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Odonis Odonis – ICON (EP Review)


Odonis Odonis


By Johnno

It is currently mid-June, temperatures in the mid to high 20 Celsiuses, and there hasn't been a drop of rain for the better part of 10 days in Southern Ontario.  So much sunshine.  Gardens blooming.  Everywhere, strangers' genuine happiness emanating neighborhood sidewalks because of the positive, vitamin D weather.  And the school year is almost complete, too.  Happy days are here again, goddammit!  Alas, blasting into my midnight ears was a full force darkwave from the Toronto-based duo, Odonis Odonis.

Their current six song EP, ICON, carries on from its poignant predecessor, Spectrums, with industrial laden tranced electronics and Lynchian vibes.  At times, the unintelligible distorted screams on the backdrop of TV white noise synths feel familiar, but the duo have presented them upon a different palate.  In doing so, each track utilized guest musicians; obviously meant to enhance the music, not to save it as potential cop outs.  And as I have delved into Odonis Odonis' catalog, Dean and Denholm have created unique atmospherics that need no saving.  Walking with them, hands-in-hand into the ominosity, are A Place To Bury Strangers, TOBACCO, Terror Bird, ACTORS, SUUNS, and Patriarchy; welcomed on this brief journey to Mordor with their own special set of skills.  “Breadth” is clearly the name of the game here.

The opening track 'Model' (featuring A Place To Bury Strangers) has its biggest listening payoff with the repetitive cries of "I will fuck things up" until the breakthrough static clouds with an instrumental section that didn't last long enough.

A personal favourite and standout track, 'No One Left', features members of Vancouver's new wave ambassadors, ACTORS.  Straight drum machine work, single notes plucked on reverbed guitars, and dreamy backing vocals feel like a continued homage to ‘80s post-punk.  Much like 'More' from the Spectrums LP, they don't feel out of place from a Depeche Mode and Human League tour, as a melodic island on an otherwise, industrial-focused record.

The vocal styles across the six songs resemble the four horsemen of some sort of goth-pocalypse.  The aforementioned distorted vocals, the megaphoned sing-talk, the faux-British debonair wording, and the darkened female perspective.  All four take their turns and at times work together very well.  ICON is an in-and-out record that delivers the best of Odonis Odonis and friends.  Without focused listening, you'll miss the nuances from a solid production, mix and master.

And as icons are seen throughout the zeitgeist looking down upon us mere mortals, the one slight ICON presents here is its short run time, just over 19 minutes over six tracks. Understandably so, with the amount of personnel collaborating on claustrophobically layered audio pleasures, perfect for every goth club to alternative cocktail bars with an undiagnosed ADHD-riddled child in the corner fervently turning the house lights off and on.









Atsuko Chiba - Water, It Feels Like It's Growing (EP Review)

Atsuko Chiba

Water, It Feels Like It's Growing

By Johnno

It's very easy to lament the days of the past.  Especially when you regret taking chances on things that would leave you outside of your comfort zone and wheelhouse.  "Ask that girl out?... No way, man, she's out of my league."  "Leave a job?... I got security there and free daily bagels."  "Travel the world... And go into debt, venturing into unfamiliar territories? Nah.  " It takes a youthful essence to make those leaps out of complacency, springing forth into any possible chaos.  And in that chaos, you can go "with it", find a path with no end, as every fork in the road begets another.

Unless you die.

That would royally suck and is totally known to happen. But it's all about the journey and not the destination, right?

Enter Atsuko Chiba's latest effort, Water, It Feels Like It's Growing.  The Montreal quintet has taken another step forward with a hearty, layered effort that is equally cohesive as it is sporadic within its 36-minute runtime.  In respective psyche rock fashion, I found the album perfect for those who really want to listen to what's coming through the speakers or headphones.  An almost stream-of-consciousness composing but still harkens back to previous movements and passages, as it leaves the listener strictly in the moment enjoying what is presented.  Luckily, if the moment is at its most chaotic musically, or the standout shouting, "Fucked Up! / I'm the culprit!" on the track ‘So Much For’, or within the drone groove of the title track... it is all welcome.  It's all a part of the journey Atsuko Chiba has invited us on, enhanced by tripping on something that was given to us from an unmarked ziploc bag.  The snozzberries taste like snozzberries.

Opening the EP with ‘Sunbath’ was a great first chess move.  A musically dark and ominous beginning underlying singer Karim's inviting vocal lines, a youthful yearn for change out of complacency, and tonally familiar.  After the fifth minute, there's a break through the clouds where the music offers an uplifting moment facing the end.  Everything is going to be okay, everyone!  Remember, it's all a part of the journey, m'kay!?

