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Caroline Polachek takes listeners on a celestial voyage on "Billions"

Photo by Aidan Zamiri, styled by Tati Cotliar

The mesmerizingly winding road of Caroline Polachek’s musical trajectory had spanned far and wide—from writing haunted house music in Boulder, Colorado to co-founding the indie combo Chairlift and bestriding the Great-Early-21st-Century-Brooklyn-Psych-Pop-Rock Renaissance alongside the likes of MGMT, Yeasayer, and Grizzly Bear; from songwriting collabs with such obscure niche artists as Beyoncé, Solange, and Blood Orange to putting out solo albums under two separate alter egos (the Dario Argento-adjacent dark synthpop soundtracks of Ramona Lisa, and the electro-instrumental ambient drift of CEP); and finally, from her 2019 debut LP released under her own name called Pang to her two latest singles which together demonstrate that Ms. Polachek still has plenty of new musical highways and byways left to explore somehow. 

The first of these two singles (“Bunny Is A Rider”) is a song about being “liberated by disappearance, about non-responding, about being unbeholden to anyone” which accounts for the refrain of Bunny is a rider / satellite can’t find her which is a fitting theme for our current Surveillance Age where freedom’s just another word for somewhere left to get lost—a theme mirrored sonically by the stark bassline-led Spaghetti Western musical textures, and their implied wide-open spaces, complete with pitter-pattering rhythms and high lonesome whistling and autotuned trilling and sampled infant cooing plus plenty of tape hiss and chicken scratch and synth swelling all of which makes going off the digital grid sound like escaping to a glitchy Wild West.

The second single, “Billions,” released earlier this month, likewise takes the listener to a place outside of normal experience or social surveillance—the title and the cosmic vibes of “Billions” can’t help but put this listener in a very Carl Sagan-esque headspace—a space comprised of delicately lurching reversed rhythms and skittering tablas that like raindrops dancing off rooftops plus celestial choirs and sub-bass and string arpeggiations and dramatic recitations and a breakdown section with what may possibly be a dilruba solo (but hey I’m no ethnomusicologist) not to mention Caroline’s majestically malleable voice swooping across multiple octave registers and multiple emotional registers and multiple digital manipulations across the song’s nearly five-minute kaleidoscopic arrangement.

In sum it’s a virtuosic arrangement and production and performance overall—with both singles co-written and co-produced by British producer/remixer/songwriter Danny L Harle, best known for his work with the pioneering PC Music collective and for his impressive resume of collaborations, including making Pang and seriously the collaborative work of Polachek & Harle so far is the closest upgraded-equivalent of Bjork and Nellee Hooper’s sublime mid-90s sides that I know of with “Billions” being their “Venus As A Boy” (extolling the virtues of a lover who lies like a sailor but…loves like a painter). The duo have a knack for not only crossing musical boundaries but also for pretty much melting them away entirely, with synthetic sounds rendered vivid and visceral and lifelike, while organic sounds often come off as extraterrestrial, in other words, a near-total meshing of human/physical and machine/technological that’s like “sexting sonnets / under the tables / tangled in cables” to quote Caroline herself.

Oh and the video for “Billions” is cool too just like most of Ms. Polachek’s video (see top of this page, co-directed by Matt Copson and Caroline herself) and after viewing it you’ll probably wanna go grape-picking-and-stomping and then order some cool crazy-straw-style wine glasses and an ornamental blown-glass funnel for bath-taking purposes but sorry no Paul Giamatti. (Jason Lee)





Guerilla Toss delivers cannibalist manifesto on latest single

Guerilla Toss is a band that specializes in dance-punk-acid-house-party-rock anthems that sound like they’ve been beamed to this planet straight from the Big Red Spot of Jupiter because much like that celestial “beauty mark” (actually a raging centuries-old storm bigger than the entire planet Earth) their music is a swirling sonic vortex that pulls in all manner of sonic space junk from the surrounding atmosphere which gets all mashed up and mutated in the eye of the storm re-emerging as a molten musical liquid metal that gets shot back into space via electromagnetic waves audible through this planet’s primitive stereo receivers and equalizers and discontinued iPods

