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KITTY COEN

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Hot Tracks/Hot Takes: Dahl Haus in the house with 3 new singles

Over the past several months Brooklyn-based duo Dahl Haus has been on a new-single-per-month hot streak, and speaking of “hot” this column is the first in a series of DELI columns called Hot Tracks/Hot Takes where we’ll be focusing on recent singles (or heck maybe even a full EP occasionally) sharing off-the-cuff-yet-penetrating-insights and random associations and total speculations related to the song, or songs, in question. 

Got it? No? Good! Because the whole concept is as nebulous as “Silhouettes and Alibis.”

Dahl Haus are self-described creators of “noisy, dreamy music that's Kool Aid, Pop Rocks & razor blades mixed in a psychedelic blender & served in a dirty glass” and first thing I wanna know is where to find one of these psychedelic blenders. (but, please y'all, wash your glasses!) Next thing I’d like to know is “who’s in the band?” and turns out it’s singer/songwriter/producer/bass guitarist/rhythm guitarist Blaise Dahl and lead guitarist Daniel Kasshu aka Mevius. A couple fun facts from Ms. Dahl’s extensive resume: 1) she’s served as touring bassist for Jennie Vee (herself a bassist!) which means that Ms. Dahl is only two steps removed from Courtney Love (not a bassist!) since Ms. Vee toured with Ms. Love during her joint tour with Lana Del Rey (many of LDR's songs feature bass!); 2) As a teenager, Blaise admirable served on two MTV-sponsored outreach programs—one promoting an anti-bullying platform and the other an anti-bias initiative. Again, very admirable, but thankfully she wasn’t picked to play “Laura” in the commercial below because looks like it may have been pretty traumatizing even for a fictionalized portrayal.

Song #1: “Silhouettes & Alibis” (Release date: 9/17/21) — Forgive my obvious ‘90s bias here but the first couple minutes of S&A hit me like the Throwing Muses/Slowdive/PJ Harvey mashup (Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea era on the latter) I never knew I needed so naturally that’s a good thing. But then a little over halfway through the song suddenly turns a corner and walks right into a wall of stone, stopping short on a next-to-last-sounding-note, before getting all dizzy-headed with an extended outro that opens with a strummed guitar floating in space and then a haunted funhouse organ before a drum fill bursts the song open like an overripe piece of fruit with layers of guitar and emotive lead vocals and ghostly backup singers entering the picture (or at least they sound like ghostly backup singers) before, again unexpectedly, concluding with a “jazz hands” style guitar chord. Hot-cha-cha-cha!

Key lyric: “I built a prison of my own / in solitary walls of stone”

Song #2: “Helium” (Release date: October 1, 2021) — Dahl Haus is a band unafraid to deploy its full array of flange pedals plus all their chorus and reverb and digital delay and overdrive and tremolo/pan pedals and maybe even some wah-wah when it’s called for. This one is the woozy drunk-in-love song of the bunch—think Cocteau Twins meets Bloodwitch and you’re on thew right track—and thus it works well as the sweet gooey marshmallow cream sandwiched between the other two singles plus it’s got a highly melodic and (it sounds like) heavily chorused bass part which also contributes to the weightless, woozy vibe.

Key lyric: “Surrender to the sweet delirium / Your love's like helium / Helium / Gravity's undone”

Song #3: Dreamscape” (Release date: November 19, 2021) — This is the seduction song but a song that warns against being seduced at the same time where “tangled sheets can tie you to this space” (thanks for the warning!) and just when it seems to be about over "Dreamscape" suddenly transforms from a shimmering dreamscape into a woken-with-a-jolt raveup in the vein of a surf or spy movie soundtrack right after the line “who knows if love is real?” (these kids got a talent for sudden transitions!) which makes you realize the whole dreamscape scenario was maybe a bit of a bait and switch when you’re left “looking for salvation / from daylight's rude awakening” which is exactly why you’re advised to buy black-out curtains before listening to this song.

Key lyric: “I charmed you like a snake in the grass”

Look for more hot tracks and more hot takes coming soon! (Jason Lee)

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King of Nowhere go somewhere beautiful with "Real Men"

The song "Real Men" is a powerful coming out narrative that also serves as a sneak peak of King of Nowhere's upcoming album (King of Nowhere) to be released in January 2022. You can listen to the song directly below, just scroll over the graphic, Bandcamp embeds are sneaky that way! Note: their three previous full-to-fullish length records are embedded throughout the rest of this piece, in reverse order of date-of-release, to help you get boned up on King of Nowhere's past repertoire.

"Real Men" opens with a hushed tone and vivid imagery ("remember we were twelve / covered in mud, hopping downed trees") further intensified by the trappings of youth and fragility on display ("I teared up in my room, under blue curtains / with cartoon bugs on them") intensified further by the fear and confusion indirectly incited by the mud-covered childhood friend’s affection for our narrator who "hadn't learned just yet to recognize that kind of smile" even with his friend wearing a t-shirt with the printed slogan "real men wear pink" and all (to be fair, reading social cues isn’t the forte of most 12-year-olds) and if only we were all so lucky to have a precocious gender-norms-and-other-norms-questioning friend at such an impressionable age the world would probably be a better place.

