Things We Like: Drab Majesty, “The Demonstration”

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Dreamy and introspective. That’s the easy answer. Some might say “dark”. Perhaps a bit. But that’s an overly simplistic and, frankly, cynical take. It could be said Drab Majesty conjures up a 4AD aura about things with hints of vintage Clan of Xymox or Cocteau Twins in both sound and style. Really, though, there are many influences – dream pop, shoegaze and classic goth among them – that tease their way into the songs. But Deb DeMure, the androgynous alter-ego of L.A.-based musician Andrew Clinco, comes calling with more than just a checklist of references.

On their second proper album, The Demonstration, Drab Majesty transcends the confines of strict style and the niche tastes of a precious few and push out into the realm of 80’s new wave and pop. The songs are catchy and irresistible and satisfyingly accessible while managing to still shimmer and haunt and hover in the corner – a perfect mix of light and dark that invites obsessive listening. Many of these songs wouldn’t seem out of place on mainstream radio of the era. The grand, euphoric “Cold Souls” comes to mind as does “39 By Design”, their languid meditation on the Heaven’s Gate cult – both tracks aptly released in advance of the album like incantations masking as pop singles.

And while there’s a lot to love about The Demonstration, DeMure’s guitar playing could be the true star. Her chiming guitar lines are captivating as they meander around and hang in the air. They lure you in, slow things down and let the white space between notes wrap you in a woozy, warm embrace. “Not Just a Name” and “Forget Tomorrow” conjure up this atmosphere perfectly, the latter playing up the 80’s-era drum machines to near-absurd levels of intensity.

But grandiose gestures are what Drab Majesty is all about. Their image and influences spill out super-saturated, dime-store drama in a kaleidoscope of colors, textures and references. They present an exquisite corpse tangled with so many conflicting cultural touch points – religious pageantry, the occult, KISS Army, Warhol wigs, science fiction, Geisha girl, Members Only – that it’s hard not to fall under their spell (or perhaps surrender to the sheer weight of their presentation) and just follow along. But it all works. Style and sound are a perfect match – light and dark, sweet and sour, high and low – that keeps you off balance and craving more.

After letting this one brood on the turntable for the better part of a month (on glorious marbled blue vinyl and on constant repeat), The Demonstration presents a complete, confident and fully realized vision. Also, the album’s production – care of Telaphon Tel Aviv’s Joshua Eustis – is cleaner and less claustrophobic than its predecessor, Careless (itself a clear statement of purpose with its fair share of great songs).

But The Demonstration is the complete package. It’s that same complex and compelling vision but pushed through with focus and clarity, delivering great songs with production to match.

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Winter Tunes: Project Pitchfork, “Terra Incognita”

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Fresh air, twinkling white lights on snow-covered branches, stars in the sky. Glassy synths shimmer like icy crystal as ghostly choral samples loop in the background. A perfect soundtrack for a cold winter’s night – with a little emotion added to melt your cold, cold heart.

Things We Like: “Wait in the Car”

Colors! Layers! Bricks!

The Breeders are back with a new 7″ single and a super-saturated new video by former Vaughn Oliver associate Chris Bigg. Oliver and Bigg are, of course, praised for their cover art and design expertise on so many 4AD projects including every single Pixies release. This video is right up there with the best of them.

You’re going to need to watch this one full-screen.

SUMMER TUNES: Ocean Blue, “Between Something and Nothing”

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Picture, if you will, a bunch of college kids rolling down a rural road in a beat-up set of wheels, windows down, tunes blaring, bright blue skies and not a care in the world. Sound familiar? Yep, it’s a pretty exasperatingly tired indie-rock cliche. Yet this song from Hershey, Pennsylvania’s dream-pop poster boys seems worthy of the picture.

Sort of. Just replace the farms with colorful flower gardens and the late-summer heat with a refreshing late-spring breeze and you’re just about there. That, and they’re probably a little better dressed than those other kids.

Here, big, bright, shimmering atmospherics and sweet, somewhat straightforward (but no less sublime) imagery collide, expand out, and go on for miles. It’s the perfect soundtrack for catching the rays as you cruise to the beach to catch some waves.

