Category: Reviews

Interview: The Soft Rebellion Of xango/suave

xango 3

By Dylan Healy, Contributing Editor

Heal, heal, frog butt. If you don’t heal today, you’ll heal tomorrow. This is a popular line Latin parents would sing to soothe their children after getting a boo-boo. Mobey Irizarry is no stranger to this line, but now at the age of 20, it stands for much more to them. “¿Y si no sano mañana?”  they ponder, “What if I don’t heal tomorrow?”

On their latest offering of Boricua/Queer experimental pop entitled equis, Irizarry channels their playful yet sensitive moniker xango/suave to craft music about rejecting masculinity, anti-colonial resistance, self love, and belongingness. Charming and genuine, Irizarry’s breathy baritone can be as tender as unapologetically blunt. “I don’t need your guilt / or your pity. / I’m not sorry at all. / Screw you,” they deliver frankly on opening track “Bumblebee”.

A current runs through the album’s lifeline, appearing as a transitory guide between and during songs. To Irizarry, water is a dichotic force of healing and danger, vitality and death. Dichotomies present themselves in multiple forms throughout equis, including a powerful moment in “Cancer/Cancer/Cancer (Suspiro.3)” where they oh so faintly whisper “grito, grito, grito” (yell, yell, yell). Even the name xango/suave — it is derived from Xango, the mighty Yoruba Orisha of Lightning and Rebellion, as well as the Spanish word for “soft.” Soft is the peachy-sweet heart of equis, sheathed by its salty skin, freshly bathed and sun-kissed on Lake Eerie.

Mobey and I recently chatted about equis, Puerto Rican history, stage antics, and how to stay informed.

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Recommended Listening: Brundlefly & The Swede – Pretense (2017)

Brundlefly & The Swede - Pretense (2017)

Every once and a while, we come across something that totally surprises us, and the new release, Pretense, by CT expatriates Brundlefly & The Swede is one of them.

To those unfamiliar with the group, according to the band’s Facebook Page: “Brundlefly and the Swede is the haphazardly chosen moniker of Jason Socci and Matthew Kohnle, both alumni of the long defunct Connecticut instrumental band Daybed.”

Pretense is is a sprawling and eclectic blend of prog, punk, and pop sensibilities.  From it’s 18 minute title track to the rest of it’s 40 minute run time, the band flies through movements of different genre sensibilities like multi-colored splatter paint over a gorgeous painting.  Among it’s melodies and ever shifting rhythms the band employs innumerable tones and ideas that would be unlikely to work in less formidable hands, but B&tS manage to piece together traditional rock tones with vocoder heavy synth, exotic brass, and swooning strings at every new twist and turn. Highly recommended.

Listen to Pretense by Brundlefly & The Swede below:

On Repeat: Jelani Sei’s LVNDR TWN is Crucially Confrontational

Jelani Sei

By Dylan Healy – Contributor

There is a reason why LVNDR TWN is not spelled out. Lavender Town looks too sweet, too innocuous. The newest release by CT/NY force-of-nature Jelani Sei serves as a visceral response to our current political and civil climate, which there is nothing harmless about. So why would they try to sugarcoat it? LVNDR TWN is bold, confrontational, and immense. Presented in a vibrant technicolor, the record exposes ubiquitous juxtapositions found in our contemporary civil discourse. As the group grows in strength, their objective remains unwavered– to change your perspective, one groove at a time.

Jelani Sei - LVNDR TWN EP (2017)

On opener “Telephone”, the quintet wastes no time flashing their fangs. What begins with a growling bass and pummeling percussion shifts into a dreamscape held together by Jelani Sei’s tenacious groove. This reverie carries seamlessly through standout track “Divinity”, the group’s most straightforward banger on the new release. Saving the instrumental complexities for later, “Divinity” focuses on the uninhibited dialogue between vocalists Kayana Guity and Evan Lawrence: “Please show me how you feel. Restless on my mind, it’s real,” they crave in harmony before diving into the most catchy chorus on their catalogue to date.

The body of the EP is rife with moments to both reflect gently and dance brashly. Jelani have been nailing the adventurous number “Queens” in concert all year, and it does not lose an iota of luster on record. Surreal and grand, “Queens” (a likely nod to an older highlight “Kings”) delivers what has become one of my favorite live moments from the group: Guity’s impassioned belting carries through a series of quick-switch rhythm changes led by drummer Enayi Tamakloe, followed by the entire band locking into a chain of lead-heavy punches.

On knockout closer, “Msg”, Lawrence and Guity get close to the mics in preparation to deliver a necessary announcement. Crooned conviction assures listeners “I’m not mad at you, I’m only mad at the way things are today,” with a hushed candor. How else can this upcoming, coddled generation understand that “the way things are today” is not okay and cannot be the norm? “Msg” carries the weight of racial/generational fear, calling out police brutality and insecurity masked by boasted privilege. Directed at both aggressors and victims, Jelani Sei provide a crucially unapologetic voice, “This is a message for the blue / You’re not gonna tell me how to feel, how to scream, how to breathe. / Message for the youth / despite chaos stay true to yourself.”

