The newest release from Brooklyn-based Atlas Engine,When the Compass Resets…Part 1, may be only six songs, but it feels like a much longer journey. (I also love that EPs seem to be popular right now, maybe that’s confirmation bias because I keep getting them sent to me? In any case, thumbs up.) Formerly a solo project of multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Nick LaFalce, Atlas Engine now includes Meredith Lampe (keys/vocals), Jeff Fettig (guitar/keys), Patrick Cochrane (bass/vocals), and Brendan McGuckin (drums). Fans of Mercury Rev and Transatlanticism-era Death Cab For Cutie will find a lot to love in this album, with the sprawling yet intimate sound and strong-yet-vulnerable quality of singer Nick LaFalce’s voice.
The album begins with the languid, “As You Are,” rhythms pulsing with little vagaries of timing that almost sound like a skip. It’s calm but not calming, easing the listener in without being sleepy. The pace picks up on the second track, “Modern Mind,” with a motorik-style beat and guitars both ethereal and insistent twining around each other; the bass is really the standout here. A brief, almost ambient instrumental follows, which if you aren’t watching the tracklist feels like a natural, extended outro.
Keyboardist Meredith Lampe features on “All I Want is Everything // Alternate State” and the addition of her vocals brings the track from soaring up to epic. The song, a musing on relationships and always wanting more (“I’m a captain treading water / on a wreckage of my own design… “when even love is still not enough”) is a perfect midpoint.
Shimmering guitars and a marching beat on “Not Enough” underpin the heavy themes, and LaFalce sings “How can it be we lose count of tragedies?” as he addresses something we are all familiar with, the seemingly endless stream of mass shootings and violence in the news every day. The final track, the aptly named “(Thoughts and Prayers)” serves as another instrumental outro.
According to LaFalce, When the Compass Resets…Part 1 deals with “wheels of repetition,” and touches on topics both personal and external, including technology and gun control. Overall, the album and its cyclical nature was inspired by LaFalce’s experience with chronic Lyme disease, of which he says “even when you’re feeling better, you know it’s only temporary. So you just wait for the moment where you have to start all over again.” Perhaps fittingly, LaFalce will be continuing the EP releases with a second part soon.
When the Compass Resets…Part 1 is stunningly produced, by LaFalce himself. The vocal mixes here are particularly impressive, going from solos to an almost choral effect with ease. Part 2 will be out in November, and I am eager to return to this sonic world LaFalce has built. I’d also love to see both sides released as one vinyl LP; the tracks all fade into one another, which must be a lovely effect without the break Spotify inserts.
Atlas Engine are, as many bands right now, unsure of their touring plans, but they do plan on a release show for Part 2 at Baby’s All Right sometime in November. In the meantime, they will be playing at Our Wicked Lady Rooftop with Smock, Groupie, and Safer on 9/29. I’m hoping to catch that show, because I really want to know LaFalce’s pedal set-up.
The powerful Cincinnati cello/drums duo Lung are poised to release their stunning and masterful new album, Come Clean Right Now. As I said when I reviewed one of the earlier singles for the album, “Air” (read here), I was absolutely jaw on the floor blown away the first time I saw them (playing with the great Trophy Wife in the summer of 2016); that awe has not faded since and they have become one of my absolute favorite bands. They continue to raise the bar again and again with every release- a rare feat as every artist hits their slumps or can miss the mark with any given song or album- but that seems to have completely missed this band.
The band has a dark feel musically overall, as one would imagine with a cello in the mix, and thanks to the help of a twin bass amp/distortion pedal combination, they take the tenebrous potential of the cello and combine all of this to create an intense, utterly bombastic tidal wave of sound that is HUGE. If it wasn’t obvious from the description of that setup, this is not chamber music, this is ROCK plain and simple. Big riff energy abounds with a strong hard rock, grunge and punk influence running throughout all of their releases; I can almost hear a metal or hardcore band shredding on any one of their explosive songs.
