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Jeremy Bastard threads the needle with Tech Noir style

“Slipshod, down by evening

I needle cabarets

I cannot quit the feeling

I dressed up anyway--“

“Needle” is a word rife with many different meanings. Combine a needle with some thread and you're ready to sew a new sweater or scarf or decorative pillow which gives the word a warm and fuzzy glow. But “to needle” someone means to bug the hell out of them, and being on "pins and needles” means you’re unsettled and nervous—the exact opposite of warm and fuzzy. Likewise when it comes to intravenous needles which even though they’re routinely used to administer life saving drugs have nevertheless befome synonymous with serious and potentially deadly drug addition especially in the musical realm. Needles also feature in a number of popular expressions like “threading the needle” and “needle in a haystack” the latter of which implying both hope and futility, and you’ll also find a needle in that one well-known Bible verse about heaven’s strict door policy for rich people. All this plus until a few-ish decades ago you couldn’t listen to a record or recorded music period without a needle which means the word is linked with music in more ways than one. 

“Needle” also happens to be the name of the first song on Jeremy Bastard’s debut album as executive producer/featured performer called Everyone Is History, There Is No Memory—which strikes me as appropriate because the song and the album capture many of the dualities laid out above. Think ethereal melodies and dance-ready rhythms dipped into dirty sonic murk and melancholy lyrics for one thing. Which isn’t to deny the overall warm immersive feel of the album with it’s reliance on analogue-sounding synths and flanged-out guitar and big booming drum machines and sound production that’s not afraid to push the levels into the red. But the warmth is counter-balanced by the coldwave-natured icy vibe that’s equally on offer (after all just look at the record’s title) and also the extreme-even-abrasice quality of some of the sound processing where sounds overspill their boundaries. And when put all together there’s a pins-and-needles dread/euphoria dialectic achieved through this combination of elements.

To take a concrete example listen to “Needle” itself which starts off with a throbbing retro-ish single-note synth bassline and a couple of high airy chords circling above. For a moment it could be a John Carpenter soundtrack but then the drums and then the vocals kick in which give it more of a Tech Noir chain link dance floor kind of vibe--an impression that’s only reinforced with the opening lyrics by guest vocalist Sean Flanigan (“In the pale white of a warning / the flutter of a wing / I shiver still, your killing look / I want everything”) and if you were looking for a perfect mix of dread and desire in a certain pins-and-needle kind of fashion as mastered by some key artists of the ‘80s (which I guess is one reason why the album gives me such a strong ’80s flavor even if it doesn’t sound like any one artist from the decade in particular) then you are in luck. What’s more “Needle” seems to pulsate from within like a beating heart or a mutating virus as waves of reverse-echo on the vocals beat roughly in time to the mechanized beats and the pulsating synth bass creating an effect (the song’s refrain of “circle ‘round circle ‘round” is more than appropriate) that’s both pleasantly hypnotic and a little unnearving.

The dialectic is perhaps expressed most dramatically on the two tracks that feature Nico-esque chanteuse (or maybe more Jane Birkin-esque chanteuse) Electra Monet with their mix of alluring airy melodies and the aforementioned murk which co-exist on equal terms to compelling effect. On the first of these tracks and track #2 overall called “Shadow Boxing” we’re introduced to a repeated keyboard pattern that sounds something like a Mr. Mister soundcheck but where their levels aren’t set yet but instead of the singer for that band coming in with his proto Eddie Vedderisms you get Elektra coming in with her Elizabeth Fraser like vocals (nevermind those previous comparisons) except with the vocal grit highlighted by the close mic-ing of Ms. Monet’s voice and the overlapping layers of distorted echoes and drones and sighs and sibilent whispers which all culminates with a jagged atmospheric guitar line at the song’s conclusion. In contrast on their other collab “Awa Odori” there’s more of a hard-edged techno/tribal sound that predominates but it also plays off contrasting elements (check the warped chiming synthetic bells in the break section) and there’s still plenty of whispery echoes and pulsating textures if that’s your bag an why shouldn’t it be. And by the way if it is you’ll want to check out Elizabeth Fraser’s upcoming record which is rumoured to be out soon.

So I’m not going to go on about every song because we’ve all got limited attentions spans but here but suffice to say the third track "Love is a Mistake" featuring Disolve could be submitted for inclusion in John Hughes’ upcoming sequel to “Pretty in Pink” because it's a catchy as hell dark-electro-indie-pop song and I could totally see Duckie blasting this on his car stereo’s cassette player as he pulls up to the class reunion still bitter at how the ending of the first movie was changed because he wasn’t considered hunky enough by test audiences to score with Molly in the end (wait John Hughes died when?) and that just gives you some idea of this album’s variety even if overall the dark new wavey framework holds solid throughout. All the guest vocalists/lyricists provide a shot in the arm at every turn but be forewarned there's some poison in that needle as well as made clear just by scanning the the song titles on Everyone Is History, There Is No Memory like the aforementioned “Love is a Mistake” and “Scream Inside” and my personal fave title “I Slept With Faith and Found A Corpse In My Arms Upon Awakening.” And when you consider Jeremy's background as a DJ (and as a guitar player for hire, or at least I assume he's for hire but you'll have to ask nicely) there’s an obvious DJ-minded aesthetic at work with a diversity of inputs fed through a singular perspective. 

According to Jeremy himself the will to collaborate was in fact the motivating spark behind the entire project. Exiled to Florida in the midst of the pandemic and therefore twice removed from his other musical projects, Jeremy turned to full-time producing and from-a-distance collaborations as a means of maintaining creative momentum and human contact. And in the process I'll just go ahead and surmise that Jeremy has found his niche or his lane (or at least "a" niche and "a" lane) because he's obviously takes to the idea of working one-on-one with other musicians and seeing what results from the process as made evident in the sheer volume of "duets" he's released lately--not just on the album under discussion here but in the two collaborations below (the second of which is from his latest single) and in the bonus non-album tracks from Everyone Is History that's he keeps putting out as b-sides (is this still a term people use?) to each single released from the album. And so the moral of the sotry is perhaps that every needle has a silver lining. (Jason Lee)

Spirit of the Beehive take a dark ride on "Entertainment, Death"

Blatantly disregarding the double-live principle of rock school on their fourth full-length, Spirit of the Beehive instead take the listener on a dark ride. The record is called Entertainment, Death and with its cover image of faceless funhouse patrons being beckoned into the mouth of madness of an amusement ride’s entryway, a mouth belonging to a cartoonish but menacing red-eyed devil, we’re given a hint of what’s to come inside--a carnival ride full of herky-jerky twists and turns. 

Entertainment, Death moves restlessly between ambient floating-in-space “tunnel of love” passages like heard in the song above and whiplash passages as illustrated below, similar to when the midway ride's bumper car rolls over a relay switch illuminating a skeleton or some other scary creature leaping out of a casket and lunging straight at you, accompanied by a loud cackling laugh and a spray of hissing steam. 

Despite the seeming stream-of-consciousness of much of Entertainment, Death the album is organized around a conceit that makes thematic sense out of its through-composed structure. Album opener “Entertainment” begins in medias res and ushers the listener through a sonic birth canal of rumbling drones, squealing test tones, scuttling percussion and intense ethereal whooshing. But relative calm then descends with a loping rhythm and chirping birds and a pastoral folk song melody with harmonized vocals informing us that “I woke up when I heard the blow / heading east towards KSMO” a calm that’s broken only slightly by the entrance of glitching synths and a warped string section. 

Guitarist/vocalist Zack Schwartz and bassist/vocalist Rivka Ravede have explained elsewhere that while on tour for 2018’s Hypnic Jerks they suffered a tire blowout in route to a gig in Kansas City, Missouri (a tour that had them opening for the band Ride no less) which led to them imagining a scenario where they perished in the aftermath of a car accident and where their new album would be conceived as a series of fleeting thoughts and musical fragments and distant memories triggered in the split-second leading up to their imminent death occurring on the last track fittingly called “Death.”

More than just an inner space travelogue the record also serves as a reckoning of sorts for lives spent creating and consuming “content” (a.k.a. entertainment) with the Beehive crew expressing some ambivalence and admitting “I regret some choices I’ve made / entertainment only remains / while I keep descending / who will decipher the pain from the lie?” and between the bookmark tracks of “Entertainment” and “Death” the album delves into a sonic and lyrical purgatory for the rest of its running time, descending into Hell for the penultimate multi-part “I Suck The Devil’s Cock,” a song that doesn’t so much advocate demonic fellatio as it advocates demonic fellatio used as a metaphor for the Faustian bargain of selling one’s soul for rock ‘n’ roll or of serving the servants by serving new content to the modern-day deity of the Internet server.

Just in case you're not finding it easy, one good way to get on the wavelength of Entertainment, Death is to read up on what the Buddhists call “bardo”--intermediate, indeterminate state of non-being (based in becoming vs. being) like the twilight state between wakefulness and sleep (a.k.a. hypnagogia) or the cosmic void between life and death or between death and rebirth. Spirit of the Beehive cross the dharmata bardo or “luminous void” described in the Tibetan Book of the Dead with Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle as represented by the record's shifting tempos, warped pitches, flanged timbres and vacillations between chaos and stillness where “enough is never enough” and where the “remember[ed] promise of a future” is replaced by an eternal present. 