 

Lavender Town, however it may take form, might solely exist internally on a dichotic plane where injustice, oppression, and tension incessantly combat their antitheses. Perhaps it is a purgatory for the world’s malice, kind of like The Black Lodge in Twin Peaks. Or maybe the Upside Down in Stranger Things? In a Facebook post, the band offered,

“Lvndr Twn exists to remind us all that there is a plethora of evil in the world that will likely never die (cuz humans are reckless)… There will be people who will try to silence you, tell you what to do and how to do it, both physically and verbally. WE CANNOT LET THOSE PEOPLE WIN.”

This is the necessity for LVNDR TWN: Rather than simply acknowledging a dangerous civil climate, Jelani Sei propose how to react to it, hopefully stunting budding breeds of bystanders. Advocates of action and gurus of groove, Jelani Sei have an unequivocally mighty spirit.

Listen to LVNDR TWN by Jelani Sei below:

Review: Cheem Fly On Technical, Melodically Intricate ‘Downhill’

Cheem - Downhill (2017)

Cheem’s new record Downhill shows a tangible progression of maturity for the Hartford emo-pop punk five-piece. Since the release of 2016’s Making a Planet, the band has been impressively prolific in both the amount of shows played as well as songs written (even releasing a dope split with their CT peers Budris).  Downhill features an ample 15 tracks, all of them embracing the band’s technical prowess and dual vocal approach.  

As it is an unashamedly emo-revivalist record, the band pulls from all of the genre’s qualities across the emotional indie-punk-pop spectrum. Opener “Freakazoid” strikes the first two components as an introduction to the record. A post-adolescent flail of angst, irregular song structures, and various guitar textures, all its sound and fury serve as a perfect primer for the bigger highlights that will follow.

Early single “Kate”  can easily stand with their Making a Planet tune “Joy Division T-Shirt” as one of the group’s best songs.  Featuring one of the album’s most memorable vocal melodies, it strikes a balance between its soft spoken verses and raucous chorus.  “Instar” follows suit by showcasing the band’s technical prowess and multi-part songwriting chops.  The latter features an especially brief and borderline experimental pause of harmonies before jumping back into full gear with danceable rhythm guitar that the band sometimes employs.

Throughout the remainder of the record, the band refrains from making obvious pop songs and instead pursuing more challenging punk compositions. In addition to the band’s obvious technical virtuosity (in pretty much all facets but hot damn those drums), Downhill is very much a studio record. Every song is so decked out with various little blink-and-you’ll-miss-it textures it encourages repeat listens just to catch them all.  Fortunately, with such a dense sprawl of emotional and textual energy, the band plays it tastefully by keeping many of the 15 track tunes between two and three minutes.

Listen to Downhill by Cheem below:

Review: Laundry Day Elevates Sprawling Elm City Indie Rock With The Company of Friends

Laundry Day - It's Cool, It's Whatever (2017)

While Laundry Day’s new album It’s Cool, It’s Whatever is technically the New Haven slacker rock band’s debut full-length, many of these songs have been in the band’s live rotation for some years now. Since the release of their 2014 self-titled EP, the extra time and countless shows the band has played has given the group time to refine these songs both stylistically and performance wise.

Singer-songwriter Alex Burnet has oft stated that while he serves as the group’s principal vocal and songwriter, each member of the group contributes to the songwriting process in a way that couldn’t be achieved otherwise. It shows. Burnet’s lyrics and melodies often have a simple but substantial charm about them that is nicely complimented by the holistic approach these songs take. 

This is most evident when listening to the fully produced reprise of previous EP standout, “Seven Seas”, where the band expands on Burnet’s suburban and dreamlike juxtapositions of “monster makeup” and “minivans” with warm harmonies, a light touch of hi-hat, and the company of friends. 

Much credit goes to drummer Alexa Ambrose, whose style of playing brings out particular accents that give the album a much more live sounding presence. Both opener “Candy Wrapper” and closer “Joanne” have a rollicking momentum which bestows the otherwise very New Haven album with a universal road-trip-across-America drivability. 

In addition to providing vocal harmonies, guitarist Sam Carlson (who dropped a sweet solo record earlier this Spring), offers a grungy contribution “Blunt Guts.” The track gives a similar voice to his concerns about suburban aimlessness but with a more angular hot rod crunch that better suits Laundry Day.

While this fully realized iteration of Laundry Day packs more distortion and punch, late album highlight “Driveway” is a solo acoustic number from Burnet that resonates in its own way. Burnet, who has refrained from saying much beyond the album being born of personal strife, lays it all out here for all to see. In a series of both particular and vague images and events, there are few songs in recent memory that seem so solitary, so reflective of years gone by in a mere momentary flashback.

That being said, this quick isolated moment only accentuates the album’s clear sense of comradery and the power of chemistry found between friends–something that helps elevate the quality of Laundry Day’s brand of indie rock from other like-minded guitar bands.

Listen to It’s Cool, It’s Whatever by Laundry Day below or on Spotify here.

