Review ~ Us & Us Only – Bored Crusader ~ by Rob Arcand

Sometimes I wonder about a time when music was not only an IRL manifestation of online content. When everyone bombs the internet with aggressive PR emails, glossy VEVO accounts and an overwhelming number of soundcloud links, it’s sometimes crazy how much production goes into online branding for bands who may not have earned it yet. Especially in a genre like ‘emo revival,’ a term which has reached global ubiquity thanks to bands like The World is a Beautiful Place and I am No Longer Afraid to Die, Empire! Empire! (I Was A Lonely Estate), and You Blew It! *breathes*, it feels like there’s a lot of bands out there aggressively marketing hundreds of ho-hum releases that make even the most devout emo fans roll their eyes.

In comes Us & Us Only; a few days ago, the Baltimore legends quietly released a stunning three-track EP titled Bored Crusader over on Steep Sounds and within the its brief 8-minute run time, the release packs an incredible punch of crass guitar harmonies, subdued synth lines (do I hear a violin?!) and impressive arrangements and production. Fronted by Kinsey Mathews, Us & Us Only has been making noise in the Baltimore scene for the last few years, quietly putting out a string of stunning releases online. After seeing these guys open for Attic Abasement this summer at Club K, I was floored by their live presence, which on this release, they’ve paired perfectly with some hi-fi elements of a Topshelf-tier mainstay, while maintaining a sound that carved out their place as hometown heroes to begin with.

On “Hex,” Matthews bellows, “Traverse the town by broomstick/ Leave home/ Fake sick/ Traverse the town by broomstick/ Lay low/ Move quick.” These heartfelt lines about cutting toxic relationships become a manifesto as the band thunders into the track’s most climactic moment. As the EP proceeds, tracks cover themes of loss, loneliness and the afterlife with the poise and nuanced talent of a skilled lyricist who’s clearly put time in the craft.

I’m continually left thinking, for once, about just how honest these tracks feel. After growing slightly tired of emo-leaning things as a whole, this EP sits in a really refreshing place and a testament to what I found in emo to begin with: honest lyrics, soaring energy and an unmatched sincerity not seen elsewhere in the music industry. If anything, these tracks have got my heart racing at the thought of a potential full-length from these guys and, more wholly, I’m left feeling optimistic about the state of emo (or ‘emo revival’) in 2015 thanks to little bandcamp gems like this one.

Text by Rob Arcand
Photo by Us & US Only

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Review ~ Fox Academy – Luxury Beverage ~ by Rob Arcand

What it sounds like: Julia Brown, Adore, 1996, flatsound

Cutesy music in 2015 is nauseating; as ukulele youtubers and casiopop bandcampers consistently churn out different shades of the same regurgitated twee novelty, the Internet often feels incredibly over-saturated with a feigned claim to cuteness. With every scan through new releases, the amount of simply weak attempts at ‘indie’ endear we’re continually inundated with as listeners is overwhelming.

Luxury Beverage, the new album from Portland duo Michael Todd Berland and Christian Novelli, understands this; beneath this thinly veiled cuteness, the duo merges a self-aware nuance of this DIY twee aesthetic with eerie, deeply melancholy undertones. The album is continually seeped in a shameless cuteness; with track titles like ‘i see yr cute decor,’ ‘perrywinkle murder mystery,’ and ‘lavender blood’ and continual references to softer colors, stun guns and grape soda, the pair continually return to youthful cuteness and nostalgia thematically. But unlike others that use clichés of cuteness to compensate for a feigned authenticity, Fox Academy seem obsessed with using a clearly transparent cuteness to thinly veil deeper mental health issues. Much like Julia Brown’s first album, to be close to you, Fox Academy use indulgent twee melodies and arrangements from cheap keyboards, jangly guitars and skittering drum machines to craft an endearingly sweet album musically, further adding to the almost uncanny valley effect of the lyrics. Like a cuteness stretched so far that it’s slightly frightening, the album indulges in both the sappy and the sinister; on ‘lavender blood,’ the duo write, “turn into dust it’s dripping from my gums/ its not enough/ stay neat and healthy/ you need to help me.” Lines like this ooze simultaneously sweet and sinister undertones and give the overall feeling of the album the rough equivalent of looking at a discarded doll, one-time occupying a place of love and affection, but now resigned to a dusty and broken place in the bottom of a dumpster far from home.

