Single Review: Slow Turismo Release “Pistol Powder”

Slow Turismo have released Pistol Powder. It is the first single they have released since they won the 2017 triple j Unearthedspot for Groovin the Moo Canberra.

Slow Turismo self-describes as “the new Hanson but older, [with] one less relative, darker hair and different taste in music.” They previously played as a four piece band made up of brothers Sam, Max and Riley Conway and their friend since primary school Louis Montgomery. Their last single You Are Dead was produced by Ben Woolner from SAFIA.

Pistol Powder opens with effervescent layers of synth and reverb. The arrangement is reminiscent of dream pop duo Beach House, with waves of sound leading into a harmonized chorus. The chorus takes on a sunny groove, moving away from the minimalist opening notes. The full sound is complimented by the contrasting tones of Sam and Max’s voices. Despite the warmth of the chorus, the lyrics are as doleful as the verses: “I need something real to pick me up / More than just the sun shining.”

While Pistol Powder doesn’t sound as melancholic as You Were Dead or the songs from Slow Turismo’s eponymous 2015 EP, its sound is comparable to the poignance of waking from a dream that you try to recall “just before it goes.” The song fades into a whistle and a final shimmering note.

This article was originally published on Savage Thrills.

Album Review: Death From Above Get Critical on Outrage! Is Now

Few album titles better suit current affairs in 2017 than Outrage! Is Now. Toronto two piece Death From Above returns with their third full-length album, the band’s second since their reunion following a ten-year hiatus. (Though they purportedly dropped the ‘1979’ from their band name, they remain Death From Above 1979 on their website domain and their Facebook page.)

DFA makes a roaring return on album opener Nomads. Sebastien Grainger‘s percussion steadily builds before Jesse Keeler’sbass kicks in. The track has a similar intensity to their acclaimed 2004 album You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine but it deviates from the dance punk sound and discord for which DFA is best known. The sound is more in the vein of classic rock. Without referring to it explicitly, Nomads is about forced displacement. “Nomad, never home / No matter where you go,” Grainger wails on the chorus. Lyrically, Nomads sets the tone for an album that is more culturally critical than the band’s previous works.

Rather than the raw emotion that was the lyrical focus of You’re a Woman, I’m a MachineOutrage! Is Now is a social commentary for the internet age. Freeze Me asks, Are we in trouble? to which those in North America concerned by white supremacist rallies are liable to answer with a resounding yes. The album’s titular track simmers without reaching a boiling point. Outrage! Is Now is apathetic, claiming “Outrage is all that rage,” rather than critically engaging with the source of outrage. It feels as hollow as the Pepsi protest commercial that added fresh infamy to the Kardashian brand. Never Swim Alone is a loose criticism on consumerism that relies too heavily on clichés and quirky phrases like “YouTube haircut” and “Satan is my username.”

While the band’s label, Last Gang Records, describes the record as weirder and wilder than its predecessors, the album rarely approaches the passion or experimentalism of seminal track Romantic Rights. Despite the ominous build up on the verses of Moonlight, the chorus never reaches a satisfying crescendo. Similarly, the psych rock riffs of even keeled Statues lack the intensity that has always drawn fans to DFA. The reverberating fade out is the track’s most interesting instrumental element. Outrage! Is Now is nearly temperate when moderation is never what fans have sought in Death From Above.

There are, however, some instrumental standouts that suggest DFA are on their way to successfully diversifying their sound. Lead single Freeze Me is Keeler’s strongest instrumental track, incorporating melodic piano at the track’s opening and powerful bass riffs in its latter half.

Caught Up has a lazier tempo and subdued riffs. Coupled with lines like, “Tell me one thing you care about / Take your beliefs and shake them out, all the way out,” it runs a dispassionate course until the song makes a ripper transition in its latter half. The flailing minute is as unrestrained as DFA sounds on the album. “Caught Up” is a surprise standout in spite of its repetitious opening minutes.

“All I C Is U & Me” is a name that befits the internet culture DFA satirizes on Never Swim Alone. (The same can be said of penultimate track NVR 4EVR.) It could be derivative from the work of any number of the band’s early 2000s indie rock peers. Still All I C Is U & Me is also a fun, danceable track with a few satisfying pitch shifts.

Holy Books ends the album on a high note – literally in the case of Grainger’s falsetto. Keeler’s power ballad piano pairs successfully with the barrage of bass and percussion. The proclamation against organized religion on the chorus is readymade for a singalong when DFA tours the album. It’s a strong track worthy of the closing slot.