Granted, this may sound like a crackpot analogy but it’s supported by the band’s own lyrical exegesis on songs like “Meteorological” (from 2018’s Twisted Crystal), “Can I Get the Real Stuff” (from 2017’s GT Ultra), and “367 Equalizer” (from 2014’s Infinity Cat Series). And you can hear the interplanetary vibes with your own ears just by putting on Guerilla Toss’s latest single “Cannibal Capital” (music video directed by Lisa Schatz) from their upcoming Sub Pop debut full-length Famously Alive due out on 3/25, a song that seems to mix and mutate the various stages of the band’s own musical history—from the noisy experimentalism of their early releases to the mutant funk of their more recent DFA releases—a song that by their own account “makes everything sensory.”

The song opens with a sound-collage intro that appears to incorporate the sounds of a Merzbow cassette being eaten by malfunctioning tape deck, a leaky toilet, an air rifle, and a cat suffering from intestinal distress—all in the first 15 seconds or so. It just goes to show how much Guerilla Toss takes making everything sensory very seriously indeed. 

Meanwhile a twitchy-tail-shaking-percolating-mid-tempo groove emerges from the sonic murk and while it seems to vanquish it at first the sonic murk keeps seeping back in around the edges with squelching synths and blasts of power chords and so forth thus setting up a disintegration/reintegration dialectic that fits perfectly with the song’s opening lyric (“you need help / melt in every dimension”) and it’s not the only case of lyrical/musical synchronicity either like later where vocalist Kassie Carlson poses the question “can I escape gracefully?” and the vocals veer out of time on cue escaping the rhythm of the tightly wound groove for a few moments.

Closing arguments: On “Cannibal Capital” Guerilla Toss have proven once again that pop will eat itself and and that there's a cultural capital to cannibals just as Brazilian poet Oswald de Andrade observed back in 1928 when he wrote the Cannibalist Manifesto which advocated the notion that “Brazil’s history of cannibalizing other cultures was its greatest strength and had been the nation’s way of asserting independence over European colonial culture” a notion that went on to inspire the late ‘60s art and music movement movement called Tropicália—whose best-known proponents were Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Gal Costa, Tom Zé, and Os Mutantes which literally means The Mutants—likewise frooted in a collage aesthetic where the "sacred enemy" is disgested and transformed, and with all this in mind I'd say it’s fair to say that Guerilla Toss are our modern-day tropicalistas, i.e. modern primitives, likely transplanted from outer space no less, or Boston, one or the other, sent to Earth/NYC to absorb our musical traditions "body snatchers style" and spit 'em back out in capitvatingly mutated form. (Jason Lee)





Dance

Time: 
23:00
Band name: 
The Robyn Party
FULL Artist Facebook address (http://...): 
https://www.facebook.com/adventuresbk
Venue name: 
Brooklyn Bowl Philly
Band email: 
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Moon Kissed have something important to tell you and right now may be a good time to listen

Released earlier this Fall (shades of Milton’s Paradise Lost entirely intentional given recent trends) the second full-length by Moon Kissed, called I’d Like To Tell You Something Important (its title a callback to their first record) is a deeply human fusion of contradictory yet complimentary impulses—ranging from its chew-you-up-and-spit-you-out opener “Bubblegum” (“chew you up you're just like bubble gum / I’ll spit you out when I’m done”) to its chew-me-up-and-spit-me-out closer “Chameleon” (“Chameleon, I’ll change for you / I’ll do what you want me to / until I don’t know who I am”) a dialectical lyricism mirrored by Emily, Khaya and Leah's impressively wide-ranging musical palette—skipping like a stone across songs featuring sweet poptimistic flirtation, grinding electro trepidation, epic party-anthem-ification, hushed diary-entry introspection, operatic power-ballad salvation, stripped-down spoken-word elucidation. and last-call-for-alcohol piano-bar romantic resignation.

