Cat Bite — “Dreams”
It’s difficult to put into words just how boss this track is, the debut from the band Cat Bite, but I’ll do my absolute best to work through it — the struggle is real. This is, in so many ways, one of the best rock songs I’ve had the privilege to hear in quite a while, replete with massive, fuzz-heavy riffs, monolithic drumming and a baroque vocal styling that would make Peter Murphy blush. What makes “Dreams” such a stand out is just how quickly the band can turn from what is an undeniably visceral chorus to a comparatively low key verse that has more than a little hint of light through all the darkness. Everything here lined up so well, from the bubbling synth work that adds a layer of grit to the distorted guitar work, thick with feedback and ghostly, almost My Bloody Valentine-like squeals and bends to the drums that serve as the backbone to the track, all a vehicle for singer David Cundiff’s wonderfully low and dulcet drawl.
Skyscraper Stereo — “Hanging Tree”
There is an unmistakable weight with this track that seems underscored by the racially-motivated brutality in South Carolina last week — or the letter by the FOP President in town last week, which was seemingly meant to put anyone who disagreed with police tactics “on notice.” It’s hard to not sense that tension in “The Hanging Tree,” although given the production schedule for the song it’s unlikely that it points to any particular serendipity in the release in relationship to any of these events, but rather the culmination — at least for Skyscraper Stereo — of an unwelcome bounty of such. The fact that the song ends with the repeated refrain — “I just want to be free and live my life not afraid of police, say I just want to be free and let my color describe not define me” — illustrates rather beautifully their intent to live beyond the primitive prejudices that continue to plague our society. This is a heavy track that packs a great punch, and puts its message across in a neat package that makes an emotionally salient point.
Burgers — “Dream City”
From the mutated hearts of some of the most broken and warped musical minds comes “Dream City” by Burgers, a kind of nightmarish, but imminently listenable hip-hop miasma of sound and texture. There are qualities of this track that remind me of the track “Swordsman” by GZA, filtered through Boards of Canada, those junk robots from the original Transformers animated movie and sheets of acid. There are scattered radio samples, chopped and screwed beyond recognition into a twisted, colorful beast of a composition. There is a lot going on here, from the aforementioned samples, to viscous bass line complimented by some heavy kick and snare action, all while random synths slide in and out of your aural register. This is weird in all the right ways, with nothing to suggest that this is meant to do anything but entertain you if by unconventional means, like a party song on a tape that’s been demagnetized and soaked in vodka.
Maiden Radio — “East Virginia Blues”
The story goes that “Wolvering,” the newest from Maiden Radio, was recorded at a snowed-in cabin in Michigan some time in mid-January. You can practically hear that quiet cool in “East Virginia Blues,” the sort of icy and suffocating kind of tension and anxiety associated with cabin fever. There is a rustic delicacy to the music illustrated by the close harmonizing and sparse instrumentation on the track. Like the best music, this transports you to a time and a place other than where you are, a sonic escapism underscored by nostalgic Americana. Maiden Radio are all about the vocal harmonies though, which is not a slight against any of the otherwise exemplary playing here, insomuch as a reflection of the quality of the vocal work.
Kaleidico — “We All Hide”
Of all the bands I’ve had the good fortune to listen to lately, Kaleidico has caught me so wonderfully off guard that I barely knew what hit me. I make it my business to keep up with what’s going on around town and while there are certainly gaps in my knowledge, I pride myself with usually having some idea of what’s happening. Courtesy of their track on the wonderful “Blue Summer” comp by Sea Speak Records, I was introduced to Kaleidico, one of the most well-polished sonic engines to come out of our town. Theirs is a kind of relaxed melancholia that borders on a gloom that never really comes. There is more than a little somber qualities in “We All Hide,” the opener to the comp, that privileges rounded-off guitar tones, almost danceable drums, amazing synth work and airy vocals for a song that has more than a little hint of Radiohead or Air in its DNA.
Ryan Pierson — “Haymarket”
Traveling with a friend a few years ago, we began a spirited debate as to the inherent value of video game music and what impact it had on our culture. I took the position, one that I still hold, that video game music was and is an incredibly important part of our cultural tradition, an idea that seems to be held here by Ryan Pierson. Whether intentional or not, with Haymarket, Pierson offers a synth-heavy homage to video games that privileges warble-ly noises and twee digital drums. I challenge any listener to not imagine that you’re on some kind of epic 8-Bit quest, perhaps in a flying car race or to save a princess from robots with lasers. It’s that retro vision of the future that informs Pierson’s work throughout the entirety of “You’re Fine,” his newest album, underscored here by this track that carries with it that sort of anxious mid-’80s angst usually reserved for late night pizza and soda-fueled gaming related frustration.