Water... is chock full of dynamics expertly enhanced by a rich production and mixing.  Guitars don't overpower the soundscape as it could with most psyche-rock outputs, leaving space for synths and a guest-starring horn section.  A special moment worth noting is the opening to the fourth track, ‘Seeds’.  Reminiscent of The Beach Boys ' "Till I Die" vocal opening, the two tracks share a similar warmth.  Emoting such a personal, emotional touch to an otherwise busy and layered album, encapsulates the less-is-more notion, giving us little, while speaking volumes in the grander scheme and tone of the album.  Water... is a lush post-prog-psych-rock-whathaveyou for the active listener, spiraling outward on the cobblestone streets of Venice, perfect for musical escapism.  Traveling isn't for everyone; some people prefer to stay home.  But even if you're a homebody, turn off the lights and tune into Atsuko Chiba's latest - because it's worth the trip.




The Pickled Onions – The Mines EP


As we begin our gradual emergence from enforced hibernation, in Ireland at least, it’s encouraging and gratifying to do so with a record of diverse, and exciting, homespun ditties such as this one.  Quarantine has been disproportionately unkind to the creative community but there is an upside to everything and time away from touring, promotion, day jobs and all the other distractions of quotidian existence has been an artistic boon for some.  Paddy McGovern’s debut EP, The Woods, made my end of year list in 2016. I still listen to it now.

His lo-fi indie is reminiscent of Sebadoh and modern indie gems like So Cow, Yip Man, and Benjamin Shaw.  The first release from the EP came out a year ago and the COVID-19 lockdown has given him the opportunity to finish The Mines.  The music feels simultaneously lush and sparse.  It's warm and inviting like slipping into old pyjamas.   ‘Room’s guitar solo has a Sonic Youth vibe and, as with The Woods, there’s a different feel and different genre on each track.  It's an old-fashioned approach that lends The Mines a timeless quality.

I've previously compared them to The Flaming Lips, Jose Gonzalez, Pugwash, The Beta Band and ‘60s bands like The Kinks and Herman’s Hermits.  I can comfortably trot out those same references, and add in Louth’s Elephant, after seeing them a few times at Vantastival.  ‘Mash Potato’ is a daft Beach Boys tune with shades of The Wiggles and Weezer.  The wonky guitar solo only adds gravy to this delightfully unselfconscious ditty.  The bluesy, psychedelic ‘River’ closes out affairs with a distinctly ‘70s vibe, and lashing of Hendrix-y lead lines.

Until the record shops reopen, show your support and download ‘Room’ today, and The Mines when it comes out on Friday July 10.



Yip Man - Pure Zen, Ken?


Yip Man is the nom de plume for Al Nero. Scotland-born but now living in China, his music has the greatest hallmark of the music of the Far East. That is, he ignores staid old notions of genre and fills his music with heavy guitars, horn sections, heartfelt lyrics and general nonsense wherever he feels it’s appropriate.   The man has an ear for a hook. The chorus of the title track will lodge in your brain before the song has even finished and it will remain there until ‘Funky Town’ or ‘Baby Shark’ dislodge it. The same could be said for ‘Trying Not To Get Caught Out’ and it’s “Scoo-ooh-ooh-bay”.  

Nero is so un-self-conscious in his vocal delivery that it’s invigorating. At times he sounds like Billy Corgan and at others he’s more Steve Mason or Stephen Malkmus but it’s all delivered with an assurance and commitment that is enviably coherent. Every note is the right one for the moment it inhabits. Which sounds like the most basic idea behind popular music but if it were easy to do then everyone would be doing it. Yip Man is doing it and it sounds like he’s having a ball doing it. For further evidence of this, have a look at the videos for his recent singles. They combine performance and animation like Peter Gabriel’s collaboration with Aardman Studios.  

Pure Zen, Ken? is Yip Man’s second album. The title is a memorably Scottish phrase but it doesn’t hold a candle to the naming of his debut. Braw Power is high on my list of favourite album puns. Weird Al would be proud of that one. The album is front loaded with great tunes and, just as it seems to be losing steam after ‘Aye Peckin’, ‘Here Comes The Feeling’ comes along with a Rivers Cuomo melody to match its Weezer-esque guitars.  The 23 second ‘You Matter’ ends proceedings. Like Abbey Road’s ‘Her Majesty’, it’s a short, jaunty palette cleanser that makes you wish it went on longer. But then the play button is always there, ready to be pressed again. Pure Zen, Ken? lives up to its name.

