thenextdaySo I received the email early last night from David Bowie’s management, regarding his new album the Next Day: “You’ll be receiving the David Bowie album stream sometime this evening.”

Little did I know everyone else would too.

You can stream the full 14-track album now. You’ll have to have iTunes installed on your computer, however. Read the news and see the link to the stream here (that’s a hotlink). The live stream will remain available on iTunes until the album’s official release (in the U.S. that’s March 12 [Support Independent Ethos, purchase on Amazon]; the vinyl sees release March 26).

That surprising stream for all meant I had to hustle to write up a review so my voice as a longtime Bowie fan is not left out of the mix among other critics. I promised the piece to the “Miami New Times.” After four listens, I produced a review verging on a 1,000 words. I hope my 30-plus years as a hardcore Bowie fan and chronicler provides something as insightful.

You can read the resulting review after jumping into the Miami New times Logo below (the image is a hotlink):

Miami New Times logo

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2012 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

This morning, David Bowie’s official website pointed visitors to a second preview track from his first album in 10 years, the Next Day (Support the Independent Ethos, purchase direct through Amazon via this link). “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)” makes its official debut on the web in the form of a more conceptual music video than the first preview track almost two months ago (David Bowie returns to music with new song on his 66th birthday). Like the first teaser track, “Where Are We Now?”, I cannot help put notice the self-referencing in this new Bowie song.

Directed by Floria Sigismondi, who began making music videos for Bowie in the mid-1990s, the video features actress Tilda Swinton. In the video, Swinton, long considered by some as a sort of female doppelgänger of Bowie, plays house with Bowie, grocery shopping and cuddling on their couch at home. Bowie and Swinton share a laughThe couple is stalked and terrorized by a younger couple who could also be considered another mirror image layer of Bowie. The “female” is played by none other than Andrej Pejic and the “male” Saskia De Brauw, a pair of models known for their androgynous looks who have posed as Bowie clones in many a fashion magazine. The short reeks of dualities that have long obsessed Bowie since he adopted characters to perform on stage, very early in his career. The near 6-minute clip is smart, funny and just a little twisted, as can be expected by rock’s great alternative artiste.

As far as the song’s tone… Indeed, as promised by Bowie’s longtime producer Tony Visconti, the song “rocks out” (read the “Rolling Stone” interview). So stream it above, as we continue to anticipate an early listen o Bowie’s March 8 release of the Next Day. His US rep has promised me preview by March 1, so stay tuned. In the meantime, please share any thoughts and feelings in the comments below. Is this a stronger return for Bowie since the Jan. 8 preview?

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2013 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

Normal MusicAs promised yesterday, a note on something ironically titled “Normal Music” by Visszajáró (László Lenkes and Ákos Czini from Serbia) and Gustavo Jobim (from Brazil). It is an instrumental album made up of four tracks, each nondescriptly titled “One,” “Two,” “Three” and “Four.” Each piece carries on for just over 10 minutes each.

If you can bear the first track, there are rewards on this recording, made on synthesizers and piano. As banal as these instruments may seem, this trio goes to extremes to create a form of musique concrète recalling the work of Stockhausen. The album opens with piercing screeches that sound like the perfect soundtrack for the climax of a horror film that ends on a hopeless note … for 10 minutes. There is a swirling melody in the din that grows higher and higher pitched as an undulating chorus of din rumbles and shimmers on and on and on. For the finale it fades away, and the tune’s only three pleasant notes on bells close out the piece, like some twisted little gag.

If the first piece may induce headaches, the second piece offers pure relief, though barely a melody appears. It is more an experiment in white noise. It thrums and pulses like some hidden machinery in the walls. Halfway through it downshifts, gradually, sounding like a trip slowly inward and deeper into sleep. In fact, this feels like externally induced biofeedback. It may do the trick for insomniacs looking for some sonic assistance to relax into sleep. There are a few, rare sprinkles of light piano trills, but always dominating is a breathy rhythm of electronic synths.

The other tracks are similar in spirit, but also different enough to reward adventurous listeners. For those intrigued by my description of this experimental drone music above, here is the full album to stream and/or download for free. Click through for more from these artists:

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2013 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

cover artSome of the best things that have come of this blog have been immaterial experiences. This is a labor of love and not-for-profit. Beyond the interviews, early film and album previews are the like-minded interactions with independent artists. Once in a while an incredible discovery arises. Thanks to interaction with members of the legendary Krautrock band Faust, their collaborators and fans, a couple of interesting albums I would have never otherwise have heard have appeared on my radar.

