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Vow of Volition Make the Final Round of the Battle for Warped Tour

The Vans Warped Tour was the first festival for many of us back in the day. As young'ns, it's likely we didn't necessarily think about all that went into figuring out the bands to book and play the whole shebang. Part of that process, at least locally, seems to be through a series "battle of the bands" style competitions specifically for landing a spot on the fest. Quite a few Portland bands have been furiously playing against one another for said spot, and djent/prog metal act Vow of Volition are one of the acts that made it to the finals.

Warped Tour was always the type of festival that included much in the realm of pop punk, punk punk, emo and metal, so Vow of Volition's advancement to the final round is no surprise. Their incredibly technical, at times jazzy metal stands out in Portland's pretty linear popular music scene, and is much worthy of the attention its getting.

Those that want to support Vow of Volition in driving home the permanent spot can go to the Battle for Warped Tour finals Saturday at the Hawthorne Theatre.

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Xeno & Oaklander: Touching from a distance on "Afar"

“Afar” is the third advance single off from Xeno & Oaklander’s upcoming seventh album called Vi/deo which is slated to be released on 10/22/21 and if you’ve got all the math figured out on that then you can move ahead to the music video below and attempt to keep tally of how many identical-twin Liz Wendelbo’s appear in quick succession (meanwhile bandmate Sean McBride is inexplicably absent, unless perhaps he’s been assimilated into the collective by the Borg) or who knows maybe it’s just my brain glitching again. 

And once you’ve mastered the math then it’s time to brush up on your French proficiency skills because that’s the language the lyrics are in tho’ lucky for us the duo have shared a full translation free of charge on their Instagram page. Plus there’s some cognates in there which should help in cases like where “encens insencé” is translated to “senseless incense” which sounds quite lovely and poetic in either language. And did I mention Ms. Wendelbo does a convincing Vanessa-Paradis-meets-Jane-Birkin impersonation both sonically and kinesthetically (how do French people sound both bored and aroused at the same time? this must to be studied…) which must come naturally to a person of French-Norwegian extraction such as herself. 

What’s more “Afar” provides further evidence there’s just something about electronic music with sensual French vocals (especially on the more dark ’n’ trancey side of things like Coldwave, Minimal Wave, and EBM-Wave (Electronic Body Music)) that works in a big way when it’s done right—which may have something to do with the language itself having such a natural sense of flow and élégance—and it’s done right by X&O on this track with a musical backing that likewise captures the so-cold-it’s-sizzling-hot Gallic vibe that very few English-language artists pull off convincingly with Boy Harsher being one exception that comes to mind.

“But nevermind all that,” you may say, “what was the inspiration behind the song and the upcoming album?” Well I don’t know how or why you’d expect me to know but fortunately for all involved Xeno & Oaklander have revealed the answer on their Bandcamp page: “Inspired by ideas of synesthesia, scent, star worship, and obsolescent technologies…Liz Wendelbo and Sean McBride began conceiving the blueprint of Vi/deo while sequestered at their Southern Connecticut home studio during the pandemic. The context of isolation, streaming, and remote dreaming seeped into their chemistry, manifesting as both homage to and meditation on a certain cinematic strain of technicolor fantasy: the screen as stage, distance disguised as intimacy, where tragedy and glamour crossfade into one,” and I gotta hand it to these two because this artfully constructed statement-of-purpose makes me think maybe they should be the ones writing this blog.

“But wait,” you may say, “this is an electronic group so don’t they stare at screens all day long whether there’s a pandemic going on or not.” To which an omniscient voice from the sky may reply: “Au contraire, mon pear, because X&O are all about using self-contained vintage analog sound modules that have lots of buttons and knobs and spaghetti-like piles of patch cables threading in and out of assorted orifices in their various electronic doo-dads (sorry for all the technical language!) all of which is designed to be played live—for proof check out their set above from Vox Sinistra’s weekly Strict Tempo broadcast on Twitch which opens with an electrifying performance of “Afar”—so instead of starting at screens they're constantly in motion with all kinds of button-pushing, knob-twisting, and cable-switching much like an old-school telephone switchboard operator which means there’s a real sense of physicality to their live sets, plus a palpable sense of liveness on their recordings" and boy is that omniscient voice long-winded!