While Death From Above can be commended for never seeking to replicate the formula that earned them acclaim in 2004, Outrage! Is Now falls short of its full potential. DFA neither capitalize on the album’s critical possibilities nor invoke the typhoon of angst for which their previous works are known.

This review was originally posted on Savage Thrills.

Catching Up With Psymon Spine

Psymon Spine’s sound is nothing short of euphoric. Though they have only released an album’s worth of material, they have already masterfully created a sound that defies conventional genre classification. Founded in 2013 by Peter Spears and Noah Prebish, the Brooklyn, New York band currently has a five member line up that includes Devon Kilburn, Nathaniel Coffey, and “Brother Michael” Rudinski.

To call their music electro pop – or more generically, EDM – is to risk classifying Psymon Spine alongside the genre’s least interesting and paradoxically most popular acts. In contrast with the repetitious sound of mainstream electro pop, Psymon Spine’s debut album You Are Coming to My Birthday is intriguingly unpredictable. The album’s sound is a seamless meld of synth beats and melodies, subtle instrumentation, resonant chants and choral harmonies.

You Are Coming to My Birthday is a multifaceted album with a complex soundscape to compliment the band’s pop sensibility. Album opener Separate leans towards maximalism without being overwhelming. The song pairs choral vocals with an up tempo guitar driven melody.

Shocked builds steadily from layered West African style percussion and a whistled melody. Atonal vocals sing in a round, “I don’t understand why you think / Nothing in your life is changing,” over a chorus of melodic chants. The prominent synth in the latter half of the song makes for a seamless transition into YoanaYoana drives towards a climactic beat drop in its final minutes. Herein lines their ability to make excellent electronic music: the beat drop is a perfect culmination to a danceable track rather than the sole pay out of a drawn out build.

Predominantly instrumental track Eric’s Basement and Secret Tunnels is a rapturous addition to the album. Eric’s Basement and Secret Tunnels is lighter and subtitler than the preceding tracks, with soft guitar woven through the track alongside the heavier electronic elements.

Even when Psymon Spine adhere more closely to an indie rock formula, like they do in the latter half of the album, the sound is never routine. With layers of strings and vocals instead of synth, Crown a King showcases a different side of the band without sacrificing the depth of their sound. It pairs fittingly with Dad Country, which appears a few tracks later. Dad Country is reminiscent of the ethereal progress of Sleeping Lessons by The Shins. It makes stunning instrumental progress over the course of its six and a half minutes.

Speakers deviates even more substantially from the rest of You Are Coming to My Birthday. Its guitar riffs are heavier than the guitar work on Eric’s Basement and Secret Tunnels or Crown a King, with shouted vocals and a heavy beat on the chorus to match.

Experience Machine melds West African drumming with the heavier guitar and vocal styles of Speakers and – unexpectedly but not unfittingly – the melodic chants heard throughout the first half of the album. Transfiguration, too, returns to the chanting of the half former half of the album. Its instrumental progression is stylistically comparable to Dad Country – though this time I thought more of Meet Me in the Basement by Broken Social Scene – with the addition of a rapped verse.

Penultimate track Lines and Lines and Lines End soars through its six-minute runtime in technicolour exuberance. It is the album’s most popular track for good reason; it makes an effective summation of You Are Coming to My BirthdayGears brings the album to a softer conclusion while still exhibiting the range that makes Psymon Spine’s debut so compelling.

You Are Coming to My Birthday is a stunning introduction to the band’s musical sensibilities. With the range they have showcased, there is so doubt they have the abilities to make fun, interesting music for a long time coming.

After listening to their album, we were able to ask Psymon Spine some questions to find out more about what went into You Are Coming to My Birthday.

How has Psymon Spine changed since the band’s conception in 2013? Has your creative process changed since you started working together? How does working on Psymon Spine differ from working on your solo efforts?

Psymon Spine underwent, like, 30 member changes before evolving into our final/current form. It’s a pretty intense band to be in and so definitely requires a particular type of person.

In the beginning, Peter [Spears] and Noah [Prebish] wrote everything. It’s become much more collaborative since. Working in Psymon Spine requires a lot of communication and teamwork because we all have such different interests and musical backgrounds. Our ability to communicate and compromise effectively is definitely enhanced by most of us having other creative outlets.

What was your writing process for You Are Coming to My Birthday?