This morning it was a thing unabashedly called Kösmischen Hits! by a duo called Couvre-Feu from France. But the influence is undeniably German, as revealed by the title of the opening track: “Viva Düsseldorf!” It sounds like the best parts of early Kraftwerk and Neu! had been placed in a blender. A pulsing motorik beat is augmented by repetitive guitar lines, constantly shifting in sound by effects. It builds to a freak-out level as screeching electro solos and more repetitive melodies pile on. All the while the beat just goes steadily on.

The creativity and indulgence in all that’s Krautrock is shamelessly on display across the first half of Couvre-Feu’s instrumental album, created from improvisations. But it also has a freshness that will appeal to fans of Kraut-influenced artists like Brian Eno and Robert Fripp. The second track, “Ammoniac,” brings to mind the duo’s collaboration on Evening Star.

The final track, “Part of a diagram for Alpha Centaury,” has a decidedly more experimental side and carries on for almost as long as the first four, more bouncy, tracks do altogether. It indulges in phases and noise, meandering through moments of drone but mostly deconstructing any craft to the strangest sounds to repeat and pile up and then veer away from in surprising left turns. There are enough shifts in tone that also make it the most dynamic track on the record, and quite possibly the most interesting.

You can stream the entire album for free just below, and visit the band’s bandcamp site for a free download and link to their blog (get to following them for upcoming information on a limited edition cassette release of Kösmischen Hits!).

Another decidedly more experimental release I heard about via the same source came out last year, but I have not forgotten it. I’ll add another post about something called “Normal Music,” a collaboration between a Brazilian experimental artist and an avant-garde Serbian musician, tomorrow.

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2013 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

HH Blog

Whether the couple behind the music of Holly Hunt realizes it or not, they treat their instruments as channels into something beyond simple music. Their instruments are like ray guns. The tool emitting this spectral ray may look impressive or intimidating, but behold that psychedelic beam of light: a thing that exists beyond the object producing it. Guitarist Gavin Perry and drummer Beatriz Monteavaro are the architects behind the wall of texture that defines Year One, a brilliant if heavy vinyl record that will appeal to fans of metal, avant-garde, psychedelic rock and noise. P1000575Label genres also might include sludge core and stoner metal. You can go down that road, but this album’s possible appeal across several underground music scenes comes from a discreet tension between ambiguity and minimalism. I would take its DNA as far back as the early seventies when Philip Glass experimented with what he called “psychoacoustical” music like Music With Changing Parts.

It’s as pure and unique as that. It’s chaos that depends on discipline. The texture Holly Hunt deals in stands as something more than a random roar of guitars and a clatter of drums. The first note of Year One is an awe-inspiring thing to hear unfold. It’s a sizzle wrapped in a rumble enveloped in a zip coated with a thrum. Most of the album’s great moments come from Perry licking at his guitar slowly and methodically, allowing for the reverb to reveal the density within the tones produced by his playing. Monteavaro pounds along with minimal flair. She strikes skins, cymbals and peddles in halting unison, allowing space for Perry’s guitar to produce a sound of incomparable quality. Though the structure of the instrumental pieces that define Year One are often repetitive and droney, there exists a chaos in the notes, a sort of beautiful abstraction with each release that only slightly differs from one note to the next. Even if the same in tone, each note possesses as unique a quality as each successive ocean wave crashing into rocks along a shoreline.

Perry and Monteavaro allowed for a peek behind the curtain when they agreed to a meeting at Miami’s most uncompromising bar when it comes to bands like Holly Hunt, who also rely on ear-piercing volume for its overall effect: Churchill’s Hideaway. They nestled into the corner of an outside bar, while longtime local musician Henry Rajan strangled an electric guitar indoors—with his teeth. The screeches peppered our conversation. The 6-foot-plus, bushy-bearded Perry loomed over the spindly framed Monteavaro. Holly Hunt by Lisa Martin-OwensThe two have been a couple for 18 years now, though they only recently began playing together as Holly Hunt. Monteavaro says the band’s unique sound came into existence in February of 2011, after some sonic experimenting and jamming that included them playing other instruments with Nick Klein on guitar.

