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Hot Tracks/Hot Takes: Dahl Haus in the house with 3 new singles

Over the past several months Brooklyn-based duo Dahl Haus has been on a new-single-per-month hot streak, and speaking of “hot” this column is the first in a series of DELI columns called Hot Tracks/Hot Takes where we’ll be focusing on recent singles (or heck maybe even a full EP occasionally) sharing off-the-cuff-yet-penetrating-insights and random associations and total speculations related to the song, or songs, in question. 

Got it? No? Good! Because the whole concept is as nebulous as “Silhouettes and Alibis.”

Dahl Haus are self-described creators of “noisy, dreamy music that's Kool Aid, Pop Rocks & razor blades mixed in a psychedelic blender & served in a dirty glass” and first thing I wanna know is where to find one of these psychedelic blenders. (but, please y'all, wash your glasses!) Next thing I’d like to know is “who’s in the band?” and turns out it’s singer/songwriter/producer/bass guitarist/rhythm guitarist Blaise Dahl and lead guitarist Daniel Kasshu aka Mevius. A couple fun facts from Ms. Dahl’s extensive resume: 1) she’s served as touring bassist for Jennie Vee (herself a bassist!) which means that Ms. Dahl is only two steps removed from Courtney Love (not a bassist!) since Ms. Vee toured with Ms. Love during her joint tour with Lana Del Rey (many of LDR's songs feature bass!); 2) As a teenager, Blaise admirable served on two MTV-sponsored outreach programs—one promoting an anti-bullying platform and the other an anti-bias initiative. Again, very admirable, but thankfully she wasn’t picked to play “Laura” in the commercial below because looks like it may have been pretty traumatizing even for a fictionalized portrayal.

Song #1: “Silhouettes & Alibis” (Release date: 9/17/21) — Forgive my obvious ‘90s bias here but the first couple minutes of S&A hit me like the Throwing Muses/Slowdive/PJ Harvey mashup (Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea era on the latter) I never knew I needed so naturally that’s a good thing. But then a little over halfway through the song suddenly turns a corner and walks right into a wall of stone, stopping short on a next-to-last-sounding-note, before getting all dizzy-headed with an extended outro that opens with a strummed guitar floating in space and then a haunted funhouse organ before a drum fill bursts the song open like an overripe piece of fruit with layers of guitar and emotive lead vocals and ghostly backup singers entering the picture (or at least they sound like ghostly backup singers) before, again unexpectedly, concluding with a “jazz hands” style guitar chord. Hot-cha-cha-cha!

Key lyric: “I built a prison of my own / in solitary walls of stone”

Song #2: “Helium” (Release date: October 1, 2021) — Dahl Haus is a band unafraid to deploy its full array of flange pedals plus all their chorus and reverb and digital delay and overdrive and tremolo/pan pedals and maybe even some wah-wah when it’s called for. This one is the woozy drunk-in-love song of the bunch—think Cocteau Twins meets Bloodwitch and you’re on thew right track—and thus it works well as the sweet gooey marshmallow cream sandwiched between the other two singles plus it’s got a highly melodic and (it sounds like) heavily chorused bass part which also contributes to the weightless, woozy vibe.

Key lyric: “Surrender to the sweet delirium / Your love's like helium / Helium / Gravity's undone”

Song #3: Dreamscape” (Release date: November 19, 2021) — This is the seduction song but a song that warns against being seduced at the same time where “tangled sheets can tie you to this space” (thanks for the warning!) and just when it seems to be about over "Dreamscape" suddenly transforms from a shimmering dreamscape into a woken-with-a-jolt raveup in the vein of a surf or spy movie soundtrack right after the line “who knows if love is real?” (these kids got a talent for sudden transitions!) which makes you realize the whole dreamscape scenario was maybe a bit of a bait and switch when you’re left “looking for salvation / from daylight's rude awakening” which is exactly why you’re advised to buy black-out curtains before listening to this song.