But in "Real Men," composed by King of Nowhere's singer-songwriter-guitairst-producer Jesse French, the protagonist does have such a friend, and it seems to lead to an awakening, even if it didn’t take hold right in the moment because, in a tone tinged with regret, the lyrics describe how the song's 12-year-old-self reacted: "I said ‘it would suck to be gay’ and / welcome to the USA." At this point Jesse's voice falters and practically folds in on itself, with the music following suit, reduced to near total silence. But then, catharsis...



Up to this point the rhythm section of Dylan LaPointe and Vicente Hansen Atria (on bass and drums, respectively, and let's not forget the second guitarist known only as "Porter") have pushed the song along with a writing-in-my-journal-in-the-middle-of-the-night-with-a-flashlight-under-the-covers kind of vibe, with only a slight build in the first chorus to match the shift in perspective to the present day ("I'm sorry I never stood up and told you that you / you were as strong and bright as / I never wanted to be") but it's not until we reach the point where the song bottoms out as described above that it finds the courage to open itself up, and yes I'm describing recorded music as a sentient being and why not, jumping from a whisper to a lighter-waving guitar solo and a final-pent-up-emotional-dam-burst of a chorus, declaring "I'm sorry I never called you up and told you that you / you are an inspiration [...] I am so proud you made it / can't wait to open up like" at which point the song suddenly cuts off--which could be meant to indicate that the future is unwritten, and that the process of "opening up" is ongoing. (or maybe that the band ran out of tape. does anyone still record on tape?)

Final Thoughts: Maybe I'm reading into things here (hey that's what I barely get paid to do!) but one thing I think this song is telling us is that for our "reality" to change we first have to change some of our notions of what's deemed "real" in the first place (e.g. what is a "real man"?) and heck, even if you ignore the lyrics entirely "Real Men" may shake up your reality because between its tender, aching music and equally tender, aching vocals, and its butterfly-emerging-from-its-chrysalis climax, you're likely to find yourself all teary-eyed and gently sobbing under the duvet by the time it's all over. Unless you’re too hung up on masculine archetypes to allow yourself a good cry, that is. (Jason Lee)

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Scam Avenue self-titled LP is a breakout break-up album

Last month the band Scam Avenue unveiled a long-playing record titled Scam Avenue and maybe you know how the whole self-titled thing is often shorthand for an intimately-revealing-or-even-autobiographical record which appears to apply here. At the very least, Scam Avenue is a marked departure from the pair of EPs they put out in 2015 and ‘16 (Mercury and Sailor, respectively) comprised mostly of hook-laden-lushly-produced-yet-minimalistic-coldwave-infused-electropop-with-a-guitar-peeking-through-every-now-and-again-songs-suffused-with-a-playful-sense-of-sensuously-inclined-tightly-coiled-sexual-tension which just happens to be a verbatim description of my favorite niche category to be found in the CD bins of Tower Records back in the day when physical media and highly-hyphenated genres ruled the roost.

In the intervening years Scam Avenue released but a single single—a song called “Jailbird” with lyrics about “the history you now disown” and “a crisis of your very own” (so long, flirtatious electropop!) featuring some of the moodiest saxophone interludes (played by Stephen Chen of San Fermin fame) to be heard this side of Tears For Fears' early repertoire, played atop a downbeat, descending chord progression and a skittering breakbeat style rhythm, culminating in a tremulous upper-register sax cry sustained for the better part of 30 seconds that all taken together could lead even Roland Orzabal towards a call to check in and make sure you’re doing ok—a song that (as it turns out) served as a fitting precursor to the new album and which is fittingly included on said album.  

So it’s no surprise to learn that the band’s principle-but-not-only-songwriter-plus-producer-guitarist-synthesist Laurence Kim had been through some stuff in the preceding years (and hey haven’t we all!) which he himself describes with admirable candor on the band’s Bandcamp page: “I had been in a relationship with someone and it came to an end. That was the inspiration for about half of the songs on the album. In addition, I had already been working on some other songs, which were in various stages of completion. So the album wasn’t conceived as a break-up album, but it could be viewed in that way. Each song can be seen as an expression of some aspect of that central theme.” 

So there you have it and kudos to the band for not putting out any music in the interim because who really who wants to hear a bunch of I’m-so-happy-and-fulfilled-in-my-current-long-term-stable-relationship songs. Scam Avenue has instead admirably jumped straight from the coy, flirtatious phase of romanic infatuation depicted on their initial EPs to the post-breakup-baroque-electro-indie-rock cri de coeur statement of their debut full-length, a worthy new entry to the canon of classic break-up albums like Frank Sinatra’s In the Wee Small Hours, Joni Mitchell’s Blue, Kanye West’s 808s & Heartbreak, and Kermit the Frog’s Unpigged. And hey, I bet you didn’t know that the birth of the LP format as a medium for popular music owes its existence to a certain fedora-wearin’ mafia-lovin’ artist’s desire to explore and express the various facets of post-separation bereavement and if you don’t believe it I recommend you watch the enlightening video below.