She parsed out the chain of events via a conversation on Facebook:

“We usually consider our first show at pre-INC [International Noise Conference] 2011 (February) to be the beginning on the band. We did have a noise piece called ‘Carrie Fischer’ come out on the previous December on a cassette, and although it was under the name Holly Hunt, we consider it more proto-Holly Hunt.

“I play bass guitar on that recording, Gavin drums, Nick Guitar. It was a jam. It was after I joined but before we moved to our rightful instruments. I started playing with them in October of 2010 … The band had no name, and the jams were not heavy at all.

“After we recorded the piece that would go on that first tape, Nick left town for several months. I can’t remember how long he was gone, but in January he told us we could play a pre-INC show. So we worked on making that noise piece, Carrie Fischer Holly Hunt cover art. Image courtesy of Holly Hunt.‘Carrie Fischer,’ more structured. That became ‘Cueva,’ and that’s what we played at INC. We played a few more shows with Nick, just playing ‘Cueva,’ or ‘Cueva’ and another version of ‘Carrie Fischer,’ but he lived in West Palm Beach. He was having a lot of trouble making it to practice, so that we could move the band forward. He then decided it would be best if Gavin and I go on without him. No mystery, geographic problems.”

Perry adds, “Nick is a good friend who helped me get up off the ground. He/we were invited to play our first pre-International Noise Conference show at a space called Cueva. We had this piece that was arranged around our current setup with Nick playing bass. The piece got its title from the space as I remember. That really started everything for us.”

There exists a brief testament to the performance at Cueva on video, which captures the layers of sonics distinctive to Holly Hunt before the poor videographer got overwhelmed by the thrashing crowd:

“We met Rat Bastard [aka Frank Fallestra, the brains behind INC],” continues Perry. “He invited us to play the next night at Churchill’s for INC proper. Shit really just kind of took off from there.”

Indeed the sound of Holly Hunt continued to flourish fine and healthy without a third member. Density in sonics like these cannot be restrained. Back at Churchill’s, Perry casually explained his set-up as the duo’s singular guitarist. “I play through two heads right now,” he says, “and that really sets up that dynamic that sort of feels like you could have multiple guitars playing. I have a sort of dedicated bass frequency, low, midrange frequency and a dedicated treble, mid-treb frequency, sort of rig, so I think that sets up a weird stereo kind of feel. You start to really feel like there’s a much broader sound, so it can’t possibly be coming from one instrument. Aside from that, all the oscillations and the buzz sort of develop other things.”

Just as Philip Glass admitted to having been tricked into hearing singing by his own layering of music during a 1969 performance of “Music In Similar Motion,”* Gavin Perry in Holly Hunt. Photo by Danny Kokomo.Perry and Monteavaro both admit people have come up to them with notions of a vocalist on stage. “We get that a lot,” notes Perry. “I think in one of our early shows someone came up and asked, ‘Where’s the singer? Somebody’s got to be singing here. I can hear voices.’”

Monteavaro adds, some of the questions she usually gets include: “Is some of it pre-recorded? Is there a tape going?”

Within that chaos of noise and reverb, lies the open-ended magic of abstractions turned hallucinogenically concrete at an aural level by the duo. Though Holly Hunt writes songs with clear melody, albeit with a droning repetitive quality, there exists dynamism to every refrain, ocean waves providing that perfect metaphor. The members remain modest to their role in the Holly Hunt sound. “I mean, nothing special, I don’t think,” says Perry. “Maybe it’s in our songwriting too, maybe some of the harmonies, discordant notes that we’re playing, the rhythm structures kind of put you into a trance.”

Monteavaro, who has played drums in various hard-edged local bands going on 20 years now, including Beings, Floor and Cavity, notes her style of drumming may assist in shaping the dissonance. “I think maybe also because the tempo is kind of slow,” she says. Beatriz Monteavaro in Holly Hunt at Grand Central. This photo originally appeared on SaltyEggs.com. Photo by Monica McGivern.“It gives all the oscillating things room to sort of build … It’s not like playing these kinds of beats is totally alien to me, anyway, from previous bands, but, when starting this band, and figuring what this band was going to do, I really thought, specifically about the really open, abstract drumming like the Goslings or the first EP of Earth, which is very, very minimal drums, but the ones that are there are just like the old-timey drums on Viking ships to get people to stroke.”