Key lyric: “I charmed you like a snake in the grass”

Look for more hot tracks and more hot takes coming soon! (Jason Lee)





Knifeplay go straight for the emotional jugular on new single "Hurt Someone"

Between the name of the band and the name of their new single (released just today!) and the photo above and the video below, I’m not sure I’d wanna meet Knifeplay alone in a dark alley.

But I would wanna listen to “Hurt Someone” alone in a dark alley because it's perfect music for a dark isolated place (whether interior or exterior) but at the same time perfect music for a place that’s ethereal and womb-like and otherworldly, with the steam rising up from a gutter nearby that catches the blue and pink light cast by neon signs just outside the alley while also diffusing the glow of dancing red and orange flames burning in the multiple unattended garbage bins that dot the landscape of Philly's grittier neighborhoods, or at least they do if you believe what you see in the movies, like in pretty much every Rocky movie where there’s at least one flaming garbage bin to be seen in the requisite jogging-through-the-streets-to-the-strains-of-horn-driven-disco scene.

You can probably tell I’m going for a cinematic vision here and it makes sense because Knifeplay makes widescreen-worthy life soundtracks with layer-upon-layer of oceanic guitars and hovering strings/synths and rhythms like a steady undertow that’ll make you wanna swim out to sea so far away that the rest of the world fades away from view. (or it’ll make you wanna hang out in a dark alley at night, I really need to pick one metaphor and stick with it!)

Anyway, Knifeplay is a six-piece made up of Alex, Johnny, Jack, John, Max, and Tj (no, I have no idea how to pronounce the latter) and according to the official press release released by their record label Born Loser Records it’stheir first new piece of music in nearly three years. Engineered by Philadelphia’s Jeff Zeigler, Hurt Someone offers a dark yet empathetic view of a character who fits right in with the world they’ve crafted in song since their early EPs” and there you have it.

And while you’re at it, you should head to your nearest streaming service asap and check out the single's B-side as well (“Ornament”) which is hardly ornamental because if the A-side is ethereal and amniotic, this instrumental B-side is the side that’ll actually make you feel like you're about to be stabbed to death in a back alley because the track ratchets up the nervous tension with a delicious-yet-demented-sounding dissonance until it builds up and up and up to an almost (almost) unbearable climax and then suddenly jump-cuts to black. (Jason Lee)





A Very Special Episode usher in change with "Fix Your Hearts Or Die"

Reader’s note: This write-up is the first of two pieces on A Very Special Episode’s album Fix Your Hearts Or Die, the second of which is a profile and interview with music photographer/video director/general polymath Jen Meller who's worked extensively with AVSE and who generously provided the image above.

The recent holiday got me thinking “what’s it all about, Alfie?” and here’s what I came up with after binging on chicken tamales from my local taco truck washed down with a few El Presidentes in the middle of the night. Halloween is all about transformation—much like a tamale emerging from its protective corn husk, and yes I’m over-reaching—with kids transformed into demonic pixies looking for their next sugar fix (ok, not such a big change there) and adults transformed into monsters and witches and sexy EMT workers, etc. with the open secret being how it all serves as an excuse to fully inhabit the freaks we already are inside (by “playing pretend” oh the irony) all the while peeling back the façade of normal life and exposing it’s oft-monstrous or just plain weird nature, not to mention our too-frequent complicity in playing the roles we’ve been assigned.

Deep, huh? Or, to put a more positive spin on it, Halloween is an all-American spin on Old World carnivalesque rituals, not to mention Caribbean and South American Carnival traditions, where trickster figures rule the day and where established identities are subverted, taboos broken, excesses accepted, and existing power relations turned on their head. Check out Mikhail Bakhtin’s Rabelais and His World if you got time and wanna read more about it but I’d better move on for now.

