Music » Music Column

Local Release Roundup

Witch house refined, Million Dollar Mano's million-dollar moment, Tyler Jon Tyler's new-wave power pop, and more

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VON HAZE

"Outsyd tha Nite (White Car edit)" (Salem remix)

SALEM

"Asia" (Jokers of the Scene remix)

Thanks to technology it's now possible to get sick of a musical trend before anyone else figures out what it is. "Drag music" or "witch house," or, in the terminology of a scandal-raising Pitchfork item, "rape gaze," seems to be about wedding DJ Screw's atmospherics (hip-hop beats pitched down to a slo-slo-mo blur suitable for tripping on cough syrup) to 4AD-ish goth (ambient synths and serif-heavy typefaces). Then again, despite the media attention the subgenre's attracted, it's still only a couple of months old and based on about three albums' worth of material, so I say it's still up for grabs. On one hand, a remix of Von Haze's goth-country "Outside the Night" by witch-house standard-bearers Salem—working off an edit of the Brooklyn duo's original by local EBM-influenced outfit White Car—suggests the style can incorporate a considerable amount of synthesized Enya-esque New Age and still read as . . . whatever it's called. On the other, a remix of Salem's "Asia" (from their critically divisive debut album, King Night) by neo-ravers Jokers of the Scene makes an argument that it could just as easily become a black-streaked mirror-world reflection of today's trance revival.

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KANYE WEST

"Lost in the World" from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

(Roc Nation)

HE SAY SHE SAY

"Without Me"

If 808s & Heartbreaks stands as the apex of Kanye West's enfant terrible phase, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy marks his emergence as superstar gallerist. His adeptness at showcasing artists to make them seem worth a gajillion bucks could make him hip-hop's Gagosian. The first minute of "Lost in the World" is nothing more than Bon Iver's gorgeous Auto-Tuned folk ballad "Woods" cleverly edited down and pitched up. But then it's joined by a juke-heavy beat from local producer Million Dollar Mano. Together they sound like an untold legion of white kids about to do to footworking what suburbanites hooked on Run-DMC did to breakdancing back in the day.

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With such a high-profile credit on what will surely be one of the biggest albums of the year, it's fair to wonder what Mano's next move might be. Inconveniently enough, he and his partner in the long-simmering pop-R&B duo He Say She Say called it quits right before Ye's record dropped, leaving behind the single "Without Me" as an epitaph. To the frustration of those who'd been rooting for their eternally delayed major-label debut, the song is every bit as good as hoped. It's an ear-snagging melody in an intriguingly sparse arrangement that makes a great counterargument to anyone who continues to think pop R&B doesn't produce art music.

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TYLER JON TYLER

Tyler Jon Tyler

(Slow Fizz)

For much of the year and a half of their existence, Tyler Jon Tyler have been known as "that band where the drummer from the Ponys plays bass." But with the release of their first full-length, they prove themselves more than capable of standing on their own. Sonically they're about as uncomplicated as a power trio can get. Singer/guitarist Rebecca Flores plays chunky, simple rhythm parts and the occasional single-string lead. Drummer Tom Cassling (who also drums for the garage-punk outfit Daily Void and owns the Logan Square music emporium Shake Shop) pounds tribally on toms and snare, barely ever touching the cymbals. And Nathan Jerde's rubbery bass lines carry most of the instrumental melody, as well as offering the only decorative embellishments in the mix. But the center of attention is Flores's voice, a robust yelp that brings to mind Chrissie Hynde, the Raincoats, and other female-fronted acts from the early 80s who balanced new wave and power pop this well. On standouts like "Separate Issue" and "Tick Tock Tick," her melodies are difficult to shake well after the record's stopped spinning.

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SEAFARER

Hiding Places

The best moment on this recently re-pressed EP come on the second track, "Sound It Makes," after the song's ramshackle waltz-time folk-pop has already stalled out. Patrick Grzelewski raises his midwesternly nasal tenor to a ragged howl, screaming, "Carry on / If you know how," and then whole thing unravels into fuzzy psychedelia. Everything stops cold for a vocal-and-guitar interlude, and then the song snaps back into the melody, this time in a crisp staccato version. It's not a completely original idea—like most of the material here, the move pays tribute to a line of baroque pop heroes that includes Ray Davies and Elliott Smith—but it's executed flawlessly. And for a record that's just over a half hour long, Hiding Places contains an impressive number of moments that are almost as good as this one.

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SHAPERS

"Virginia Reel" b/w "Happy Birthday Pollywog"

(Whistler)

Since I have the two songs from the Shapers' first seven-inch (which comes on the heels of their debut full-length, Little, Big) in MP3 format rather than on vinyl I don't have to flip the record between songs—and as a result I can't really tell when one ends and the other begins. Shapers' songs tend to follow their own internal logic, and it doesn't bear much resemblance to the way most pop-related songs work: Time changes come and go with surprising frequency. A song that begins with a driving, angular take on Krautrock and/or 90s posthardcore might take a hard left turn into new wave. You might encounter an instrumental passage that pays seemingly unironic tribute to classic-rock wah-wah heroics, or one that sounds like someone snuck up on Alan Parsons and messed with all of the knobs on his synthesizer before a big solo. It's a twisted path, but it definitely goes somewhere interesting.   

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