Both the quotes directly above are taken from “There’s Nothing You Can’t Do” which transforms a cheap ad slogan into an aspirational mantra and a luminous void (“Property of Void Industries”) and for almost two minutes it comes on like a song you’d hear at a sexy alien discotheque--with a slinky groove wedded to a strangely alluring detuned trumpet and wispy vocals that declare the merits of a “heavy hand, middle class / chemical in a bag / all I want; love me all the time” before lifting off into s hook at 1’13 that's sublime enough for one to overlook the quiet desperation of lyrics like “Could it all be in my head?” and “I made my bed, I’ll lie in it”--a song that just about any other band would leave untouched and promote as their radio-ready new single. But instead SotB drown their potential hit song in the bathtub toward its end, submerging it under waves of feedback and distortion and paranoid-sounding screaming that promises “I’ll be your friend” over and over again but which I usually hear as asking “Are you afraid?”


And so with Entertainment, Death the Philly-based three piece (reduced from five on their last LP; Zach and Rivka are joined here by multi-instrumentalist Corey Wichlin) Spirit of the Beehive have assembled fragments of their musical past--ranging from early shoegaze and noise-based music to sample-based collage and dreamy indie rock and electronic experimentation--into a cut-and-pasted musical journey that combines the aforementioned elements with other influences (e.g., vaporwave) resulting in a manifesto for the end times that beckons you to enter the void and to buy their band t-shirts and art works. (Jason Lee)

Mars Rodriguez: Up until "The End"

Mars Rodriguez is an independently-operating, Los-Angeles-based, Nicaraguan-American singer-songwriter-producer-multi-instrumentalist and so far her early releases are living up to that multi-hyphenate description. Mars released her first full-length last September, Don't Wait for Nothing, and over its 30 minutes you never have to wait too long for some new sonic wrinkle or other musical ingredient to be thrown into the mix which makes for a compelling and propulsive listening experience. And while I may be reading too much into things here, I could see how this restlessness could possibly derive in part from being part of a population displaced by political crisis and state violence.

If forced to come up with my own original hyphenate to describe Mars Rodriguez's music I think I'd go with "Café-Tacuba-meets-Shirley-Manson-meets-Massive Attack" because that at least hints at the stylistic eclecticism and the multilingualism and the mix of grungy guitar, power pop melodies, trip hop ambience, dub- and psych-inspired production, rock-en-espanol rhythms and drum machine rhythms. It's one of those albums meant to be taken in all at once in full, a continuous sonic journey.

Take the album-opening instrumental track "Tous Les Jours" for example, which starts off with almost a full minute of ambient planetarium-style celestial sounds before launching into a funky percussion loop that wouldn't sound out of place in a Chemical Brothers song and then a fuzzed-out zig-zagging melody that brings to mind Radiohead's "Myxomatosis" or it does to my mind at least. After a minute or two the fuzzone starts to disintegrate and get swallowed up by swirling echo effects. Then the whole thing topples and transforms into a slower, stripped down groove--but with vibrating tones and reverb-drenched voices still hovering overhead before fading out to sounds of distorted radio signals and sine waves.

From there each subsequent song on Don't Wait for Nothing explore a new direction or two. One of these directions is the "potential pop crossover hit" and there would seem to be at least a couple on the album--like "Now" with it's singalong refrain and motivational message and steady build to a big finish--but always with a quirky touch or two to keep it more on the alternative side of things. Mars's new single released on Friday ("The End") continues down this path of pop music with frayed edges--evoking Brian Eno one moment and Republica the next, with the listener exhorted to "exit your mind". And with all this talk of ends and exits, here's to new beginnings because I'll bet Mars Rodriguez has some more interesting ideas in store. (Jason Lee)

Avi Sic "Human"

Producer/DJ Avi Sic has released a new single called "Human". Up until last year this talented DJ had been constantly touring the country and performing up to 300 shows a year, but in 2020 she had to find another way to express herself. She released five single in 2020, and "Human" is her first new single of 2021.

She also recently joined Only Fans to share live sets, exclusive remixes, and DJ lessons.


Folie "CLEAN2"

Folie has released the first single, "CLEAN2", from her forthcoming mixtape, 123!, which is due out on March 25th via Dog Show Records. The new single features Bean Boy and is accompanied by a Harrison Wyrick and Parker Davis animated video.

Folie (aka Jae) was born in New York but is now based in Chicago alongside likeminded creators Dylan Brady and Gupi.


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