of pigbelly mindless tramps oopsy-daisy tallywacker that upsets the rhythm of….look, a bluejay!

Soul is lost. Sole is last. Sol is bueno. Am I lost?

The Skywriters - Skywriter Blue 1998-2000 [Lost Sound; 2014]
My name is Justin and I am stuck in the 90s. Pay no mind to my obligations to this sub-section of Tiny Mix Tapes, where I toil neck deep in all sorts of belches, screams, and telepathic microwaves. It’s all a front. Sure, my flannels are a bit more tailored, my jeans nowhere as baggy, and my hair much more tame but I still spend waking hours in front of a computer living out a 9-to-5 fantasy propped up by a lengthy (and ever-growing) playlist of 90s alterna-hits and has-beens. And it’s a fight that I hope someday warrants Gumball or Drop Nineteens a 10 cent royalty after 1,000 plays. It’s not a pay-it-forward I can pass onto defunct Philadelphia outfit The Skywriters, who find themselves out of place and time with the retrospective cassette, Skywriter Blue. But so what? I still have a stash of mid-90s CMJ mix CDs and I can’t help but think fondly of how well The Skywriters would have snuggled up next to Sun 60 or Jen Trynin. But the look back of this cassette is between 1998 and 2000, a two year stretch that signaled the decline of the always cloudy grunge forecast for bubblegum droplets and blooming foliage. And though the attitude of the late 90s pop scene is reflected throughout, The Skywriters were a few years too late to be anything more than a footnote. But considering we stand 15 years removed from that rose-colored decade, it was for the best. Hearing Skywriter Blue now is a much needed reminder that there was something left unsaid at the end of the 90s. The asteroid crash that killed off grunge all-too-soon meant a different species emerged, even if it’s taken too long for us to notice.

The Skywriters - Skywriter Blue 1998-2000 [Lost Sound; 2014]

My name is Justin and I am stuck in the 90s. Pay no mind to my obligations to this sub-section of Tiny Mix Tapes, where I toil neck deep in all sorts of belches, screams, and telepathic microwaves. It’s all a front. Sure, my flannels are a bit more tailored, my jeans nowhere as baggy, and my hair much more tame but I still spend waking hours in front of a computer living out a 9-to-5 fantasy propped up by a lengthy (and ever-growing) playlist of 90s alterna-hits and has-beens. And it’s a fight that I hope someday warrants Gumball or Drop Nineteens a 10 cent royalty after 1,000 plays. It’s not a pay-it-forward I can pass onto defunct Philadelphia outfit The Skywriters, who find themselves out of place and time with the retrospective cassette, Skywriter Blue. But so what? I still have a stash of mid-90s CMJ mix CDs and I can’t help but think fondly of how well The Skywriters would have snuggled up next to Sun 60 or Jen Trynin. But the look back of this cassette is between 1998 and 2000, a two year stretch that signaled the decline of the always cloudy grunge forecast for bubblegum droplets and blooming foliage. And though the attitude of the late 90s pop scene is reflected throughout, The Skywriters were a few years too late to be anything more than a footnote. But considering we stand 15 years removed from that rose-colored decade, it was for the best. Hearing Skywriter Blue now is a much needed reminder that there was something left unsaid at the end of the 90s. The asteroid crash that killed off grunge all-too-soon meant a different species emerged, even if it’s taken too long for us to notice.

Orange Claw Hammer - untitled [Ambivalent Soap; 2014]
Teleportation technology has come. As I step inside the cassette from Orange Claw Hammer, I’m whisked away to the time of steely, droned strings plucked from their earthen bridge with wanton skill. The axis recoils with the historical ragas of yore. I see epochs pass on the crest of a reverberation. Orange Claw Hammer may not possess the engineering skill to transport my physical being to the past but the transcendental echoes herein recall a passing musical world where guitar playing was an organic, cosmic experience where heaven and hell joined into a metaphysical realm where we questioned when dinosaurs evolved and man devolved. Of course, it’s just a good two-sided jam that also reminds us all that good music still has a place in modern society free from commercial goals and critical expectations. Which is why we listen and allow ourselves the freedom of imagination to go where the music takes us – be it the physical or spiritual plane.

Orange Claw Hammer - untitled [Ambivalent Soap; 2014]

Teleportation technology has come. As I step inside the cassette from Orange Claw Hammer, I’m whisked away to the time of steely, droned strings plucked from their earthen bridge with wanton skill. The axis recoils with the historical ragas of yore. I see epochs pass on the crest of a reverberation. Orange Claw Hammer may not possess the engineering skill to transport my physical being to the past but the transcendental echoes herein recall a passing musical world where guitar playing was an organic, cosmic experience where heaven and hell joined into a metaphysical realm where we questioned when dinosaurs evolved and man devolved. Of course, it’s just a good two-sided jam that also reminds us all that good music still has a place in modern society free from commercial goals and critical expectations. Which is why we listen and allow ourselves the freedom of imagination to go where the music takes us – be it the physical or spiritual plane.

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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