Magic Omnibus | August 2015

cranekiss sqIt’s the sonic equivalent of thinking about uncertain futures while you put one foot in front of the other at the start of each new day.


Tamaryn | Cranekiss (Kemado/Mexican Summer)

Tamaryn Brown forges songs that could be the progeny of Tori Amos (trading her piano for effects pedals) and Zola Jesus, if the child were lovingly raised by Robert Smith and the Cocteau Twins. Cranekiss, Tamaryn’s third LP, retains her predilection for strata of sound, but injects a sense of greater immediacy, bringing her captivatingly elastic vocals closer to the foreground in the arrangements. “Last” is built upon shards of electric piano and Tamaryn’s alternately breathy and forceful vocals, ending up neither shuffling goth nor frothy and bouncy. Feel those deep, undulating basslines! Kim Deal would be mad jealous.

Pop shoegaze delicacy “Cranekiss” serves up a tantalizing reincarnation instant breakfast of All About Eve’s decades-ago, reverb-laden masterpiece Ultraviolet. Although “Hands All over Me” skews slightly closer to a stately retro-modern electro sound (think Zola Jesus on M83’s “Intro”), it shares the record’s common dreamy-but-with-a-backbone, dramatic-but-energetic genetic structure. “Softcore” starts off with a moody, mid-tempo jangle but gathers steam and ambition for a galloping, high-energy final two minutes, sounding as if Iron Maiden borrowed gear from both Orbital and Kevin Shields at a festival.

Cranekiss is often enormous, but never feels anything less than squarely focused on the listener, as if you were the audience for a private concert. It captivates by being a savvy magpie, collecting and synthesizing what are, by now, styles that are permanent parts of the indie rock lexicon, but evolving them past mere caricature.

Night Beds | Ivywild (Dead Oceans)

Night Beds’ Country Sleep was one of my favorite records of 2013, full of Americana-tinged folk-noir, intelligence, and yearning. On Ivywild, Winston Yellen builds on that framework to create a creeping (but not creepy), jazzy, electro-R&B, late-night salve for the heart via vocoders and saxophones.

The Velvet Teen | All Is Illusory (Topshelf)

All Is Illusory is eerily, fascinatingly reminiscent of Steven Wilson fronting an actual indie band, as if he took Stupid Dream–era Porcupine Tree to its logical next evolution instead of following the metal fork in the road. Proggy elements mix with occasional symphonics, scuffed-up overdriven alt rock, piano, and melodic modern rock. These are pop songs that dare to dream a bit.

Jon Hardy & the Public | Restless City (s/r)

Damn, it’s good to have Jon Hardy and the Public back in the saddle! Restless City is the St. Louis stalwarts’ first LP in five years (I thought they might be finished after Hardy’s health issues a few years ago), and it’s a muscular, yet melodic, portrait of people and cities doing the sometimes messy, sometimes confused, sometimes affirming things it takes to survive life’s travails one day at a time. Hardy’s newest batch of songs is steeped in local references, not to mention St. Louis’s senses of community and resiliency (civic strengths), but never grow insular (civic weakness). The production is clean and clear, but not hollowed out, at once immediate and intimate.

While the R&B influences and Stax horn bits are absent this go around, Springsteen-esque harmonicas mix with sequencer ripples and pointed, compact guitar lines to impart both urgency and atmospherics. This is a record that’s both driven and meditative. It’s the sonic equivalent of thinking about uncertain futures while you put one foot in front of the other at the start of each new day, doing what you gotta do to get through to tomorrow, and taking comfort in small victories, understandings, respites, and shots of soul. Make sure to give ear time to the title track, which captures the Ferguson-era STL zeitgeist better than almost anything I’ve heard in the past 12 months. | Mike Rengel

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