“I think it’s super heavy because there’s not all this flourish and fill,” Perry says of Monteavaro’s playing. “I think that just adds to the level of impending doom, crescendo.”

If you’re listening to Holly Hunt’s debut album on vinyl at a low volume, you are missing out on half of the band’s sound. The album is divided into four sides that spin at 45 rpm, which is important to capturing the subtlety in the “subtext,” per se, of the songs. The vinyl is also decidedly clean sounding, allowing for the chaos of reverb to rumble and the high-pitched whizzes to morph and undulate below the din at high volume without distortion. These notes are sort of auras that are never purposely produced but exist in the moment and come into being from loud volume, a manner Holly Hunt is keen to perform in as well as have its record played. The album was recorded by Torche bassist Jonathan Nuñez at his home studio deep in the Miami suburbs of the Village of Pinecrest.

P1000582

Perry notes that seeing Torche and Harvey Milk play a show at Churchill’s led to an epiphany that became the catalyst to the Holly Hunt sound. “I just had a very visceral experience with their amplifiers,” Perry recalls. “Their tone really just sort of struck. I really just wanted to do that.”

Year One marks Holly Hunt’s debut on vinyl after releasing and selling out two cassettes (now only available in digital form: see Holly Hunt’s bandcamp page to stream all the band’s music from proto-Hunt to Year One). Two independent labels with ties to the Miami alternative music scene joined forces to make it happen: Other Electricities and Roofless Records. Though Other Electricities is based in Portland, Oregon and releases music from bands as far off as Russia and South Africa, the label’s owner, Emile Milgrim recently dropped roots in Miami, where she could not help but notice Holly Hunt. “Having heard so much and having seen them live, I was just mesmerized,” she says. “It spoke to me.”

Plans on a release began at Miami-based Roofless Records, an indie label well-known for working with heavier bands like Holly Hunt. Milgrim says, “I assumed Roofless Records was going to release it, so I approached Matt [Preira, owner of Roofless Records] and asked him, ‘So, when are you going to release that Holly Hunt record?’”

According to Monteavaro, Preira had already designated some funding from a Knight Foundation Grant the label had won the previous year in order to release something by the band. She says the label was considering a pair 7-inches or an EP until Milgrim volunteered her resources. “I think they complimented each other very well,” notes Perry of Preira and Milgrim, “and it’s been a pretty smooth experience.”

As a dual release by Other Electricities and Roofless Records, Milgrim says, Holly Hunt had an object that paid proper respect to its sound. After some waffling on the idea of carrying on the notion to release a single or EP, the decision for a full-length album was an easy decision for all involved. “We went back and forth on whether we were going to do an EP or a full-length,” recalls Milgrim, “and then it finally came to a point where we decided let’s just go for broke. Let’s do a full-length, let’s do a double-LP, let’s make it 45 rpm. Let’s make it as massive as possible because this record’s representative of what they’re doing, and it’s massive.”

All the ingrdients of Year One by Holly Hunt

As already noted, what pours forth from the speakers at not only a Holly Hunt show, but also this brilliantly produced record, released only earlier this month, is something beyond experiential. At first listen it may seem like power chords and head-banging sans singing. But the beauty lies in the details found on that psychoacoustical level, with discreet unintended textures born of chaos. Side C opens with a quavering sustain that lasts for nearly one minute. Before the aptly titled “Molasses” lulls you into thinking the band has veered into the deep-end of ambient music, Perry strokes his guitar strings and Monteavaro bashes at her cymbals sending the track lumbering away like a score to a Godzilla movie.

To Monteavaro, the idea of Year One and civilization-destroying dinosaurs is an apt comparison (the record even includes a track named after the Godzilla movie Destroy All Monsters). Someday, when humanity passes on the way of the dinosaur, physical testaments should remain. Vinyl records could be one of those, including this thing called Year One. “It’s not like absolutely the world’s going to end anytime soon,” she says, “but there’s something really amazing about vinyl in knowing that you don’t even need electricity to get sound out of it. It’s an actual, physical recording that takes no technology. You need a pin, and it’s all there. That’s just so amazing to me. And it seems like the perfect record in case something catastrophic does happen.”

Hans Morgenstern

*Note: According to the liner notes on Music With Changing Parts by Tim Page.