Speaking of recordings, namely the upcoming release of Vi/deo, you’d be smart to go ahead and pre-order that puppy because special-edition colored vinyl goes fast even when it’s a recording of Sherpa sheep herders (cool stuff, actually) and don’t be a tightwad either because for an extra couple dollars you can get the record album with a special scented paper insert (read above: “synesthesia and scent”) which I’m guessing should be at least as fragrant as John Water’s Polyester scratch-and-sniff cards with exotic olfactory sensations matching the groovy moody synth-pop reverberations within. (Jason Lee)

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Jamythyst asserts control on "Pastel Colors"

“Pastel Colors” is the name of a single released this past weekend by self-described “90s girl” Jamythyst, self-described creator of “DIY electromotional pop jams,” and it’s an interesting choice of title because this ‘90s girl is clearly drawn to day-glo tones and darker hues elsewhere—both visually and musically—just as the Nineties itself is known for its fluorescent pop and abrasively dark rock and goth and hip hop. (Mariah meet Metallica! Hanson say howdy to Hole! N*SYNC nuzzle up to NWA! Etc. Etc.) And while Jamythyst’s music falls squarely under the pop column, tracks like “Witches in the Woods,” “Scary Movies,” and “Masochist” show that she’s also into exploring her darker side. 

So where do pastels fit into this color scheme? When placed next to electro-bangerz like “Flip Me Over’ and “Melt My Face” with their cheeky entreaties to “be your hourglass / if you flip me over” or to “drop the needle, drop the bass / rock my world, melt my face,” “Pastel Colors” is indeed more subdued, something like a mid-80s Howard Jones joint with its mix of airy synths, percolating sequencers, and reflective lyrics.
 
 
Lyrically, the pastel colors in question seem to imply both a childlike sense of wonder (“carousel in the middle of the city / gets me every time the colors go by”) and a spellbinding sense of risk (“I can’t help myself / I jump off the carousel every time / getting dizzy on the pastel colors”) as represented by the faded fiberglass horses of a mesmerizing merry-go-round going around and around in circles (just like the swirling echo effect at the end of each vocal line) or as Jamythyst puts it “it’s an electro-pop bop about being a commitment-phobe who just wants to have fun” which is perhaps another kind of going in circles. 

So we’re talking about losing control and re-asserting control here, being lured by the pastel blur of the carousel but then jumping off when things get too intense. And if this song is in fact at least implicitly about control issues (stick with me here!) then it’s obviously also an homage to Janet’s Jackson’s “Control” because that particular song from 1986 (and the whole Control album!) was a turning point in the history of dance pop, not to mention an assertion of artistic independence by Ms. Jackson (if you’re nasty!) and thus a precursor to artists like Jamythyst.


All of which makes me wonder if our featured artist’s stage name is in fact an homage to the production team of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis who helped shape Control and thus strongly impacted much of the dance pop, R&B, and rap that came in its wake (not to mention the whole “New Jack Swing” phenomenon) and certainly Jamythyst reflects all of this “control” both in spirit—as a self-contained singer, songwriter, and producer who makes bedroom dance pop—and in terms of sonics with her proclivity for jacked drum machines beats and phat synth-baselines and angular in-your-face sampling (with the caveat that other influences obviously come into play such as early Madonna, Sylvester, Robyn, Prince, and other single-monikered artistes.




And when we look at the bigger picture, isn’t so much of pop music (and dance pop in particular) fixated on control issues—whether control over one’s own bodily and sexual expression, control over one’s own artistic expression and public image, or control over fate itself in the aspirational pop of the Idol era, not to mention the inverse loss-of-control and sense of transcendence sought on the dance floor—which is probably one big reason why marginalized groups in society are so often at the forefront of pop music’s innovations.