But no matter how varied the emotional and sonic landscape, it all comes across as a coherent statement—to the extent that raw, urgent passion can be considered “coherent" but let's not get off track here—with the full tapestry of the LP woven together by the consistently ultra-vivid, ultra-visceral nature of the songwriting and arrangements. Indeed, it seems Moon Kissed have got something important to tell us after all. 

Not to knock their first record at all (2019’s I Met My Band At A New Years Eve Party and I stand by my earlier statement that  “Runaway” should by rights be widely known as one of the top bops from the past several years) but in the interim Moon Kissed have taken things to the next level when it comes to making even their more synth-heavy numbers feel entirely organic to the point where practically every song feels like it’s about to crawl out of its own skin, whether due to anticipation or anxiety, dread or desire, morphing and mutating from one moment to the next, a quality that applies equally to Khaya’s vocalizing and also to the production work on ILTTYSI (and even to more lo-fi numbers like how on "Chameleon" the audibly squeaky piano sustain pedal makes you feel like you're sitting there in the same room where it's being performed) a sonic elasticity that helps account for how all the synthetic and organic textures blend together so seamlessly on the record (including the stark cowbell part on "Saturday Night" that nearly rescues the instrument from sketch comedy hell).

What’s more, I’d Like To Tell You Something Important coheres not just musically but also thematically, organized around a central theme of pleasure and its (dis)contents. Or, as Moon Kissed themselves put it on the penultimate track “Bender,” “Let me try to make this better / Let me evaluate my pleasures,” which is a song that both Lady Gaga and Lin Manuel-Miranda must desperately wish they’d written. Except they'd each probably choose to repeat the final rousing chorus a couple more times (at least) so kudos to Moon Kissed for displaying the restraint and self-confidence to leave us wanting more. 

Anyway, safe to say, many permutations of pleasure appear across the album’s 35-minute run time, not only in terms of the most simple-minded mission to “have a good time, all the time” but also in terms of the oft-overlooked complexities of pleasure--whether pleasure as politics (gender politics in particular), pleasure as escapism, pleasure as transcendence, pleasure as power, pleasure as surrender, pleasure as spiritual and/or psychological and/or physical salvation. In a word, pleasure! 

And Moon Kissed don’t limit their pleasure explorations only to making records either. Because their live shows bring an even bigger dose of pleasure to audiences with fearless heart-on-sleeve, inhibitions-stripped-away abandon and a determination to have a good time all the time. On this note, over the past several weeks Moon Kissed have undertaken a three-week residency at the Ridgewood, Queens D.I.Y. spot known as Trans-Pecos with each of the three shows organized around the theme of “Sugar, Spice, and Everything Nice” with each ingredient engaged sequentially. (first show “Sugar,” second show “Spice,” etc.)



Except that the triptych-concluding “Everything Nice” event scheduled for tonight was cancelled/postponed out of an abundance of Omicron caution. And to think that tonight's opener Kate Davis should’ve been taking the stage right about now if not for that pesky mutating virus. But on the plus side at least it gives you more time to work on putting together a truly impactful outfit for Everything Nice, whenever it happens to happen, with potential inspirations including (quoting directly from the party flyer here) "poodle skirts, kitten heels, 50s fantasy housewife with a beard, 50s working husband but with a thong, sexism as an outfit, strap ons, breast plate, drag make up, curlers" and I’m gonna go ahead and add "cha-cha heels" to the list cuz I doubt they'd mind and I'm secretly hoping to receive a pair for Christmas.

Which brings us to one last newly-relevant-yet-again-selling-point for ILTTYSI which is that it’s a great lockdown listen, an album conceived and recorded in part during lockdown numero uno or are we still keeping count—meet the new year, same as the old year—that's chock full of the frustrated pent-up passion that's highly familiar to the socially-distanced set by now, besieged as we are by “lonel[iness] and heavy memories [that] linger like a gymnast on a beam that isn’t steady” prone to “walking off cliffs in [our] dreams / wak[ing] up in sweat and it’s hard to breath” counterbalanced by coping skills such as “buying…ice cream to see if it gets better / but nothing’s getting better at all” and finally resigned to the fact that “if the world is about to blow / [we] may as well lose control” to loosely paraphrase various lines from the album. 