(Copyright 2012 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

Spielberger has returned with a brand new album, and the duo has added guitars and drums to their wash of ambient noise. Where 2011’s Chrissie’s Last Swim existed in a world of droning hiss and white noise, Jazzy features driving rhythms and enthralling guitar showmanship. The product of Miami-based musicians Bert Rodriguez and Ed Matus, the duo’s third album kicks off with a grand statement, as far as the presence of these two new instruments in the Spielberger mix.

“Mistaken, Abandoned and Alone” opens with the roar from a strike to the hot strings of an electric guitar, responded to by the growl of a bass. The instruments sizzle for a couple of seconds in that classic charged reverb only electric guitars can make before the musicians take off, following the thud of a kick drum and clang of a high hat. After a few bars of swelling chords, the rest of the drum kit comes to life and a melody of muddy reverbing guitars tangle and bound along in classic post rock fashion. Almost halfway through the piece, the groove seems to freeze and echo, as the drumming disappears. Throbbing in place for approximately another two minutes, the guitars emit roars and growls that seem impossible to create by the strokes of the strings, recalling shades of the earlier Spielberger. The piece sways and throbs in mid roar, as other sizzling drones grow almost exponentially, spinning off from the array of notes, throbbing, shrieking and pulsing at their own pitches and echoing at various tempos. The drum kit comes alive again with power and zeal, snares, cymbals and all. The shrieks of the ambient drones grow higher until they seem exorcised out of the piece, and the melody returns. After a few bars, the guitar breaks away to slowly start a solo that turns into a frantic pummeling of strings in an aggressive tremolo. As “Mistaken, Abandoned and Alone” grinds to its end, the strings seem to emit little electric speckles of reverb, like the remnants of static hidden in a wool blanket.

The track makes for a thrilling opener to an album firmly in the contemporary world of post-rock, while still reflective of its early roots in minimal ambiance. It marks a positive sign of evolution for the duo. However, as Rodriquez reveals, do not call this a departure. “Actually, the first track, ‘Mistaken, Abandoned and Alone,’ is literally the first song we ever wrote together,” he writes via email from his new home in Los Angeles. “We put it aside because we hadn’t built up other tracks that related to it. The whole album is really the result of several jam sessions we had from before we even released the first EP [“Music for Cruises”]. Almost all of the tracks on this record came from those sessions. I guess we’ve been working on this album from the beginning of our relationship together.”

So guitars do not mark anything that new for the duo, as Rodriguez tells it. “We both play guitar so, whenever we got together, we would plug them in and just write parts until things fit together. We were also constantly experimenting with affecting the guitar sound.”

As described in my earlier profile on this band (Spielberger hold torch proud for ambient music), some moments of Chrissie’s Last Swim, composed mostly through altering sounds on an iPhone app called Mixtikl, sounded like electric guitars. However, the sound of contact between guitar string and pick seemed missing. “We were really obsessed for a while with trying to make the guitars sound as little as a guitar as possible,” Rodriguez states. “I wanted to be able to play guitar but have it sound like a synth.”

Though Spielberger mutated the sound of electric guitars into something original on Chrissie’s Last Swim, it was the first step toward the new album. “That experimentation really helped us find some pretty interesting sounds that you can hear on the record,” Rodriguez says of Jazzy. “In fact, now that I think of it, almost everything on this record, even the two ambient tracks, were created with guitars.”

In a recent phone conversation, Matus says the two recorded the album just as Rodriguez was in the middle of moving to LA, but the mixing took a while longer. Matus notes that it was also important to get the drums sounding realistic, though no real drumming took place. With Jazzy’s rollicking opener, one can practically visualize a drummer raising his arms as high as possible to beat the skins, however, Matus, says, it’s all computer-generated and very carefully produced. Matus had already turned artificial drums into something primal and real-sounding in the past. “Ritual #1,” an instrumental track on the final album by his previous project, the Waterford Landing, In The Heart Of Zombie City, features some nightmarish rhythmic pounding of something akin to an indigenous drum accompanied by tambourine, echoing through what sounds like a giant room inside a derelict building of some wasteland as some alien, mechanical screeching echoes in the background (stream and download the album here). It’s a visceral moment on that final, grand album by the Waterford Landing (also worth checking out is the Bay City Rollers meets chill wave number “Soft Revolution [Blue Flames]”).