 

Sadly, after an astounding ten-plus year run of hits, control was taken away from Janet Jackson when the reigning queen of self-assertive pop (and a highly LGBTQ+ friendly reigning queen at that) was essentially accused of being a witch and burned at the stake by a raging mob of pigskin fans (and gossip mongers who could care less about the Super Bowl) because they were briefly distracted from Tom Brady’s ass-hugging shiny pants due to the sudden and unwelcome split-second appearance of Janet Jackson’s nipple on national TV courtesy of a former Mouseketeer. Yet, the sound that Janet Jackson and Jam/Lewis continued to refine on albums like Rhythm Nation 1814 and The Velvet Rope has continued on, often in service of “straight” artists ranging from boy bands to gangsta rappers. And so, speaking of control, it’s reassuring to happen upon a local artist, and one who just started producing her own music during the pandemic at that, digging into the roots of dance pop and re-asserting control on behalf of femme- and queer-identifying artists past and present. (Jason Lee)

 

 

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Nihiloceros forecasts end of world, release custom hot sauce and guitar pedals

You may recall a review posted in this space a few weeks ago about Nihiloceros’ third and final single “Dirty Homes” from their upcoming “concept EP” Self Destroy (Totally Real Records) or hey let’s be generous and call it a full-blown concept album because six songs is pretty much in-between an EP and an album and anyway it’s all revolves around an end-of-the-world scenario and that fact alone makes it monumental enough to deserve full album status, even if, as singer/lyricist/guitaristMike Borchardt describes it, it was never planned to be an actual concept album, but the through-line took shape organically as the album was worked over and re-worked again during lockdown which was very condusive to brainstorming dystopic concept album scenarios I imagine. 

Well, anyway, I hope you didn’t forget about Nihiloceros in the meantime (or Dre! never forget about Dre!) because the record just came out this weekend and obviously you need to clear 20 minutes from your schedule asap to give it a close listen. And hey just be thankful this is no Tales From Topographic Oceans or 2112 (RIP Neil Peart, yes we forgive you for the whole Ayn Rand thing and have the utmost respect for any sticks-man who owns a drum set with 23 roto-toms and then actually uses them all) because who has two spare hours to spare sitting inside on a nice weekend trying to figure out why the heck a cabal of malevolent Priests hanging out in the Temples of Syrinxs would choose to outlaw creativity and individuality or how they would enforce such drastic measures. 

And Nihiloceros realize this too because they’ve distilled the most powerful bits of those albums into a concentrated paste of rocking-your-face-off, and what’s more they don’t go all pretentious about it with a fold-out gatefold design that if you stare into it long enough the whole album suddenly “makes sense." Because instead the whole idea, according to Mr. Borchardt, is to “cut the legs out from under any grandiosity” by placing the listener into the brainpan of an average schlub facing down the apocalypse and over the course of six songs working through the five stages of grief (binge-watching The Wire, stress-eating, suddenly conrtrating hives and dropsy, more stress-eating, and just being generally unpleasant) so put away that bushel of ‘shrooms because you won’t need ‘em sorry to say.

Btw speaking of weekends and monumental things, Nihiloceros will host an album release party tonight (Sat. 9/18) at a mysterious location known as EWEL (probably an acronym for East Williamsburg Exploding Lo-Fi Inevitable but don’t quote me on that) with both Desert Sharks and Kissed By An Animal on the bill as well so hell yeah that’s gonna be an epic time.

AND THAT’S NOT ALL!! Because if you really wanna “self destroy” you’re advised to buy one of the album bundles that’ll soon be available (in the next week or two) because one of the bundles comes with an exclusive limited edition “Halfway Human” hot sauce mixed up especially for you in Mike’s bathtub which (the name says it all) which includes ingredients such as habanero peppers, grapefruit juice, Allspice™, chile de árbol (also known as bird’s beak chili and rat’s tail chile, yum!) and some secret ingredients just so you don’t try to sell the recipe to Taco Bell or somebody. A couple bottles will reportedly be available at the show tonight so...