Further Listening: “Drifting, Falling”, “Give it a Try”

Summer Tunes: Heavy Water Factory, “Painfield”

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The humid heat of summer has finally settled in and has us thinking of classic summer songs. First up: Heavy Water Factory.

Not many bands can capture a specific mood or aesthetic and ride it out successfully over a career. Not many bands can do it unintentionally, either. Heavy Water Factory made the heavy, humid heat of a classic Mid-Atlantic summer palpable and managed to do it time and again, consistently bringing the heat over the course of a two-album-plus catalog in the mid-90’s. While it surely wasn’t their intent, their songs feel like summer.

Heavy Water Factory was brought to my attention in the summer of 1996 by a college roommate who boasted of this “new” talent from Michigan (the songs were written two years prior to the record gaining true promotional traction). Their debut, Fluid & Meat was a curious collection of songs – definitely not we expected from the electro-industrial scene of the time – with a slow, heavy atmosphere clouding the body of work. The songs were there but not there. There was a nuance and texture and delicacy to the tracks unlike what were looking for at the time. I came away from my first listen totally zapped of energy and found it surprising that the soundtrack totally meshed with the view outside my window: bright sun, blazing pavement, few people.

“Painfield” is a prime example. The mid-tempo track slowly plods along, building steam at a snail’s pace and mustering just enough energy to hold a groove. Just when you think it’s on the verge of something substantial – a big chorus or massive breakdown – it consistently recoils back to the same easy groove, seemingly succumbing to the weight of the sweltering heat. It’s like they’re gassed out, happy to simply coast along for the remainder of the track and not move too much.

The atmosphere conjured up by Heavy Water Factory is hazy and hot, lazy and lethargic, sultry and sort of sexy. They offer the perfect soundtrack to those blistering summer days you just hope to survive – riding out the day and waiting out the sun for the cover of darkness when you can crawl out into the night in search of something more substantial.

Further Listening: “Shreck Bild”, “Vampire”

Things We Like: Xeno & Oaklander

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Deceptively simple, minimal, synthetic pop. Catchy melodies with dark undertones overlaid with dueling male/female vox. Distant, detached, haunting, enchanting, exotic, inviting, seductive – all of these things.

One thing that that keeps us coming back is the duality of moods that permeates nearly every track. Sweet and sour, dark and light, sleek and leaden sounds all add to the complexity and depth of the songs. They’re intoxicating, addictive, irresistible. It’s kind of like switching between sweet and savory treats – the contrasting flavors simply feed your appetite for more.

Fans of early electronic pop will find a lot to like. If you dig classics like Kraftwerk and Chris & Cosey or contemporaries like Solvent – or perhaps more accessible reference points like very early Depeche Mode, OMD, or Gary Numan – then this is your sweet spot.

Things We Like: Charles & Ray Eames’ “Solar Do-Nothing Machine”

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Modern furnishings, sure. Landmark exhibits, yep. Groundbreaking films, uh-huh. But what you might not be familiar with is the Eames’ Solar Do-Nothing Machine, a sculpture for Alcoa, the Aluminum Company of America, created in 1957.

A kinetic sculpture that lures you in with wild colors and patterns that shimmy, shake, sparkle and spin, the Solar Do-Nothing Machine takes a potentially boring subject (solar energy) and dazzles with accessible, whimsical, high-modern style.

But the film—culled from footage unearthed in 1995 by Eames Demetrios—is where the magic really happens. Close-ups and panning shots bring you right into the piece backed by a jazzy soundtrack that pairs perfectly with classic aesthetics and bouncing, spinning parts. And just like a good sugar rush, the party ultimately comes crashing to a halt—in this case when a cloud passes overhead. Science. Bummer.

For me it’s all nearly too much, too perfect. The glimmering geometry, the pop colors, the choreography of moving shapes, and, of course, the soundtrack all make this thing utterly hypnotic. Pity the fool who puts the film on repeat. Sure, that’d probably be me. If that happens and you see me sitting there totally zoned out, just know I’m in a high-keyed happy place. And pick my jaw up off the table on your way out.