Matus says some of the ideas for the pieces off Jazzy came from he and Rodriguez improvising together on guitar. The title track began with the simple, soft pulse of an electronic click track, he says. Matus starts it off with a luscious, grooving but repetitive guitar line and Rodriguez comes in plucking his part out, dropping down the guitar’s neck, like a series of soft, dripping bits of rain on a window’s edge. They wrote the piece as such: two guitars tangling together. They later added bass and rhythm, a move that might seem counter-intuitive to many musicians who piece together music via overdubs while writing or recording. “I don’t think I’ve ever recorded a song like that,” Matus says, “to just plug in our guitars and see what happens.”

Though ambient music pioneer Brian Eno was a major inspiration for the two earlier Spielberger albums, this one features the influence of another pioneer and cohort of Eno’s in the prog rock world: Robert Fripp. When asked about the similarity of “Jazzy” to the work of Fripp with Andy Summers in the early eighties, Rodriguez embraces it as a high compliment. “That was definitely an inspiration, without a doubt,” adds Matus. “A long time ago, when I first heard that stuff, I always thought it was so alien and otherworldly.”

“Jazzy” also found a life outside the album thanks to a famous beer company, and Rodriguez’ higher-profile reputation as a contemporary multi-media artist. Beck’s commissioned Rodriguez for part of its “Artist Series Bottles,” alongside M.I.A., Freegums, Geoff McFetridge, Willy Chyr and Aerosyn-Lex. Rodriguez designed the only text-based label with the loaded statement “Don’t Forget You’re Here Forever” in neon lights. Beck’s created a campaign promoting the artists in this limited edition series and produced a short video documenting Rodriquez’ journey and arrival to LA. The music used in the video is “Jazzy:”

Though the guitar-use is unmistakable, still prevalent in Spielberger’s sound is the creative use of Mixtikl. Though it features some frenetic guitar work, the sound of the guitar in “In the Museum,” sounds like some spasmodic little creature trapped in a gelatinous blob, composed of echoing reverb that washes and wanes over the poor guitar. “Part II – A Boundary Crossed” is a subtle thing of beauty, as the guitar echoes from below the whoosh and calm sparkle of electronics like a ghost. “We just decided to break out the guitars … There are still tracks that are largely Mixtikl-based,” Matus says. “We always wanted it to have that background quality where we wanted it to be floating in the background. Some songs started with a Mixtikl theme.”

Rodriguez sheds further light on the duo’s creative process. “It was never our intention to only use Mixtikl to make music,” he states. “In fact, Ed has hardly used it at all. He likes to use his phone mostly to make beats and use the synth apps that are on there.”

However, Rodriguez appreciates how one cannot completely control the resulting music via the program, as it is just one of many auto-generative applications that can produce its own music via programming. “I’m a little more obsessed with Mixtikl,” Rodriguez confesses. “I think it’s because it ties so much into my art practice. It’s a really unique and non-traditional way to produce compositions. I could use that thing to make music forever really. I really enjoy the fact that you can’t expect 100 percent how the composition will turn out. I like the chance at play there.”

Despite Rodriguez’ relocation, the distance has not stopped the duo from recording and planning follow-up projects to Jazzy. Though this latest album came out only three months ago, the duo is deep into work on follow-ups, including a third full-length album and a physical 7-inch single. “The next album is gonna be called That Championship Season,” Rodriguez says. “My gallery out here offered to produce a limited edition 7-inch so, we’re working on two new ambient tracks for that.”

The 7-inch will mark Spielberger’s first physical release, and will surely become a collectible considering the LA-based art gallery OHWOW would be behind it. As far as other physical media or even working with labels, the duo are happy with their independence. It allows them to release music when they want, no matter how close to their last release date. It also frees up their creativity. “We like a lot of different stuff, we like playing different instruments,” Matus says. “It’s just making music the old fashioned way. It’s the idea that this is us, and we’re going to do what we want. We don’t have anyone to answer to. As long as it comes out honest and real, that’s what matters.”

Spielberger likes to allow the music to speak for itself. Though for sale in cyberspace on sites like iTunes and Amazon (You can support this blog as well as the band by purchasing their album through Amazon links), Matus is fine about giving it away to anyone who might be curious. “It’s there for free if you want to take it,” he says referring to links on the band’s website. “If you want to donate and help us, that’s fine too, and there are people who do that. But the most important thing is for people to have it and listen to it.”