Back to Scam Avenue, you can tell that this album’s gonna be a a melancholic headtrip from its very opening moments when “Fevers Fade” fades in on a burbling, circling synth arpeggio complete with knob-twisting timbral warping (*insert joke here about romantic withdrawal and knob-twisting*) which I’d say is musical semaphore for “help I’m stuck deep inside the folds of my own grey matter but hold up it’s not so bad in here and not so bad retreating from the world at large and just tripping out on my own emotional fluctuations and whatever else I got laying around” (the track’s duration is exactly 4:20 if you get my gist and I’m guessing that you do) an impression only enhanced with the layer-by-layer entrance of Nate Smith’s dead-eyed disco beat and Julie Rozansky’s goth-funk bassline and singer Devery Doleman’s airy falsetto haltingly reciting the opening lines (“blood / in the water / falls / like a flower / feels like fate / fevers fade”) after which even more layers of swirling synths and choppy rhythm guitar and plinky piano melody and bass guitar lead parts are introduced before the song folds back in on itself, ending back where it started with the isolated arpeggio line.

It’s really quite the low-key tour de force so it was a wise sequencing decision on Scam Avenue’s part to follow it up with the floaty-retro-dream-poppy ballad “To the Quick,” a song that’ll make you wanna go Julee Cruising Into The Night and maybe I should mention here the highly-relevant fact that Devery and Julie also play together in a Twin Peaks/David Lynch-themed band called F*ck You, Tammy (if you've seen Twin Peaks: The Return you’ll get it) which seems to have strongly informed this song because it's got some strong Roadhouse vibes for sure. 

And here’s a fun fact you probably won’t care about but I’ll share it anyway—the first post-Covid lockdown gig that I attended was seeing F*ck You, Tammy in mid-May 2021 playing outdoors in rural Pennsylvania in front of a drive-in movie screen as part of a weekend long tribute to (and viewing of) David Lynch’s filmic oeuvre at the Mahoning Drive-In Theater (the only drive-in in the world still screening 35-mm movies on the regular for all you b-movie cineastes out there) and lemme tell you it was a gig both wonderful and strange. 

Anyway it’s probably clear by now that I’m starting to lose concentration and anyway you don’t need me to spell out the rest of Scam Avenue for you (the band or the album) so just move on to the heart-rending harmonies of the six-minute-plus “Destroyer” which I’d say is one of the best aching-with-longing-indie-pop-epics since Lush’s “Desire Lines” (ok ok I’ll stop now) and keep going. And if you have any more questions I recommend you head out to the nearest forest clearing and throw some stones at a bunch of empty bottles. (Jason Lee)

photo by Ebru Yildiz

 

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Knifeplay go straight for the emotional jugular on new single "Hurt Someone"

Between the name of the band and the name of their new single (released just today!) and the photo above and the video below, I’m not sure I’d wanna meet Knifeplay alone in a dark alley.

But I would wanna listen to “Hurt Someone” alone in a dark alley because it's perfect music for a dark isolated place (whether interior or exterior) but at the same time perfect music for a place that’s ethereal and womb-like and otherworldly, with the steam rising up from a gutter nearby that catches the blue and pink light cast by neon signs just outside the alley while also diffusing the glow of dancing red and orange flames burning in the multiple unattended garbage bins that dot the landscape of Philly's grittier neighborhoods, or at least they do if you believe what you see in the movies, like in pretty much every Rocky movie where there’s at least one flaming garbage bin to be seen in the requisite jogging-through-the-streets-to-the-strains-of-horn-driven-disco scene.

You can probably tell I’m going for a cinematic vision here and it makes sense because Knifeplay makes widescreen-worthy life soundtracks with layer-upon-layer of oceanic guitars and hovering strings/synths and rhythms like a steady undertow that’ll make you wanna swim out to sea so far away that the rest of the world fades away from view. (or it’ll make you wanna hang out in a dark alley at night, I really need to pick one metaphor and stick with it!)

Anyway, Knifeplay is a six-piece made up of Alex, Johnny, Jack, John, Max, and Tj (no, I have no idea how to pronounce the latter) and according to the official press release released by their record label Born Loser Records it’stheir first new piece of music in nearly three years. Engineered by Philadelphia’s Jeff Zeigler, Hurt Someone offers a dark yet empathetic view of a character who fits right in with the world they’ve crafted in song since their early EPs” and there you have it.

And while you’re at it, you should head to your nearest streaming service asap and check out the single's B-side as well (“Ornament”) which is hardly ornamental because if the A-side is ethereal and amniotic, this instrumental B-side is the side that’ll actually make you feel like you're about to be stabbed to death in a back alley because the track ratchets up the nervous tension with a delicious-yet-demented-sounding dissonance until it builds up and up and up to an almost (almost) unbearable climax and then suddenly jump-cuts to black. (Jason Lee)

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