Where many of the Internet’s pseudo-cute clichés seem to force-feed themselves through cute vibes in an attempt to compensate for a lack of originality, Fox Academy has internalized this cuteness and attempt to use elements of this wide-eyed youthfulness to speak to the more troubling elements of adolescence.  At times, the lyrics seem to recurrently return to troubling, alienating moments of middle class youth. On ‘vampire banquet,’ the duo write, “ivory ceilings burgundy walls, theres blood i can feel it, as we float through the halls/ and as I start to spin the whole room gets dim,” contrasting images of the comforts of a middle class youth (ivory ceilings and burgundy halls as means of wealth and ‘image’ of the suburban middle class) with ambiguously eerie images of blood (could this be a stand-in for self-harm?) and spinning, a clear image of dysphoric disorientation. Ultimately, Luxury Beverage impressively moves beyond many twee clichés to become a deeply nuanced album, oscillating between a self-aware embrace of DIY clichés and the eerie, darker tones of a jaded middle class youth.

Text by Rob Arcand
Photo by Fox Academy

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Review ~ After Talons’ Demos – Talons’ by Rob Arcand

Growing up on the Internet is hard. With every NPR First Listen or Pitchfork Advance, we’re forced to briefly forget how disposable our music is in 2014 and bury our attention into hopelessly transient SoundCloud clips. For every musician attempting to make it today, it’s especially daunting. Even after the first hit, the first thousand listens, or the first [insert success-quantifying statistic of choice], there’s no guarantee of longevity. For every mildly famous Internet buzz band, there’s always a million who never follow it up with anything and a million who never get such an opportunity.

Buried under years of html compost and digital indifference, one such musician, Mike Tolan, formerly of the modestly-famous post-rock band The Six Parts Seven, has been quietly recording earnest folk songs for close to a decade. The songs, under the name Talons’, are pathetic in the purest sense of the word; steeped in pathos of paying off college debt, working for minimum wage with employees who’ve never heard of the Microphones, and spending late nights on the Internet, Tolan tragically embraces the realities of growing old, lamenting the loss of his twenties and the wide-eyed idealism of his earlier releases, like Songs for Babes and Love in the Time of Panera. On “Tired of IPAs” from his After Talons’ demos, Tolan, once a sneering ‘indie’ elitist, speaks to feeling old in his thirties and shamelessly embracing his own sincerity, singing,

“I got tired of irony when I was twenty/ making fun of everything/ I realized that I actually thought Fleetwood Mac were great/ but when I stopped laughing and tried to grow up/ I just saw the stupid and the sad”

Much like Sun Kil Moon’s recent everything-but-the-kitchen-sink, stream of conscious release Benji, Talons’ crafts songs with frank, plain, and deeply sincere language often unfamiliar in folk music, which regularly has come, to me at least, to feel absorbed in lofty metaphor and seemingly-daunting pseudointellectual absurdity. Each release from the aging Mike Talon wholeheartedly embraces that absurd, almost dysphoric feeling of the division between wanting so badly to relive your twenties as carelessly and recklessly as you once did, now paired with the wisdom and awareness of how awful things turned out living that way.

At the same time, Tolan seems obsessed with aging gracefully, becoming a grandfatherly sage only just beginning his thirties in a world that has been deeply unkind and unforgiving. Lyrically, the songs continually return to resignation with age, as Tolan (and an industry itself which seems to thrive on perpetuating and reinventing youth) asks, “How is it possible for an artist pushing thirty to stay relevant? Is it even worth it to even struggle through the PR hype cycle again?”

This all begs the question, “How do we know when we’ve peaked?” When we’re all pushing thirty, an eternity in years spent scrolling through Tumblr gifs and Facebook engagement photos, is it really possible to continually press onward with the wide-eyed sincerity necessary to make every album seem like our best? Are we forced to churn out hopeless mediocrity in hopes of touching someone? Or does growing up mean resigning to this middle-class purgatory, sitting at work and daydreaming of buying houses in the good part of town or sleeping in on a Saturday. If anything, Talons’ makes me feel a lot less alone with this plunge into an unknown age. This album (and Talons’ music as a whole) is music to grow old to, offering an enormous comfort when we’re all struggling to make sense of things.

Text by Rob Arcand
Photo by Talons’

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