And if the sauce is too strong for your weak-ass taste buds to handle (lay off the tofu why don't'cha!) you can always use the stuff to strip the paint off your father’s ’67 Ford Fairlane because it could use a new coat anyway and boy won’t he be surprised. Anyway it’s a highly appropriate name for a hot sauce because just listen to how the song it’s named for starts with a single anticipatory note then with a subtle little melodic bit sneaking in before exploding into a skull-stomping riff about 15 second and that’s what it’ll feel like when the heat hits about 15 seconds after you swallow the stuff.

Or, if you’re one of these guitar playing people, you can get the Self Destroy album bundled with a guitar pedal or three custom-designed by the band's bassist/backup singer Alex Hoffman who in his down-time works as a structural engineer in the “power industry” and I’m not sure how you get better credentials for being in a power trio than that. Each pedal is named after a song on the album (and used on that song natch) so if you had a notion to form a Nihiloceros tribute band well it's your lucky day because now you won’t need to mess around with about 100 pedals trying to get that perfect Nihiloceros tone nailing every subtle timbral variation on every song.

I had a little phone convo with Alex the other day and he walked me through the creative process of pedal-making which entails getting your hands on some blank circuit boards and wiring and other components, not to mention the enclosure topped off with primer, spray paint, clear coat enamel, and (wait for it) glitter so you can make the thing look cool enough to take on stage with you. And so yeah, while you were spending days trying to bake your own bread during the lockdown, then inevitably giving up and drinking a quart of gin instead, Alex was busy teaching himself the fine art of pedal-construction and designing three of t hem on his own which frankly makes up all look pretty shabby in comparison so thanks a log Alex (he insists, however, that anyone can pull off making pedals from scratch with the help of online tutorials and some pre-printed circuit boards with the help of small businesses like Small Bear Electronics catering to the budding stompbox enthusiast).  

The first one of these pedal is called “Dirty Homes” named after the first song on the album and it’s sort of a clone of the classic Small Clone pedal but with with an MN3007 chip with "a depth knob instead of a switch and an added vibrato/chorus toggle" because we all like nice things don't we. To hear what this pedal sounds like just check out the intro of “Dirty Homes” and focus on the underwater-sounding tremolo effect (BTW you know you’re dealing with a serious pedal-head band when you can’t tell at many points if you’re hearing a standard electric guitar or a bass guitar at any given time) which is a distinctive timbre heard on chart-topping songs by chart-topping bands of today/yesteryear like The Police, Crowded House, and Nirvana (see the video above for evidence).  

The other two custom pedals are heard on the following couple of songs: “iamananimal” (eponymous pedal) and “Mammal Science Fiction" (the Velvet Elvis) which is along the lines of an “Acapulco Gold [pedal] modded with an added gain control” and a “Nihiloceros version of a big muff with a mids switch and a diode bypass switch” respectively as described by Alex himself. And hey why not pour some “Halfway Human” sauce (next song on the album!) on those diodes because no telling what kinda crazy sonics you’d get from that. 

But really nevermind all the hawt sauces and hot pedalboard action because the real secret ingredient on this record is the two musical collaborators who appear on four of the six tracks (two a piece!) that being Shadow Monster’s Gillian Visco and Desert Shark’s Stephanie Gunther—who also receive one songwriting credit a piece, because as Mike describes it, their contributions (in addition to the sweet harmonizing and hollerin’ they bring to the table) were so crucial that they changed the very fabric of the songs as they were still being completed—and then you also got drummer extraordinaire Carlo Minchillo (The Planes, Murder Tag, Brooklyn Drum Collective) contributing theremin on one track.

And so with the release of Self Destroy we got a true All-Stars record on our hands despite all of these talented individuals being beat out by underdog Fiona Apple for “Best Rock Performance” at this year’s Grammy Awards, but I think you know where the best rock performance will be happening tonight. (Jason Lee)

photo by @brooklynelitist

 

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