Review: The Refectory – The Refectory EP (2017)

The Refectory - The Refectory EP (2017)

By Danielle Capalbo – Contributor

The last time we heard from The Refectory, singer-songwriter Robbie Vozza was commanding a four-piece adept at indie rock earworms, uncommon rhythms and tricky instrumentals:  an irresistible kind of prog-pop reminiscent of Pinback. Now as a three-piece, the band is poised to release its sophomore self-titled EP—and while they’re leaner as an outfit, Vozza and company have never hit so hard. Necessity, it turns out, is the mother of reinvention.

What hasn’t changed is The Refectory’s aptitude for uninhibited, unconventional and totally memorable songwriting, or their willingness to veer from heavy heavies to soft softs on a hairpin turn—a journey of gratifying twists in the capable hands of Vozza (guitar), Ben Stokes (bass) and Brian Dicrescenzo (drums). Yet a new dimension of propulsive angst makes itself apparent within the first thirty seconds of opening track “Three Towns Away,” which crushes forward in a catchy swell of sludge, feedback and stoner metal magic. The Refectory still shimmer as they did on Spiral Staircases, but when they pummel here, they pummel.

More likely they’re doing both on this substantial five-song collection of extremes in contrast, perhaps as a means to emulate and exorcise the emotions of self-reflection that underpin Vozza’s lyrics. The hypnotic “Bull in a Zoo,” for instance, begins with a single guitar plucked in sparse and pretty repetition before building incrementally, across seven minutes, toward a hardcore crescendo. “I’m tired, I’m tired of waiting, waiting for you,” Vozza sings in his clear, clean voice. “Pacing, pacing around like a bull a zoo.”

It’s not surprising that expanses of time and space—spent waiting, wondering and working out the riddles of life—are the focus of an EP that clocks in at a continuous 35 minutes. Yet The Refectory never feels longwinded. It feels deliberate, insistent and unhurried instead, awash in elevated details at the meticulous engineering hand of DeCarlo. (The band recorded its own EP live at Mother Brother Studios in Bethel, Conn.) Some of the most delicate moments occur between songs, in beautiful, spacious transitions: from “Three Towns Away” to “Bull in a Zoo,” or “Din” into the slow-grunge “Drove Back.”

Among this heavy collection, “Din” (written largely by DeCarlo) is the most bombastic and quick-changing, a headbanger with corrosive lead guitar that travels the band’s signature peaks and valleys, fueled on yearning, before it builds into a gorgeous, full-throttle ripper. In a powerful wish to the universe, Vozza issues forth: “If I come to find a nameless face that stares at me beyond the glass / Set me out into the woods and let me rest / And let me rest where I can find something real to know and love again / The things I’ve lost were never ever mine.”

“Pretty Rows” is another standout track, an exercise in tension and feeling that epitomizes the band’s overall efforts. “It’s all I’ve swam up stream for,” Vozza croons again and again, as the song struts forward. “A love that’s never felt so pure.” Not until we pass the three-minute mark does the levy burst on that stream, and then it’s not so much a matter of swimming as being swept away.

Listen to The Refectory EP below:

Reduction Plan Finds Solace In The Abyss On Somewhere LP

Reduction Plan - Somewhere (2017)

Ever since Dan Manning fastened together both organic and synthetic instruments to create music as Reduction Plan, he has also created a nameless void between its most human and mechanical elements.  On his first lo-fi excursions, early standouts such as “An Act of Self-Preservation” dabbled in this moody isolation with sparse minimalism and simple but sturdy songwriting.  Later, on 2016’s Child of Light EP, he branched by working with a band and creating sonic experiments. Despite the additional human heat to that music, it still sounded like Manning was singing from far away in some sunless land.

On Somewhere, Reduction Plan takes one step further into the abyss.  Starting abruptly with “Without An End”, Manning is slips deeper into this exile, his mind running away over a robotic drum machine beat and turbulent layers of angular reverb.  While past releases stylishly used reverb to create desolate atmosphere, an increase in production values slightly colorizes the band’s monochromatic sheen and better handles the near shoegaze level amount of guitarwork.

In addition to headier arrangements, the songs on Somewhere are stronger and more distinct than what has come before.  Manning has always had a distinguished croon, but never has it sounded so melodious in its sorrow.  On mid-album highlight “Julia” (and one of Reduction Plan’s best songs to date), he weaves a hypnotic vocal like an additional instrument in a wall of sound. Later, he channels the same aesthetics through a rare major key respite on probable new fan favorite  “On Your Own” (a rework from 2015’s Paradise LP).  Of course, on a Reduction Plan album, its apparent happiness is fleeting as the remainder of the record returns to its regular isolated gloom.

Overall, Somewhere is Reduction Plan’s most fully realized release to date.  Looking back at the band’s earliest releases, it seems like the logical continuation of a journey throughout this strange somewhere that Manning has traversed.  In other ways, it feels like Reduction Plan’s proper debut.  What is less apparent though, is where Reduction Plan will go next when they return from this strange place, if they ever return at all.

Listen to Somewhere by Reduction Plan below: