The Best Music of October 2015

Impose Automaton

Rabit Eric Burton

Eric Burton, pka Rabit.

The best music of October proved to be like a Halloween grab bag. Pardon the pun, but it was filled with so much good stuff, how could we choose one sweet confection over another? Also like our favorite holiday, it was a month filled with dystopian imagery; from Protomartyr’s bleak intellectual outlook; to EMA’s confrontational video exposing the immature entitlement of gun owners; to dd elle’s introspective look at suicidal thoughts; to Gag’s unviewable record cover, it was a month of contemplation as we enter the dark quarter of the lunar year (at least we had Beach Music to get us through). It wasn’t so much that we enjoyed one piece of candy more than rest, but these were the selections we found reaching for the most when offered the plastic jack-o-lantern of treats. One we chose more than others:

The Best Album of October 2015

Rabit Communion

Rabit, Communion (Tri Angle)

Communion, the debut album by Houston producer Eric Burton as Rabit, is alternately assaultive and unnerving. Vocal samples are rendered as clipped yelps; the moment of forced disappearance suspended for minutes at a time. “Flesh Covers the Bone” is chilled and clinical. And “Pandemic”, with its closing salvo of gunfire, conveys merciless oppression like nothing in recent memory. Intended as a meditation on the state, media, and identity, Burton pulls from various schools of downcast electronic music to articulate contemporary society as a site of violent stratification.

Here are the rest of our favorites for October 2015, in no particular order.

Long Beard, Sleepwalkers
(Team Love)

Taking cues from artists as varied as Daisuke Miyatani, Cocteau Twins and Sibylle Baier (among others), Sleepwalker is 35 minutes of intricately arranged songs that use the larger concepts of changing seasons and times of day as structure to present Leslie Bear’s more intimate emotions. “It’s a little intense and weird,” she says, “but that’s how I organized it and wrote a lot of the songs, depending on what season it was when I wrote them or what season I wished it was when I wrote them.”

Read Tim Woulfe’s feature profile, Call Me Long Beard, here.

The Mantles, All Odds End
(Slumberland)

“Nothing like standing in a doorframe all day.” So coos Michael Olivares, front-person of Oakland outfit The Mantles, on the chorus of a coolly assured paean to the still life, “Doorframe”. The song feels like the spiritual core of All Odds End: lightly bemused and quietly melancholic, confident in the essential and enduring thrills of glistening harmony and understated swagger.

Watch The Mantles video for “Doorframe” here.

DJ Taye, Break It Down EP
(Hyperdub)

“Everything just happens naturally, I like to just let things flow when it comes to making music with people,” DJ Taye told us via email. “You never know what someone could come up with.”

That openness to exploration is prevalent across the Break It Down EP and has played an instrumental role in past projects like the What You Think EP. Still, Taye says that discovering his style was never a eureka moment. “I could say oh yeah I found this style that works for me that I like now and then I could just improve the sound the next day and switch it all up.”

Black Panties, “Profit Of Hate” 7-inch
(Total Punk Records)

At least in spirit: “Prophet of Hate” opts for a turgid, lumbering riff over earlier material’s frantic velocity. It’s an infernal Tilt-A-Whirl, woozy and spiked by squealing feedback throughout. Each mangled, overdubbed intrusion disrupts the otherwise balanced mix with vindictive glee. The vocals, meanwhile, fester in a shroud of reverb not known to punk since the last Gag record, though discernible bits of amoral celebration cut through the mire: “I can’t tell wrong from right!”

Protomartyr, The Agent Intellect
(Hardly Art)

Replacing the “age of intellect” with the agent of it might be what those of us inundated with social media and the echo chamber of unsolicited opinions face daily. In one of the albums more intense moments, frontman Joe Casey simmers on “Cowards Starve” that “Social pressures exist / And if you think about them all of the time / You’re gonna find that your head’s been kicked in.” Unsettling as it may seem, anyone who’s spent more than a few moments looking at Twitter knows exactly what he’s talking about. Which is why we should all take a cue from the frontman at the song’s close and “go out in style.” As Casey and Protomartyr deftly illustrate, style and substance don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

EMA, “Active Shooter” video

“Active Shooter” appropriates body-cam footage from a training exercise conducted by the Mount Pleasant Texas Police Department. It shows participants storming a real middle school. Real teenagers made up as shooting victims appear inert in hallways and classrooms. It’s hard to distinguish between the implied violence of the shooting scenario and the point-of-view image of a cop clutching his or her gun. In the original video, twinkling Lifetime keyboards segue into the sort of orchestral melodrama that reflect cops’ deluded self-image as glorious crusaders. EMA’s score, composed of eroding beats and a sinister guitar riff, isn’t so vainglorious.

Watch “Active Shooter” here.

Kelela, Hallucinogen EP
(Warp)

Kelela’s Hallucinogen came out five months after it was originally supposed to be released, so it’s comforting to know the wait was worth it. Over the EP’s six tracks, Kelela’s voice takes form, as she explores the casual darkness found in a bad relationship. The hazy, thick production that coats most of the EP only helps to reinforce Hallucinogen’s weight even more. Kelela is helping shape a musical landscape for humans that will undoubtedly be created by machines. Regardless of this reality, it’s good to know we won’t lose our soul.

Trans FX, Into The Blu
(K Records)

Olympia’s Trans FX released their excellent Into The Blu LP on Perennial/K Records, the first in a series of co-releases from two of the best labels in the Northwest. The album is full of perfectly gloomy, alien pop for all of us who’ve ever felt like there’s a layer of glass between us and the social world; not fitting into any scene, even the ones that declare they’re built by and for us weirdos.

Alex G, Beach Music
(Domino)

Maybe the biggest relief is how Beach Music hasn’t changed. Alex G’s Elliott Smith-worshipping bedroom symphonies still sound like secrets whispered in your ear, but the rough edges are a little smoother here. He’s still the same sweetly unassured undergrad—he is in the “bug in the crosshairs,” after all—but he’s tucked his shirt in a little bit.

Eartheater, Chrysalis
(Hausu Mountain)

When we interviewed Alexandra Drewchin, pka Eartheater, last year around the release of her Metalepsis record, she expressed her motivation to create as living “for the future folklore of figures of speech and the tributaries of new association that continually present themselves through metalepsis,” which is to say she is never finished with context. Drewchin finds fluidity in context and her new record, RIP Chrysalis, is a post-mortem ode to metamorphosis.

Gag, “Pretty Boy”
(Iron Lung)

“HA HA HA, BLAH BLAH BLAH, EITHER WAY YOU DIE.” Gag’s lyrics from 2013’s 40 Oz. Rule ’90 7-inch are utterly inscrutable. Zero debate ensues; it’s a bit of macabre truth. Hardcore’s formal concision lends itself to that sort of binary thinking. The trouble is finding something infallible that fits in a few syllables. That’s where Gag excels. In that song as on “Pretty Boy”—the first track shared from a compilation due via Iron Lung Records, aptly entitled America’s Greatest Hits—there’s a sturdy riff and a muscular backbeat, struggling through a recording saturated with noxious fumes. The band cackles anyhow.

Gag opts for laughs.

Tropic Of Cancer, Stop Suffering
(Blackest Ever Black)

Camella Lobo’s first new work in several years is a meticulously composed three-part dark ambient exploration of the many moving parts of the grief process. Intimate and deeply affecting, luxe at points and bleak in others, this is more a gently layered classical piece than anything from the pop world.

Dadras, Rubaiyat II
(Human Pitch)

The story goes that Dadras had amassed a hefty collection of songs, enough to fill two records. A binary was established between the two records, one of dark and light, yin and yang. Where there is disquiet in Rubaiyat I, exists vibrancy in Rubaiyat II. In many respects the evolution of Dadras’ music is aligned with his label’s adjustment from being called Connect, originally  the name of a dance night, to Human Pitch recently. Label founder and producer Rioux explains that transition as being a response to the “cold, bleak, and digital dance music [that] is very in vogue right now.”

“With Human Pitch I’d like put forth warm and personable art that reflects nature in harmony with technology. These are the sounds made by humans.”

Wax Idols, American Tragic
(Collect Records)

On her 2013 album Discipline & Desire, Wax Idols’ Hether Fortune showed an aggressive interest in power dynamics. Written in the wake of her divorce, her third album, American Tragic, continues this exploration, honing in on the corruptible nature of power and the destabilizing effects incurred when it’s taken away. She sorts through personal grief and looks at what happens when emotional power on a larger scale is leached from marginalized groups. Calling it a big “fuck you’”to people who capitalize on the vulnerability of others.

Shopping, Why Choose
(Fat Cat)

English post-punk outfit Shopping’s second album, Why Choose, sounds lean, brisk, and urgent. All of the instrumental tones are refreshingly clean and unadorned, keenly separated from one another in the mix, which instills the skittish grooves and wily guitar with rousing presence. For post-punk, understood as this sort of sonic criteria and performative vocabulary, sinew trumps muscle. Further, Shopping’s savvy subversion of marketing lingo persists from their first album, Consumer Complaints. 

Majical Cloudz, Are You Alone?
(Matador)

Are You Alone? is an album about relationships. The ones with friends, the ones with lovers. and how they mean everything, both good and bad. Devon Welsh’s lyrics are as minimal as ever, yet cut deeper than they ever have before. Matt Otto’s dreary synths are just as sparse, but have a new depth that defines each song. Are You Alone? is a heart wrenching album, but there’s something terribly life affirming about it as well.

dd elle, “A Note” video

dd elle, aka electronic pop artist Dan Casey, addresses the sheer vacant selfishness of functional suicidality on “A Note”, a deceptively sweet-sounding song (the contrast of sweet and bleak is a time-honored dissonance), with visuals provided by fellow electronic musician Cameron Reed (aka Babe Rainbow), all taken from stock footage of people smiling. There is a moment, when you’re really considering what it would take to leave this earth, where you feel like you’re flipping back and forth between ultimate fear and fearlessness, ultimate shame and shamelessness, like you’re folding and unfolding, an endless middle school-style paper fortune teller. I have never heard a piece of music capture that moment as gently, elegantly and brutally as “A Note”.

Infinite Void/MOTH split 7-inch
(Mass Media Records)

As someone with Goth Tendencies, I’ve watched the Big Return of Goth has gone from being pronounced undead (and maligned) at the fringes of subculture to being an influencer on mainstream culture over the last few years with trepidation and interest. There’s a lot more music for us little bats to love, but there are so many bands out there doing this thing that it’s hard to sort the black gems from the guano. The Infinite Void / MOTH split is certainly worth the time.

Physical Therapy Presents… Kirk the Flirt & Peter Pressure
(1080p)

The production team of Kirk The Flirt & Peter Pressure, no matter how real they may or may not be, are properly billed as undiscovered DJs from the golden age of house who quietly became master craftsmen perhaps only due to being from Englewood, New Jersey. The folklore is that Fisher discovered the duo after seeing them DJ at Club One West in Englewood. A Google Map search of Club One West eludes to Fisher’s fascination for American relics. There’s no way in hell this NJ dive invites disco house DJs to entertain its pool sharks, prostitutes, and Keno junkies. And yet, you can’t help but love Fisher for his imagination. Front to back on this record, Kirk The Flirt & Peter Pressure are who you long to stumble upon by drunken accident on the dilapidated side of Englewood, NJ.

Gun Outfit, Dream All Over
(Paradise of Bachelors)

A devotion to disharmony and an amused understanding of an absurd world exemplify just how punk Gun Outfit is to their core. Don’t let their quaintly melodic guitars and gentle, weary vocals fool you. Originally from Olympia and now based in Los Angeles, Dylan Sharp and Carrie Keith make elegant songs both for easy listening and for deep introspection, depending on what you’re in the mood for; mirroring the unfortunate ease with which humans vacillate between wishfulness and desperation.

VHOL, Deeper Than Sky
(Profound Lore Records)

A thrilling and joyous technicolor ode to ’80s and ’90s metal riffage, the second album from this supergroup-of-sorts balances technical precision and raw emotional energy to create a record that’s just exhilarating to listen to.

Mommy Long Legs, Assholes EP

The second release by the Seattle garage rippers, Assholes expands on Mommy Long Legs’ musical scope—check the title track’s sublime chorus or the taut jam in the second act of “Haunted Housewives”—and laser-focuses their rowdy energy. Read If You Don’t Like: yuppies, cat-callers, anyone standing in the way of your being a “Weird Girl.”

Lumpy & the Dumpers/Ausmuteants, No Friends split flexi

Even in the cynical racket of punk records, a split seven-inch flexi-disc featuring two underground acts covering one another reeks of the sort of preening gimmickry usually reserved for Record Store Day. And yet, since Ausmuteants and Lumpy & the Dumpers appear on a new split flexi-disc less for the exclusive purpose of peddling records and more for the benefit of a new fanzineentitled No Friendsbased out of Chicago, and styled on Maximum Rocknroll save for a couple ideological facets—the marketing ploy is welcomed.

Witch Coast, Burnt Out By 3PM
(Babe City Records)

What’s really amazing about this record is the way that certain songs could have ended up sounding completely different. It’s in this that the bands decision to produce the record the way that they did becomes meaningful. The visibly gritty production style gives the record a dark and brooding sense. The title track “Burnt Out By 3PM” or the closer “Waste Away” could function just as well as super jangly pop tunes as they do enjoyably forlorn indie rock, and it’s special when a band is able to pull that type of thing off.

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