While they nail the gigantic stadium sized sounds, they also have beautiful layers and nuance as well, particularly vocally as singer/cellist Kate Wakefield is classically trained and sings with an operatic flair to lift these songs up to an entirely other level that not many other vocalists can touch. Taking full advantage of the studio environment, at many points the vocals are gorgeously layered, multiple tracks harmonized with each other, which adds sparkle to her already magical delivery.
Come Clean Right Now is packed full of gems from start to finish, dusky tunes carried through by the persistent cello chug and rock solid drumming of Daisy Caplan; he hits hard to perfectly match Wakefield in delivery without ever stomping over the songs. An overly busy drummer could ruin the vibe, but Caplan is a wizard behind the kit and knows exactly how and when to push and pull with Wakefield to make the most of each moment.
The album is also full of emotions, the songs weaving an expressive tapestry of love, rage, pain, joy and more. The lead up to the album saw the release of three singles, the first being the commanding and mid tempo tune “Sun God.” Here, Wakefield’s vocal prowess is on full display for an absolute highlight of the album. As the song hits its crest, the line “I see the world is filled with senseless beauty, I wish to magnify this sweetness fully,” is repeated again and again with the vocals stacked several times over, and on each layer, she sings something different to bring a complex texture to the mix; I challenge anyone to listen to that and not immediately get goosebumps.
For the next single “Air,” a frantic cello riff opens the track with a complementing rapid fire floor tom pattern keeping pace before the song very quickly e x p l o d e s into the chorus- an absolutely MASSIVE and visceral wall of sound that crashes into the listener like a wrecking ball. The lyrics are a fervent plea to a lover- who is revered, needed more than water or air or anything else- and the strong emotions Wakefield conveys are palpable throughout. “I’m Nervous,” is bouncier and begins with the line “I get so angry that it hurts but then say everything’s just fine,” and if that didn’t hold a mirror up to my face…I absolutely related to the frustration and exhaustion on display here. “Feels like my feet are hanging from a rocky cliff,” another real moment for me and I think just about anyone else after the last several years we have all collectively lived through.
The song “Sorry,” had particular emotional resonance for me and was a very big standout. The chorus is all at once sorrowful but also a damning condemnation of the other party in a failed relationship: “You never really said, never really said, said you’re sorry. But you never were the best, never were the best at being wrong. And you thought I never saw all the little flaws in your story so I always played along.” It’s unclear if this was a romantic connection, a friendship, or a collaborative working relationship and it doesn’t have to be. The pain of the deceit and loss Wakefield feels as a result of the breakdown of this connection pours out here in particular, both via the lyrics and through the punky insistence of the cello paired with Caplan’s bulldozer drum roll, which he adeptly deploys to emphasize the intensity of the emotions. The feelings expressed here are ones any of us can relate to when things go wrong with another person, and unfortunately we can also carry them with us for a long time to come after the other person is gone either literally or figuratively.
Other highlights include the rapid fire syncopated romp, “Sugar Pill,” and the more muted, “Wave,” which starts out with a more classical cello sound only to quickly rip itself apart to reveal a hard rocking chorus to just quickly dip right back again to a lush and beguiling passage. The album closer “Arrow,” which sees some of the same traditional cello sounds starting off before again bursting at the seams then skittering back and forth between these alternating musical approaches. Ending on this high point, the song has a hopeful note, a plea to a lover- that could easily also be applicable to a treasured friend or loved one- a plea we surely all find inside of ourselves as we continue to navigate an uncertain world: “Give me love, give me darkness, as the fates keep changing hands, as the strange world surrounds us, keep my heart from sleeping….And the earth keeps on turning, each day faster than the rest, keep me here in this moment, keep my slow heart burning.”
There simply are so few other bands currently making music at this level, with this emotional resonance and with such innovation and poise. Lung is in a class all by themselves and this album is the just the latest in a string of incredible releases from them. It is expressive, explosive, and an exceptionally powerful gift to the world.
Desert Sharks have long been one of NYC’s great bands, solidifying that rep with 2019’s kickass record, Baby’s Gold Death Stadium. Now a power trio, they can add brilliant interpreters of classic songs to their resume. On the heels of their thrilling cover of ‘Til Tuesday‘s “Voices Carry” (read our review) comes their version of T. Rex‘s glam rock classic, “20th Century Boy.”
Some of the glitter remains from T. Rex, but Desert Sharks give their “20th Century Boy” a more menacing edge with their distinctive veil of gloomy grunge. Guitarist Sunny Veniero enters snarling, putting extra blues swagger into the main riff. Rebecca Fruchter’s backbeat punches underneath, maintaining the original tune’s bounce but giving it significant weight. If T. Rex’s boy was ecstatic, clapping and shimmying, Desert Sharks’ subject sways dreamily to the beat, head down, long black hair hanging and moving in time—the boy is perhaps no less joyful, but he’s in his own world.
On Desert Sharks’ originals, singer/bassist Stephanie Gunther’s voice rises above the high-octane shredding and pounding to provide powerful melodies and hooks. Lots of bands can rock, some can even swing, but it’s the special ones who can do both and have you humming their tunes for days. On the band’s two cover choices thus far, Gunther does what all truly gifted singers do: makes the songs her own. You find yourself engrossed in the song itself, not necessarily the differences between their versions and the originals (that stuff is for nerdy blog writers anyway).
The two covers have been a fun treat this year, two years after their debut full length. We here at FTA are stoked to hear what’s next from a band that only gets better and better.
“20th Century Boy” is out now on Substitute Scene and available on all streaming platforms. They will play a release show for the singles on Friday 8/20 at The Windjammer along with Frida Kill, Ugli, and Basic Bitches.
Julien Baker has announced an upcoming EP Little Oblivions Remixes, and recently released the first track “Bloodshot,” which was remixed by Helios. While I was slightly disappointed to find that there is no collaboration with Boards of Canada on the EP, I am very excited to hear what this collection has in store. I know I have the reputation that I’m “just a punk,” and folks who have asked me to review things for the blog have said “but I know you only like heavy music,” so perhaps it’s confusing that I’m the one writing up this release. Yes, it is a fact that I consider myself a “punk” first and foremost and I love heavy, fast and loud music above just about anything else, but it is definitely not even remotely true that that’s all that I like.
I am in fact a big fan of Baker’s work (and she’s a punk too ffs) and have had a long standing, albeit mostly casual on and off relationship with ambient and atmospheric music (one I should probably explore more). I do enjoy a lot of Helios’ earlier releases too which also may come as a surprise to some readers. More than that, I’m really a postmodernist at heart, so I absolutely love re-interpretations of existing work and what new things can come out in the deconstruction and rebuilding process. Like an audio collage that tears something down to its roots to paste it back up again, it really expands the range of sonic possibilities and I am all about that. With all of that being the case, I was rather delighted to hear this collaborative effort between these two artists. It ticks a lot of boxes for me for sure.
Baker already nails some otherworldly qualities in her music all on her own, hitting unimaginable highs at several points across her catalog, but the combination with Helios takes it off in a totally different direction- still intense but without being so direct, an atmospheric contemplation on an already strong song that hits those same kinds of highs in a cleverly indirect way. The overall sonic vibe of the two versions of “Bloodshot,” seem to be not all that far off from each other to start, but as the song proceeds onward and particularly after the bridge, the original builds to a harder hitting crescendo with frenzied drums before tapering off to slide away quietly. While the remix does hit it’s own crest, it’s a more muted version before drifting out and leaving us to reflect.