Being that it was our first record and that some of the first versions of these songs existed before we had even met, there wasn’t really any one process in the beginning. As the album progressed the process became more collaborative and streamlined. Our main struggle initially was finding continuity while still doing whatever the fuck we wanted. Working with our producer Graham Dickson (Crystal Fighters / Axis Mundi Records) and using a lot of the same gear on each track helped with that.

What mood is You Are Coming to My Birthday meant to evoke? In the liner notes for Atwood Magazine, you said that album opener Separate is meant to “feel inviting but also a bit dangerous, like walking into a jungle.” What sort of tone does Separateset for the album? How does it compare to the sound of, say, Crown a King?

The goal of the record was to conjure up a range of moods, with the outcome feeling optimistic overall. We made a conscious decision early on to make our first record so all over the place that no one would ever expect any one particular thing from us in the future.

Separate sort of represents that goal on a micro-scale. We thought it’d be cool to have the first song on the record be pretty over-the-top and weird so as to give people a better idea of what was in store and ward off those that weren’t interested in that kind of thing.

How would you describe your sound? Has your sound changed since you first started collaborating?

Our music is like an ever-expanding party playlist for people who overthink shit. Our sound has always been changing, but as time goes on a character definitely has emerged throughout all of it.

We heard you spent time in upstate New York recording the album at William Dafoe’s Rubber House. Could you please tell us about your experiences recording there?

The Rubber House is this dreamy, sorta surreal house in upstate New York surrounded by beautiful snowy woods. I believe the story is that Dafoe had built it with his wife’s dancing career in mind, so it has this giant dance studio that we recorded everything in. This was where we first started tracking the record with Graham, and where we first met most of the Axis Mundi Records family.

Which track best represents Psymon Spine off You Are Coming to My Birthday?

It definitely depends on the listener. That being said, Shocked probably has the widest range of influences within it. It took so long to write that it became sort of like a timeline for the music that we had been listening to throughout the process. We can go through and be like, oh, we were listening to this for that bridge and this other thing in that verse.

What kind of energy do you want to convey in your shows?

Ideally, people leave our shows feeling all wobbly and peaceful and relieved like they just left a sweat lodge or did something really physically exhilarating.

How do you hope to evolve as a band?

Our influences and goals are constantly changing, which is pretty much what makes us sound like us, so it’s hard to say what the future will hold. There’s always room for improvement though.

What do you think of today’s pop and electronic scenes? Where do you think your band fits relative to mainstream pop bands?

There’s a lot of really incredible pop and electronic music coming out right now, especially out of Brooklyn, where we now live. The underground house and techno scene here, in particular, has had a big impact on our sound in the last couple years.

Our sound has been influenced by a lot of different artists, some of which could be classified as “mainstream”, others not; the line gets finer all the time, which is awesome. We’re just trying to go on this fun, freaky adventure, and should the mainstream choose us one day then that’ll just be a new reality, with aspects great and not-so-great. It’s not something we think a lot about.

Is there a story behind the band name how did you decide on the name?

Psymon Spine was the nickname of a friend of ours from school. We just liked the way it sounded. Or maybe we just wanted to make it incredibly difficult to tell people what the name of our band was while in loud venues.

Listen to Psymon Spine on SoundcloudSpotify and Apple Music.

LCD Soundsystem With All of Their Melbourne Friends

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All photos of LCD Soundsystem are credited to Ryley Clarke for Savage Thrills

The excitement was palpable as LCD Soundsystem took the stage at Melbourne’s Margaret Court Arena. The audience was already moving to the booming synth when frontman James Murphy came out, dressed in his signature blazer and t-shirt. Our collective excitement exploded when Murphy reached the chorus of “Yr City’s a Sucker.” Their opening song set the tone for the show; even the people in the nosebleeds were on their feet and dancing under the light radiating from the disco ball.

The band transitioned straight into “Daft Punk Is Playing at My House,” one of their best-known songs, as if to announce their presence officially. Already I was struck by the realization that so much of LCD Soundsystem’s discography is more that danceable — music to which one could dance. It’s music to which the audience cannot help but dance. With a groove that strong, you can’t listen unmoved.

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Murphy paused to make some precursory remarks but his words were interrupted by the band’s progression into I Can Change. Never have I seen a crowd of such diverse ages move their arms so expressively. Gavin Russom danced over her synthesizer with an ethereal quality. Single American Dream from the band’s forthcoming album of the same title mellowed the audience and slowed the show’s tempo. At the time I was reluctant to embrace a slower pace but the transition proved to be a reprieve from the onslaught of waving bodies.