And yeah I’m probably making it sound like a pretty despairing set of tunes but it’s really not—there’s plenty of life-affirming lyrics as well (“we should run around the city / everybody kissing everyone / cuz we all know what we all want”) not to mention the overall inspiring live-wire intensity of the music. In fact it’s one of the most life-affirming albums this writer has heard in a while.



So maybe just settle in for the evening, change into your best club duds and put on I’d Like To Tell You Something Important and then dance around your bedroom like it’s Your Own Private Idaho for the rest of the night (and the next night, and the next night) and when you get tired of ILTTYSI you can put on Moon Kissed’s single from earlier this year called “Clubbing In Your Bedroom” and its crowd-sourced, quarantine-themed music video and rave on for the rest of the night or the rest of your life. (Jason Lee) 

 





Josephine Network makes it rain on latest single

HOT TRACKS/HOT TAKES: Josephine Network “I Feel Like Rain” (release date: 12/03/21)

ELEVATOR PITCH: Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” meets Sylvester’s “I Need Somebody To Love Tonight” meets Ann Peebles’ “I Can’t Stand The Rain” meets Arthur Russell/Loose Joints’ “Is It All Over My Face?” with a dash of Steely Dan’s “Peg” thrown in for extra flavour—presented to the public with 3 count ‘em 3 alternative mixes available on limited edition cassingle to be found exclusively at Sam Goody’s Records & Tapes and also for order on the Josephine Network’s Glamcamp page (which redirects you to NYC-based “art pop cassingle label” Paris Tapes) if you’re too lazy to hit the mall.



KEY LYRIC: “Your love, your love is like water / one drop and I’m dripping wet”

PAST IS PROLOGUE: For an appetizing sample of Josephine’s pre-solo-artist musical career, check out Velveteen Rabbit’s “I Wanna Be Your Woman” below (sample lyric: “so lemme be your woman / and you can be my woman too”)  



MUSICAL PROFICIENCY: Junk shop glam slop. Drag yenta boogie rock. Yiddish-infused power pop. Gently-strummed “AM Gold” soft rock. Keyboard-driven Captain Fantastical melodic bops. Girl-group harmonizing in attractive frocks. And now, blissed-out sunshine-pop disco romps. 

Who is a Yenta today? https://www.jta.org/2020/02/04/opinion/who-exactly-is-a-yenta-these-days Captain Fantastic: 

MORE RECENT WORKS: Josephine’s debut LP Music Is Easy was released in early 2020 on Dig! Records. It’s been described elsewhere as walking “the line between sincerity & camp, with a stellar set of songs that’ll grab every rockin’ lover and true believer in pop music from the last half-century by the ears, rattling whatever’s left in-between them, and restoring their dormant faith in music—with ease and a wink.”



And just this year, in March, also on Dig! Records, Josephine Network released a collaborative album with Hershguy. It’s called Stocky Tunes and on Bandcamp it’s described as “a celebratory rock’n’roll smorgasbord of far-reaching sounds and sonic bedlam…[that doubles] down on the adventurous and genre-shirking spirit of their solo efforts [with] lyrics comprised of ribald Yiddish slang of yore (“Cockamun”, “Punim Pisher”, etc.) beside modernized protest songs of the day (“Walk Out Loud” and “This is Track 11”—FUCK 12!!!)" which as a music journalist who is always looking to report the cold and hard truth, I must point out here is actually track 4 on the record.

 

IN CLOSING: Personally, this writer wouldn’t mind if Josephine explored a little further down the “I Feel Like Rain” path on a subsequent EP or even a full LP, because this is such a groovy, vibey-yet-upbeat, danceable-yet-introspective, life-affirming tune. But the one thing that we can probably depend upon from Ms. Network is that there's no telling where she’ll go next musically. And that’s always a good thing for an artist in this writer's book. (Jason Lee)

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