(Copyright 2012 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

Too often, lately, I have heard lush, layered records only to feel dizzy and nauseous by the end. So-called chill wave has often been a culprit. The redundancies and piercing electronics of bands like Washed Out and Neon Indian annoy more than sooth these ears. Then you have cutesy retro bands like Cults: more high-pitched convolutedness. I found myself hard-pressed to find a decent record last year due to all the self-indulgent, shallow noise hyped by the taste-makers.

Then, this year, a brilliant, refreshing aural experience came along in the form of Bloom by Baltimore-based Beach House. The band has long been recognized for its do-no-wrong dream pop, a genre of music that emerged in the late eighties thanks to bands as divergent as the ethereal Cocteau Twins to the noisy My Bloody Valentine. But even those pioneering bands’ records often felt difficult to endure all the way through. Beach House’s fourth album further proves it has the know-how to balance layered, driving sounds with stark, spare musical moments with a delicate touch.

Over two months ago, the band released “Myth” as a free stream and download on the Internet as a teaser to the new album. Singer/keyboardist Victoria Legrand called it a “gateway,” as it also opens the new album. A scratchy beat and the flat ding of a bell offers a deceptively simple opening for a few seconds until the trill of high-ranged keys on an organ, accompanied by Alex Scally’s equally athletic vibrato harmony on a steady-handed electric guitar, somersaults in to overtake the lead. Legrand’s voice joins in as the steady thud of Daniel Franz’ drums grow restless, pounding on in double time. With a booming, patient voice Legrand sings, “Drifting in and out/You see the road you’re on.” The second she sings the first note, a deep hum from the other end of an organ rumbles in accompaniment. Halfway through the song, Scally heralds a change in tone with the lethargic, resonant strum of his instrument like a wave blowing apart on the rocks of a craggy shore. Legrand sings strong and large with a slight echo effect decorating her voice turning the words only slightly unintelligible. Certain words are not completely clear, especially during the chorus. But that is the abstract charm of this record, begging the listener to fill in the gaps with his or her own hearing and interpretation. A few strums later, and the song returns to its driving form for a moment before closing out on ecstatic tremolo guitar work.

“Wild” seems to have a similar construct, but the distinctions are in the details. It opens with a mysterious hiss and hum that could be the processed howl of an organ or the wind across the surface of the ocean. A stuffy, tinny beat appears before a swell of cymbals heralds Scally’s guitar, driving along in cascading licks that chime with a brilliance many might have heard in a song by the Cure. Legrand’s singing is more obscured, which rolls along like the shimmer of pulsing, undulating waves on the surface of the sea. It ends once again with Scally’s tremolo on the higher-end of the fret board. Legrand’s organ offers more of an ambient, drone effect— humming and shimmering chords below the ecstatic work of Scally and the pounding, deep, relentless beat by Franz.

The third track, which already saw release as a 7-inch single for Record Store Day 2012, also arrives with a distinct, spare intro only to be coated in layers of luscious sounds. As a processed electronic pulse and melody is overtaken by swelling organ chords and the boom of Franz’ drum kit, Legrand’s voice finally does not even pretend to sing in English, just pulsing, soft sighs of “huhs.” It makes for another luscious moment, but this time missing Scally’s guitar for the first half of the song. However, his licks return as the song strips back its wall of organs, to bring back the canned electro opening, providing Scally space to offer a beautiful, if subdued gem of a moment on rolling, sliding guitar. “Like no other, you can’t be replaced,” Legrand sings repeatedly, as the song calmly heads towards its fade out.

Three songs in, and the album has only offered a dynamism and familiarity that brings comfort instead of inducing nausea. Beach House crafts songs with a patience and deliberation that highlights and celebrates the players’ talents without sacrificing the entirety of the experience. Bloom never seems to falter, offering one aural treat after another. “The Hours” features a standout hook: a duel between Legrand’s pulsing organ and Scally’s patient slide guitar. Thrown in here and there throughout the album are subtle field recordings. The distant sound of kids on the beach and whispers of “something” or nothing at all open “the Hours.” The sound of cicadas often heard in exterior scenes of Japanese movies appears to cap off “Troublemaker” before disappearing with an odd whistle to make way for the chiming guitar and sighing voices of “New Year.” These are genius little moments that break up the coldness of the interior of a studio or, worse, the zeros and ones of a computer file. Bloom is the sound of nature and the musicians clearly understand their humble roles as channels to the sublime power of music.