The slow build of Get Innocuous made the perfect transition back to a higher tempo. The band was in perfect synergy, with keyboardist and synth player Nancy Whang taking the vocal lead in the latter half of the song. Unlike American Dream, new single Call the Police cohered with the adjacent tracks from early LCD Soundsystem albums. Well received by the audience, it was a surprise standout in the show.

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Murphy paused at the close of Someone Great to address the audience. He said,
“I usually don’t get in the face of old people for being ignorant but when you come after my family, you come after my friends, you can go fuck yourself. So let’s rename this place.” The remark was met with resounding cheers. Murphy alluded to Margaret Court, the tennis star for whom the arena is named. Court has long been a vocal critic of LGBTQ rights, such that groups have called for the renaming of the Margaret Court Arena. Murphy’s statement offers implicit support to Russom, who publicly announced her trans identity in early July.

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On that energy, the band began to play Home. It’s a testament to the strength of the album that all the songs played from This is Happening were standouts in the set. Songs from Sound of Silver, meanwhile, formed the show’s emotional peaks. Like Someone Great before it, New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down became a group sing along, a chorus of off tune ‘oh’s meeting Murphy’s impassioned pitch.

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Before they began New York, I Love You, Murphy announced that the song would be followed by a brief interlude, not in an attempt to create mystery around an encore but rather so the band could take a bathroom break. “People gotta pee, man,” he said. “We’re not young.” The band played to an explosive finish while Murphy, presumably, took his bathroom break.

Despite the absence of mystery, the audience thrilled at the encore, opening with Dance Yrself Clean. The energy reached a fever pitch at the song’s chorus. The crowd jumped and an unlikely mosh pit formed in front of the stage as red and blue light exploded over the arena. As great as Dance Yrself Clean is on the album, it doesn’t even compare to the electricity of the performance. We returned to our places for LCD Soundsystem’s final song.

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All My Friends proved to be the perfect closer. The arena was awash was a warm orange glow, reminiscent of a campfire. After their five year hiatus, to hear Murphy sing “You spend the first five years trying to get with the plan / And the next five years trying to be with your friends again” made a fitting conclusion to their show. Call me sentimental, but sharing in LCD Soundsystem’s energy and singing All My Friends with thousands of others made me feel as though I was with all of my friends.

What was most remarkable about the band’s performance – even more so than their masterfully played music – was the enthusiasm with which they played. Even though they were only a few days past Splendour in the Grass, the enthusiasm of the band matched that of their audience. If their Melbourne fanbase is any indication, LCD Soundsystem’s forthcoming album will be met with rapturous enthusiasm upon its release.

This article was originally published on Savage Thrills.

Francis Arevalo and The Lions We Are: Making Good Things with Good People

Francis Arevalo has been busy this past year. As the de facto founder of The Lions We Are, a Vancouver-based arts and music collective, he has been making music under his own name and collaborating with local artists who he is lucky to call friends. In his art and writing, Arevalo talks openly about living with bipolar disorder and his recovery process over the past year. Today, he defines himself by his decision to live intentionally and to make music that communicates a message of love. Discorder Magazine talked to Francis about TLWA, his creative process and what it has been like to heal out loud and through music.

Discorder Magazine: You are the founder of The Lions We Are. How do you define your role within the collective?

Francis Arevalo: In a sense, it doesn’t feel like I’m the founder of The Lions We Are. It honestly just feels like I named and acknowledged something that’s been here the whole time, these talented and generous friendships.

My role so far within the collective has been to facilitate others’ creativity and passions by organizing events, and encourage people to follow their passions, develop their craft, and collaborate with others.

DM: How do you define yourself as a musician?

FA: I used to have a stage name, Allo. It was short-lived however as I realized I wanted my music and messages [to] represent me honestly as a person. There is no separation between my life and what I make.

In my lyrics, there is love at the core: for self, for others, for life, and for my craft. In my performances, I want to welcome, move, and uplift people.

The Lions We Are || Photography by Bryce Hunnersen for Discorder Magazine

Photography by Bryce Hunnersen for Discorder Magazine

DM: Your Facebook page describes The Lions We Are as “A diverse, cross-disciplinary artist collective, aimed to create visible and interactive art for the city of Vancouver.” How does TLWA function? What is your intention behind creating visible art?

FA: Within TLWA, there are so many talents and skills at work: instrumentation, singing, rapping, producing, photography, videography, graphic design, painting, dancing, cooking, and more. For any one event or project, we assemble the know-how as needed. Our intention behind making and sharing art and music is to make the world we live in a beautiful place, and hopefully inspire others to do the same.

