HotWax is here. The UK trio debuts with its A Thousand Times EP (Marathon Artists) which is significantly hard-hitting and no-nonsense. What does this mean? Actually, I’m not sure. While everything is ripe for the picking, there’s uncertainty if HotWax will be here for the long haul. Sure the songs sound like strengthened animals about to let off the leash but… we want to hear the animal as it roams in the wild, completely unbridled. There might be something holding the band back and it’s hard to put a finger on it. Seems the band should let it all out and let its soul speak. A good release but just seems to be lacking something.
With Sufjan Stevens, no two records are ever the same. When it comes to Sufjan Stevens, it’s safe to say he’s continuously pushing the boundaries of songwriting and rediscovering everything he can possibly explore to create something unique every time. We can see that here on the new Reflections (Asthmatic Kitty Records). It opens with the piano-based composition “Ekstasis” that’s amazingly enchanting. An album performed by pianists Timo Andres and Conor Hanick. Fingers are moving all around a piano, pulling every nuance from it. And so it goes through the course of seven distinct pieces, “Revanche” being a favorite for its abrupt pauses and shifting quick-nimbleness and at times, softer delivery. But it’s “Mnemosyne” where hands and fingers caress keyboards with nary a pause in sight. Reflections was created in collaboration with choreographer Justin Peck for the Houston Ballet back in 2019 and yes, it still sounds fresh.
TOMBSTONES IN THEIR EYES – SEA OF SORROW
It isn’t often that you come across something that offers something new swathed in something old, something that reverberates with nostalgia but also remains refreshing contemporary. Again, we don’t find it often but when we do, we have to hold onto it. Enter: Tombstones In Their Eyes, The quintet out of Los Angeles who aren’t new to this music game. In the past couple of the band has released recordings, Looking For A Light and A Higher Place which obviously tell, this is no fluke, with more releases under its belt as well. But it’s the band’s sonic explorations that allow us to take interest and take note.
The band circulates around and through and creates a defined psychedelic stoner-like shoegaze persona through its music. It’s quite unimaginable how the music Tombstones In Their Eyes storms through has a unique quality to it. The newly released Sea Of Sorrow (Kitten Robot Records) is just the latest in storied released in the group’s curving direction of soundscape creations. TITE moves through a shockwave of emotions and textures throughout the album which just might allow us all to look at music just a bit differently.
On its opener “Trapped,” the band bum-rushes the stage in a manner of speaking, leading off with a wall of fuzzed-out guitars as vocal melodies take on a life all their own. The band is repetitive but far from repetitious, moving like a singular beast hunting its prey. To say the band is hypnotic would probably be an understatement as its blissful sonic wave covers everything as it cascades all around. It seems there are moments when real-life situations make into songs, as vocalist John Treanor sings, “I played with fire and I got burned/I made so many mistakes but love returned” on the upbeat “Life.” He leaves himself open and vulnerable although it’s probably on the morose “Numb” that may strike a chord with most. Here the lyrics, “I’m numb from all the drugs” are repeated and you get the sense there’s no escape as the attempts to numb himself from the pain move in a repetitive cycle. It’s destructive and sad at the same time but we can probably relate to it in some way or another.
Things seem to get a bit more desperate and hopeless on the slower “Hope.” But just because things move at a slower tempo doesn’t mean it’s not as aggressive as fuzz-out guitars explode at times. There’s a melancholy here when Treanor sings “…I have no dreams and I wasn’t dead/ But I was as close as can be without being dead/ There was no hope I’ve had no pleasures left/I burned every bridge and everyone had left…” which again, many can relate to and understand. It speaks volumes with just a few words.
Tombstones In Their Eyes is without a doubt, special. There isn’t anything shocking, just a no-nonsense recording of compositions that are strong. With Sea Of Sorrow, TITE continues to grow as a force to be reckoned with.
CALIFONE – VILLAGERS
There are those that hang back in the recesses of one’s mind, never completely forgotten and always nudging at you for some unmistakable reason. Others may not fully appreciate what they’ve offered but in your heart, you understand that there’s something special when you’ve hit nostalgic hurdles, grabbing at what you remember to be unique and quite frankly, remarkable at times.
Califone surfaced from the remains of Red Red Meat, and throughout the years members of the band would contribute to Tim Rutili’s solo project as well as others. While Rutili eschewed the loud, blues-inspired sound of Red Red Meat, we could all find slight similarities within the quieter confines of Califone. And here we are, 25 years later with villagers (Jealous Butcher Records), the 17th release by the band. Things couldn’t be much sweeter.
Throughout villagers, Rutili & colleagues offer restraints on much of the volume but don’t landlock the sonic pop composition of their songs. From the get-go, “The Habsburg Jaw,” moves in rock band mode but while the song isn’t an explosive display, which might detract from the songwriting itself, its landscape offers subdued beauty filled with an array of percussion & electronics filtered throughout. It’s like “Mcmansions,” where the charm is not only in Califone’s delivery but also in its simplicity. The band culls an assortment of notes and chords with the utmost ease, with Rutili’s cherry licorice voice surrounding it. Cooing harmonies and piano make their presence known and it’s more than a delightful ride through a kaleidoscope of sound.
What’s interesting is how no two songs are alike while remaining distinctively Califone. “Comedy,” one of the richest songs on villagers is unassuming in its brilliance, beginning softly with sparse instrumentation in piano and percussion. Flourishes of horns and strings are unexpected but the backing harmonies filling up space are perfectly placed all along. When Rutili’s shaky voice sings “The absence of faith is a chemical affliction, and I’m not your slave anymore,” we recognize he’s not perfect but he’s perfect in what he does here. The band ends with “Sweetly” and you probably couldn’t find a title more apropos. Over a bed of percussion and acoustic guitar, the melody is addictive with Rutili’s voice riding the wave. Midway through keyboards briefly appear, and then later closes out the track. It’s a diamond of a brilliant cut.
We’re almost halfway through the year and I don’t believe there’s an album that can match the delicate touch of villagers or its sensitivity. It’s never too soon to rediscover a band with possibly one of the greatest albums of this year.