Pure Zen, Ken? is available via bandcamp here.



SuperKnova - American Queers

SuperKnova is a DIY project from Chicago multi–instrumentalist Ellie KimAmerican Queers is billed as a debut album but it might be better described as a mini-album or an EP. Although, over the course of seven songs, Kim covers enough musical ground to make it feel like a full length LP. Her subject matter veers from the personal to the political without ever sacrificing melody. This is a record that would work even if you didn’t have a word of English. Apparently her live shows are Ed Sheeran-esque solo productions, with loop pedals and improvisation. I’d quite like to see that.  

‘Glitter And Blood’ is the opening track and a recent single. It merges programmed beats and synths with a guitar solo reminiscent of Robert Fripp’s crazed experimentalism with David Bowie. The interplay between the synths and guitars continues to ‘2 Power! ‘ where the two instruments duet like ‘80s hair metallers playing back to back and trading licks. Such disregard for fashion and convention makes American Queers a compelling listen.  

‘Shot And A Pill’ could have been penned by the aforementioned Sheeran and his writers, as could the languid surf rock of ‘Serotonin Serenade‘. ‘Off My Body’ has the strongest hook on the record. Kim has saved the best for last. Although it’s very close to ‘Shape Of You‘ in melody, the chorus of ‘Keep your laws/Off my body / I am heavenly /I was made this way’ is made for chanting at a live show. The jazzy outro is crying out for a saxophone jam.  

Ultimately American Queers marks Superknova as one to watch rather than being a defining work. It doesn’t sound self produced. The bass is massive. There is space in the music and every instrument is clear and sharp. Kim is an assured voice and she’s only a pop hook away from having a major hit on her hands. In a world where Billie Eilish can get her alt-pop to number one around the planet, there is surely a lucrative market for Kim’s imaginative DIY.

American Queers is available via bandcamp here.



Tempertwig - Fake Nostalgia : An Anthology Of Broken Stuff

Growing up in ‘90s Dublin, it was impossible for anyone with an interest in music to avoid Whipping Boy. They signed to Columbia Records even though they had a singer who couldn’t sing. They channeled Lou Reed, Joy Division and shoegaze instrumentation while playing on Later … With Jools Holland. They were unlike anyone else. So it’s a great surprise to find another band so reminiscent of their sound. Fake Nostalgia is an anthology of London’s Tempertwig; a band that combine Whipping Boy’s influences with Sebadoh style lo-fi and contemporaneous American post-rock.

You might know members of the band from Nosferatu D2 or Superman Revenge Squad Band. I hadn’t heard of either before hearing Fake Nostalgia but this record is reason enough to check them out. You’ll find them in Audio Antihero’s Bandcamp alongside this album.

Ben Parker’s vocals are lethargic and detached. He manages to sound simultaneously bored and bereft, dismissive and also deeply involved. He acknowledges the inevitable Ian Curtis comparisons on ‘Comfort Blanket’, “Why is the bedroom so cold, etc., etc.” Even on an album like this one, full of original ideas and idiosyncratic delivery, ‘Comfort Blanket’ stands out. The vulnerable beauty of the music and the introspection and self-hatred of the lyrics distil everything this band can do down to one four-minute statement.

Parker’s brother and musical partner, Ben, drums with personality and conviction. There are shades of Rob Ellis’ work with PJ Harvey and Stephen Morris, from the aforementioned Joy Division, in the drumming choices he makes, and in his military paradiddles. Harvey’s early albums seem to have been an influence on Tempertwig. Like her, Parker contorts old blues guitar tropes, but in his own fashion. His playing stretches time and compresses it, distorting your perception and pulling you through a dimensional drift. You have to go with it or you’ll leave your stomach behind.

With all the 20th anniversary reissues and remasters popping up, making one feel appropriately middle aged, it’s great to find something that’s been overlooked.  Something that crosses the gap between Whipping Boy’s Heartworm and Fugazi’s The Argument. While The Strokes and The White Stripes hogged the spotlight, Tempertwig and McCluskey quietly, or indeed noisily, ploughed on unheralded. 15 years after they ceased operations, Tempertwig still sound fresh and transgressive. Parker sings “Fake nostalgia makes me sick” on the title track but I can’t feign nostalgia for something I never knew existed. Instead I’ll just revel in something new and exciting. In an overproduced world Fake Nostalgia sounds naïve, rebellious, and compellingly authentic.

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