The Lions We Are is rooted in a sense of family. We aim to spread positivity through art, to hold a non-judgmental space for creative expression, to engage our communities, and to seek fulfillment through group and individual passion projects.

DM: Why did you name the collective The Lions We Are?

FA: The Lion King has always been my favourite movie. This narrative of a young person going through trials and tribulations, finding friends along the way, and coming back home to play their role in their community always resonated with me.

To be lionhearted is to be brave or heroic. I believe there’s a certain kind of bravery and audacity in each person becoming the person – the hero – that they need.

DM: How does The Love & Basketball Mixtape compare to The TLWA Mixtape?

FA: [They] are very different. Love & Basketball is a seven track project that I recorded in seven hours in one day, and TLWA is eighteen tracks that I worked on over the course of six months! The tracks on L&B are held together by the title themes, but for the most part are a collection of singles. TLWA has a narrative arc through it. TLWA is the sound of a community coming together to make something beautiful. For me, it’s the sound getting back on my feet after getting sick. TLWA is my way of thanking everyone who helped along the way.

The Lions We Are || Photography by Bryce Hunnersen for Discorder Magazine
Photography by Bryce Hunnersen for Discorder Magazine

DM: What other projects do you have on the go? You have mentioned ‘A Night with Friends’ arts get-togethers, ‘Arts & Crafts’ sessions with Roya Bennett, and the TLWA blog you write with Irving Chong.

FA: I’m tending to a couple of EPs right now, but for the most part I’m trying to spend my time helping out on other people’s projects where I can.

‘A Night with Friends’ started as an annual summer-time jam session back in 2011, a night that our friends could look forward to every year to share in each other’s talents. Recently, it’s become an informal monthly hangout to share time, space, food, and good vibes, and make art and music together. ‘Arts & Crafts’ is what Roya and I call the time we set aside to create duo pieces. The blog [is] a way for Irving and I to highlight our friends’ work, archive events, and explore conversations sparked by the art we made and shared in.

At the core of The Lions We Are [and other projects] is making good things with good people.

DM: In your blog post “On Time and In Rhythm” you write, “Now I don’t know what else to do but heal out loud and in the open.” How does it feel to talk openly about bipolar and your experience with mental illness? How has healing out loud helped your healing process?

FA: I’m very lucky that for the most part people inside and outside of my community have been receptive to my publicly sharing my experience with bipolar disorder. There have been some people in my life that have distanced themselves from me, and I’ve come to accept them leaving.

Healing out loud through conversation, interview, and song has helped me come to terms with my reality. Bipolar disorder isn’t something that goes away, but is something that I can get better at managing. And I’m happy that sharing my story has helped some folks in their own personal struggles with mental illness. As much as I didn’t believe it when I was in the depths of the depression, there is light at the end of the tunnel, and I had to trust I’d get there if I kept walking every day.

DM: What were you doing with music prior to getting sick? How are your goals then different and similar to your goals now?

FA: Prior to getting sick, music was simply this thing that I did for fun with my friends, and I didn’t actively consider the role it could play in my life, career or community. After getting sick and spending that time reflecting, my efforts have definitely become more focused. I’ve realized the deeper intentions and impacts that making music can have for myself and others. It’s how I best make sense of my world and connect to others around me.

DM: You said in “On Time and In Rhythm” that the experience of getting sick and working through the recovery process has given you intention and agency. How does this agency come into play in your creative outlets?

FA: During that year of depression, I felt what it was like to have no impact on the world around me. As I begun to tell my story, reconnect with people, and write music again, I remembered the effects that art could have on my own well-being as well as my community.

I was reminded so deeply through the experience of getting sick and recovering how important my loved ones are to me. If making and sharing my music can bridge gaps between people the way that it did for my loved ones and me, I feel like I have to encourage it.

The Lions We Are || Photography by Bryce Hunnersen for Discorder Magazine
Photography by Bryce Hunnersen for Discorder Magazine

DM: What are your goals for TLWA?

FA: My main intention for The Lions We Are is to commit to spending meaningful time with meaningful people making meaningful art. As long as we can continue to do that, that feels like success. And I’m excited for wherever and whatever the path leads to. I hope that over time people feel empowered by TLWA the way that I did.

Watch Jon Chiang’s documentary about Arevalo’s recovery through music.

This article was originally published in the Discorder Magazine website in July 2017.