The crowning achievement arrives during the trio (or quartet?) of tracks that cap off the album. “Wishes” opens on a soft, spare beat, like many of Bloom’s tracks.  The band layers on the melodies with patience: the swell of a high-pitched organ chord, the patter of a canned rhythm track, the noodle of keys, the loop of a guitar line. Chords from sighing organs build as the voices pile up and overlap. Even a masculine voice appears to harmonize for a bit. Scally’s guitar detours into a driving, Gothic hook, pauses a moment to allow Legrand space to sing the chorus and returns with a high-pitched tremolo. The song turns back to its driving layers of melody, and there is a distinct pause for silence after the fade out.

“On the Sea” takes the album into a maintained, spare melody unheard of in quality until now. It fades in like a light gradually illuminating the darkness. Only a ringing guitar and sprightly piano melody bound along as Legrand sings, “Out on the sea we’d be forgiven…” Franz offers a persistent thump on the bass drum like the click of a metronome. The only intricate rhythm is the persistent melody of piano and guitar. A minute in and Scally’s tremolo work breaks it down and another shimmering hum emerges subtly from the depths. The song becomes steadily ecstatic as the twirls of minimal, airy organs build like the persistent repetition of the music of Philip Glass. Legrand’s voice is almost operatic as the music swells and then eases back to the same, spare opening. It fades to give way to the rumble of what again sounds like the wind slicing across the surface of the sea.

The hiss continues as “Irene” starts forming on the swelling hum of what sounds like the deep rumble of a Farfisa or Harmonium organ. An old, canned scratchy beat appears as the minimalist pulse of a guitar persists in a dynamic pull and tug, as if waiting to explode only to recede again. There is a little climb to bright melody before a detour back to the minor-key tug-of-war of dynamics. “Irene” seems to expand and reduce in dynamics until the layers of melodies pause, allowing Scally to explore every stroke of his electric guitar. He repeats and repeats and repeats each stroke. Every lash is a growing mark of anticipation toward the edge of climax. “It’s a strange paradise,” sighs Legrand, as other layers of equally repetitive melodies emerge and coat each other, unfolding in a patient, droney jam session of swelling organs, intricate guitar lines and splashing crashes of cymbals. As the sound expands on each refrain with Scally’s vicious tremolo, Legrand slowly and rhythmically repeats: “It’s a strange paradise.” The band seems to delight in exploring a simple groove that grows more entrancing with each refrain. It grows over the final two-and-a-half minutes of the six-and-a-half minute song to peter off suddenly in one last quiver of tremolo that echoes away into a fade out.

The finale of “Irene” is so ecstatic that the band grants the listener seven minutes of silence before a little tape hiss arrives to apply the bandage after the aural gutting from such a din of ecstasy. A steady tap of a drum beat fades in, and the quiet quaver of guitar accompanied by the high-pitched pulse of an organ emerge. Legrand’s voice bounces rapidly from speaker to speaker in an enhanced stereophonic effect distinctive from the other songs on Bloom. This hidden track is spare but seems to come from another dimension. It offers a quiet moment of relief at the end of one of Beach House’s grandest accomplishments. It has been a couple of years since this listener has heard an album that offered as complete a listening experience as Bloom.

Finally, on the vinyl format of this album, I have yet to hear it, but Legrand mentioned recording a lot of the album to tape, and of course, the band did enter a proper studio (Sonic Ranch in Tornillo, Texas) to spend seven weeks recording Bloom. Audiophiles agree analog tape is the best source for analog vinyl. Sub Pop have promised to send a copy of the double vinyl soon, so expect this post to see an up-date after a spin on the home hi-fi. Edit: the up-date has been posted: Vinyl review: Beach House – ‘Bloom’

Miami area tie-in: Local Miami-based indie record shop Sweat Records will host “The Bloom Happy Hour Release Party,” on the album’s official release date, this Tuesday, May 15, from 5 to 7 p.m. They will offer complimentary drinks for those 21 and over whilst playing the CD in its entirety. Attendees can also expect special prizes from Sub Pop Records. (Note: Sub Pop supplied an advance copy of Bloom in early April for the purpose of this review and the linked interviews with Legrand).

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2012 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)