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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)

Queen Mob bring on the "Pop Sickle"

Queen Mob are a two-piece from Psychedelphia, who as individuals go by the names Beth and Colin, and if they placed a band personals ad it'd probably read something like “freak-folk-shoegaze-vaporwave band seeks absolutely no one because we don’t collaborate and we don’t cooperate.” 

Over the past year Queen Mob have released one album and one EP (Easy, Liger and Against A Pale Background) and three singles (“Comeback,” “Sidecar,” and “Pop Sickle”) the last of which I’m declaring to be the best runaway-carousel/broken-calliope music I’ve heard since MGMT’s “Lady Dada’s Nightmare”. 

In their recorded work to date the band have already demonstrated impressive range by alternately sounding like an inebriated Beck, an inebriated Swervedriver, and an inebriated Jandek (so, just, Jandek). Or maybe instead of inebriated they're just experimental. It's not really our business how they get to that place. 

Beth herself describes the single above as “haunted dystopian electronic music” and that strikes me as pretty accurate for their lastest music. So hop on to the merry-go-round and hold to your horse pole becuase Queen Mob will take you on a ride. (Jason Lee)

Bootblacks on Cherry Bomb livestream tonight

Much like a certain storied pair of shiny shiny, shiny boots of leather, the music of Bootblacks is highly polished, austere and severe. And when it kicks you in the face you’ll beg for more, much like Severin in thrall to Wanda von Dunajew.

Residing somewhere in a batcave in Brooklyn (perhaps neighbors with Eddie Murphy?) these stalwart somber-hued postpunkers not too long ago released their forth full-length Thin Skies. Check out the music vid above for the full effect, and then give a listen to their Live At Saint Vitus set released in December.

Speaking of all thing Venusian, tonight Bootblacks appear as part of Cherry Bomb: International Women’s Day Charity Livestream originating straight outta Philly starting at 7pm EST with 12 bands & DJs benefiting 12 relevant charities with co-hosting duties shared by Lazy Astronomer and DJ Baby Berlin and streaming live on the latter’s Twitch channel. Click HERE for the full lineup and check out videos by a few of the other featured performers below.


Mevius gets "Washed Out"

Released exactly one minute before midnight on December 31, 2020, the opening moments of the opening track “Washed Out” on Meviu§’s latest EP, Washed Out, is the perfect soundtrack for the way I remember feeling at that precise time--sitting at home by myself with “hands tied behind my back / and face down on the floor.” Well, figuratively *ahem*. It’s been a strange couple of months or couple of years. Wait, what day is it? Oh yeah it’s Bandcamp Friday Day™ which means that it’ll not only cost you a mere pittance to buy the Meviu§ EP, but also that the entire pittance will go straight into the hot pockets of Meviu§ which'll help him be able to buy an actual Hot Pocket™ and avoid starvation for another day. As of the time of writing you've got about five-and-a-half hours left so go buy it now!

OK back to those opening moments of “Washed Out” and the slowly-unfurling echoey guitar arpeggio whose notes fold back in on themselves and suck you, the listener, into a swirling sonic vortex that serves as the perfect launching pad for the rest of the song with its somehow both driving and turgid guitar work & rhythm section in the instrumental parts and stripped down verses and catchy melodic choruses. It’s a Cure-worthy opening, and song overall, especially if you’re into Disintegration and Wish era Cure back when the mascara-smudged Camus-quoting Friday-loving gothsters managed to have a couple bonafide pop-chart hits here in the US which is pretty crazy when you think about it now. And on this note it bears pointing out how Meviu§ has a similar grasp of combining catchy tunes with serious “in your feels” feels.

But, hey you, I wonder why Robert Smith & Friends loved Friday so much? I thought these boys were supposed to be sad. Well duh because it's Bandcamp Friday™ in case you already forgot! I mean sure Bandcamp wasn’t even close to existing yet in 1992 but obviously The Cure had a premonition, which is pretty impressive considering how just about every GeoCities-induced psychedelic headtrip of a web site during those years looked as if the entire cast of Saved By The Bell had just projectile vomited on your monitor screen (RIP Dustin Diamond) creating a big mess of neon backdrops and spinning icons and animated-and-sometimes-flaming text. and how in this world could you ever order something so pragmatic as vinyl records, or these new things called em-pee-threes, on these strange primitive machines but I digress.

Anyway I didn’t mean to imply that the entire Meviu§ EP sounds like the Cure because it doesn’t. In fact it’s got a pretty wide stylistic range for just four songs. Track number two “Find You” features Edith Pop on co-vocals and it’s a nice downbeat acoustic ballad that’ll have you weeping in your kombucha with its aching harmonies and doleful sentiments. Up next is “Ghost of Memory (Ghost Stories Remix)” which at times reminds me of Moon Safari era Air but just when you think Kelly Better Keep Watching Those Stars there’s suddenly an Aphex Twin-y breakdown so hey you never know. And then on track number four the EP wraps up with “Maybe Next Year (featuring Searmanas)” but specifically in the form of the “Jeremy Bastard Remix” although I hear that really he’s just misunderstood. This closer features an immersive darkwave groove and some more female-to-male harmonizing from the aforementioned Searmanas and it's truly an apropos song title and musical vibe to go out on. But maybe just maybe if we’re all lucky next year will come before next year. (Jason Lee)

Sunflares EP

One good thing about playing in a one-man shoegaze band is that you always know whose shoes you’re gazing at. And for a style of music that’s the aural equivalent of cocooning, this sense of isolation isn’t necessarily a bad thing. On Sunflares EP, which you guessed it, is the coming-out EP by Sunflares, a project said to be inspired by the isolation of quarantine (wait, better make that the “staying in EP”) the alone time appears to have paid dividends.

And the same goes for listening to the EP for those of us under our fifth or sixth lockdown. When lines like “Are you out there?” and “I wanna know your secrets” emerge from the layers of fuzz and flange they sound eerily familiar as they’re questions I’ve been asking myself after sitting at home for the whole night, drinking an entire case of Bud Light that was planned to last for the rest of the week or longer, but at least existential crises keep things interesting. Shoegazer, know thyself.

Sunflares’ opening track “Numb” kicks things off with some nice Lush-like swirly guitars, but any trace of Sweetness and Light is quickly interrupted when the song shifts into Superblast mode with distortion turned up to 13, but with a cool little Cure-like melody over the top and some satisfying tom-tom fills, before settling into the first verse with this enterprise’s Kevin Shields fully engaged and phaser pedals set to stun, all ready to swoop in and take out the Ringo Deathstarr. And here’s a couple music videos for those two very subtle Lush references I made because I’m always looking for a good excuse to post Lush videos.

In other words, Mr. Sunflare hits the major signposts you’d hope to hear on a 2021 shoegaze album (or shoegaze EP let’s not be pedantic here) with satisfying walls of sound and layers of effects-laden guitar smeared across this EP like strawberries and cream. But at the same time there’s some enticing twists and things are mixed up nicely overall, between and within the four tracks on offer, with shifting tempos and textures and heavy-devy parts and dreamy ambient parts. And finally here’s a video for the even more artfully subtle Cure reference contained in this paragraph. (Jason Lee)


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