Vocally the real differences emerged for me. Throughout the remix, the vocals almost seem to hide out at points, still audible and there, but not so potent in the mix. The high point of the song is the line, “There’s no glory in love only the gore of our hearts. Let it come for my throat, take me and tear me apart.” On the original song this comes at the listener in a direct and straightforward way. Here on the remix, Helios has recast this: the slight pause in the music comes as in the original, before the vocals come in warbling, Baker’s delivery now transformed to a gossamery almost intangible shimmer; somewhere off in the ether, she emerges as a not quite corporeal form, a bright flash in the shadows for a startling moment before dipping back into the dark again. This song serves as a gorgeous first look at the upcoming six song Little Oblivions Remixes EP which will feature remixes/reworking by Half Waif, Jesu, Gori and more.
Read a joint interview with Baker and Keith Kenniff of Helios describing how the collaboration came about and the remixing process.
Little Oblivions Remixes will be out September 1st on Matador Records; Baker will embark on a fall tour starting on September 3rd in Birmingham, AL; She will perform in New York on September 14th at Beacon Theater.
Hooks abound on “Jawbreakers,” the energetic new single from pop punk wiz kids For Lack of a Term. The band recruited Another Astronaut singer Nick Quiles to add even more melodic earworms to this tune. This track is the lead single from the the forthcoming album, Welcome To Your New Normal, due out this winter.
The band—Ryan Dempsey (vocals/guitar), Chris Beairsto (drums), Arthur Wernam (bass), and Conor Cullen (guitar)—delivers explosive pop punk in “Jawbreakers” with Dempsey’s voice soaring throughout alongside guest vocals from Quiles. The two vocalists complement each other nicely on this track, Dempsey’s smoother and higher range contrasting Quiles more direct and and cutting approach.
“Jawbreakers” landed on streaming platforms this week and is available now, along with a video directed by Dempsey and shot and edited by Brandon Lane. Watch the video below.
It’s always exciting and a little jarring to hear a record from an unknown-to-you band whose sound arrives fully formed and whose songs are not just catchy and well written, but transcendent. The latest EP from Creek and Kills, Unstitching,is a truly enchanting and essential listen.
“The Parade Now” opens the record, with some The Edge–like guitar delay effects from guitarist Marc Montgomery that quickly gives way to the powerful harmony blend of bassist/singer Kate Bell and drummer/singer Erin Harney. There’s a bit of an 80s college rock vibe to the song that is positively infectious, but not derivative or nostalgic. The whole EP also features touches of Americana and power pop, but filtered into their own sound that is fresh and distinctive.
The lead single “Swelter” demands the listener’s attention. Bell’s voice soars right from the start, above Montgomery’s jangly arpeggios and acoustic strumming. The tune hypnotically flows to and from various melodic passages, none of which act as an overt chorus, adding to the drama.
In a previous life, Bell was a heralded New York City jazz vocalist and composes before moving into the rock realm. Also an accomplished bassist, her formidable skills are on full display on “Night Service,” with the opening bass line haunting as it grooves. Harney plays off the riff as Montgomery tastefully plays above the rhythm. The groove evens out into the chorus, Bell still driving it all, her bass providing as much melody as her and Harney’s vocals. An absolute highlight on a record full of ’em.
The cohesiveness and moody sound of Unstitching, which sonically recalls R.E.M.’s Fables of the Reconstruction, is as much of an achievement as the six stellar songs. A true pandemic record, each member of the group recorded their parts separately at their homes. Bell took on a crash course in GarageBand to put the tracks together, and engineer Danielle DePalma expertly mixed and mastered the EP, using the rawness of the home recordings to create a soundworld that is neither lo-fi nor polished, but compelling and a little mysterious.
The EP shows a band confident in its playing and songwriting abilities, somehow able to sound live in the room together when they weren’t even in the same place making this record. Accordingly, the band sums up its sound better than any writer could (or at least this writer):
“These are wild siren songs from far reaches of an urban estuary. Creek and Kills rock out like a mermaid party in a Superfund site…a little dirty, a little dangerous, a little sexy, luring you to sink in the dark water.”
Allow yourself to be lured by this entrancing and seductive band.