Or, as lead singer/lyricist Kasey Heisler of A Very Special Episode puts it on “Fuck Everything,” a track off Fix Your Hearts Or Die, the band’s debut full-length release: “I’m here but I feel like I’m losing me” and it’s not an isolated sentiment, because the notion of identities being up for grabs, potentially transformed and power relations along with them, pops up again and again in Kasey’s lyrics—like on “Cowboy” where she rebukes the song’s titular cowboy in such terms (“you know you had my going / tell me exactly who I am / to keep yourself from knowing”) or on “Weather the Storm” which evokes volatile weather systems as a parable for weathering change (like H.G. Wells said "adapt or perish" or in other words "fix your hearts or die") or on “Fire Walk With Me,” a mood piece that samples dialogue from the film of the same name in which Laura Palmer routines transforms from “goody two shoes Laura" to “very naughty girl Laura" when the sun goes down ("night time is my time") while suffering at the hands of evil, powerful men on both sides of the spectrum.

Related to this theme, it’s perhaps worth noting how by day Ms. Heisle works as an elementary school teacher—and how even outside of the classroom she often wears the wide-open yet indecipherable smile of the grade school teacher that says “no matter what kind of severe behavior problems you happen to have I’m still going to whether the storm”—but come evening, once onstage, and who knows maybe in the teachers’ lounge as well, she transforms into an alternately snarling/smiling rock ’n’ rolling bass-playing demon, a pixieish Gene Simmons with severe bangs but minus the compulsion to bang all her groupies. (to my knowledge, that is, not really my business anyway!)

Lyrics aside, it’s in the music where AVSE really drives home the theme of transformation, for rarely does a band captures volatility/mutability so potently in sound with guitarist Patrick Porter in particular having perfected a pedal-heavy playing style that makes you feel like you’ve entered the eye of a hurricane and been sucked into its vortex and passed into another dimension, assisted by Chayse Schutter’s powerful, nuanced drumming and Kasey’s dynamic bass-ing. 

And while loud-quiet-loud dynamics aren’t exactly a new thing, what sets Mr. Porter’s playing apart from many of his post-Pixies indie guitar brethren is that instead of changing from quiet to loud and back again on a dime, he’s got this thing of gradually morphing and warping the sound from one stage to another like a molting insect in a way that feels organic and highly visceral—who knew there were so many shades of white noise, ranging from etherial to abrasive?—for one example check out “Introspectre” with it’s oozing, mewling, turned-inside-out flanging musical timbres to hear what I’m getting at here, not to mention the vocal echo effect that sounds like someone left their vinyl copy of Fix Your Hearts Or Die out in the sun for too long.

For another example, go no further than album-opener “DFP” (down for pack-hunting?) which could and should serve as the soundtrack to a horror-movie werewolf transformation sequence. From the opening moments of the track the sense of tension is gradually ratcheted up bit by bit (“consume my brain and make it spin / don’t recognize the place you’re in […] there’s a sound that’s humming inside / a feeling that something’s not right”) until finally after several minutes the full on full moon lycanthropic metamorphosis takes place (from about 3:13 to 4:03 to my ears) after which a sudden state of calm descends and it sounds like the song may be over (AVSE are pros at the fake-ending fakeout) before a concluding coda that sounds like a wolf baying triumphantly at the moon. (Jason Lee)





Shoegazer

Time: 
19:00
Band name: 
Minaxi
FULL Artist Facebook address (http://...): 
https://www.facebook.com/minaxitheband
Venue name: 
Arrogant Swine
Band email: 
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Alexalone: Lost in ALEXALONEWORLD

Alex Peterson is a guitarist, songwriter, graphic designer, and bandleader from Austin, and although alexalone was once their solo moniker (the name is a reference to the Japanese Zeuhl project RUINS-alone), alexalone is now a fleshed out five-piece band made up of some of Austin’s best musicians. Peterson is a true rocker, a professional as committed to shredding as they are to gigging and touring, and even though they have been a consistent fixture of the local indie rock and shoegaze scene for the past seven years, they haven’t always been at the forefront. alexalone is Peterson’s longest running project, and although it is a project which has undergone many iterations, their projects and performances have only become more ambitious and nuanced as the years have gone by.

ALEXALONEWORLD (which is the group’s first release on Polyvinyl Records) is an album that feels like the culmination of years of hard work, but perhaps more importantly, it feels like the beginning of a new era for the band. “Electric Sickness” kicks off the record with a meditative pulse: several layers of jangling guitars drone over a stoic bassline while Sam Jordan’s pocket drumming provides a steady motorik beat and the synths of Mari Rubio (aka more eaze) float delicately high in the mix. Peterson’s vocals are confident yet sensitive, and their tight harmonies with Hannah Read (aka Lomelda) instantly foster a sense of melancholy comfort. But as soon as the listener becomes settled into the song’s atmospheric warmth, it’s chorus suddenly appears, bisecting the track with intense blast bleats and soaring sludge guitar leads.Then, the verse returns—mellow and calm, as if nothing had happened at all. The magic of alexalone’s music reveals itself in disciplined shifts such as this:moments of juxtaposition which heighten the tension while simultaneously offering release. 

Transitions play an important role in all of alexalone’s music, and ALEXALONEWORLD’s seamless tracklist is no exception. The Boris-esque doom metal riff of the second track “Where in the World” towers above the swirling noise which precedes it, before resting into a dirge of spacey atmospherics that Peterson’s reverbed vocals glide on top of effortlessly. The track begins to build up energy at the end, only to be snuffed out by the cavernous sound of a piano’s strings being struck percussively. The shimmering intro of “Unpacking my Feelings” breaks down into a darker groove that’s reminiscent of Slint, ultimately reaching an aggressive and angular boiling point that seems to mirror itself in the violent and disjointed conclusion of the following track “Can’t Sleep”. Subtle electronics take the lead on the ethereal “Let it Go,” a song which acts as a melodic respite from the anguish of the preceding tracks. 

The lyrics on ALEXALONEWORLD are gloomy, but never defeatist. Throughout the albums there is a consistent tone of sorrowful confessionalism, but there is always an outlook of almost Tao-like struggle that’s present. This is perhaps best exemplified in the sprawling “Black Rainbow,” a 7-minute track whose spoken word sections carry the intimacy of a well guarded diary entry. The act of hearing these fearlessly honest lyrics occasionally verges on embarrassing, but their undeniable self-assuredness ventures beyond this to create a sense of intimacy rarely found in contemporary indie rock, a genre that’s often overwhelmed with surface-level sincerity. 

Lush with charisma, slowcore ballad “Ruins” is ALEXALONEWORLD’s standout track. The vocal melodies (again complemented by Read) are melancholy and impassioned to the point of possessing an almost goth-like confidence. I personally believe that Alex Peterson is the most inspired guitarist in Austin, and it is telling of their restraint that there is only one proper guitar solo to be found on ALEXALONEWORLD. This solo, reminiscent of Adrian Belew, Michio Kurihara, and Oren Ambarchi, rides out the conclusion of “Ruins”, and acts as a shamelessly epic climax for the album, transcending the carefully-cultivated depressive atmosphere without regressing into naivete.

The final track is the instrumental “Eavesdropper,” which serves as an epilogue for the record and fully leans into alexalone’s more minimalistic tendencies- a monotone bassline drones menacingly as Peterson’s theremin-like guitar feedback swoops in and out of dominance. In lieu of a linear chord progression, the track structures itself around stark volume dynamics which inevitably plow forward into a dense cacophony, then into silence- it is an expression of alienation which feels something like being on the verge of a panic attack in public. In the midst of a seemingly endless global pandemic which is disproportionately affecting Americans, the images of social anxiety and dread evoked by this album speak to an increasingly claustrophobic reality. These thematic undertones, along with it’s aesthetic contemporariness, are what makes ALEXALONEWORLD a truly accomplished record and alexalone’s best album — though plenty more, I hope, is yet to come.

alexalone can be seen live with Soccer Mommy on Friday, October 22nd at Emo’s.

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