Review: FOANS “Schema”

17 Nov 2015 — Evelyn Malinowski

Here is your checklist of images, trigger phrases, and qualifiers for listening to the prolific and somewhat elusive Denver-based artist FOANS:

-pleasantly bored
-there's a city between me and vast wilderness
-aimless heartbreak
-progressive loops
-implicit drums
-solo week nights
-moments of the midwest in the west
-cozy shadowland
-it feels so familiar and I don't know why
-he makes it seem easy
-I am afraid of soft November skies
-missing the boat completely and slowly accepting the fact that it wasn't meant to be
-November music, oh so good and oh so sad
-the same patterns follow us for the rest of our lives

On occassion, we get to know artists who craft a signature sound so recognizable that we become inspired to establish an interpretive lexicon for describing them, keywords and codes for accessing steady play of their enticing designs. When it comes to FOANS, we are dealing with a bundle of nostalgia candy and studiousness, aesthetic song titles and addicting composition. His latest release on Denmark's Speaker Footage (also a launchpad for ambient pop acts like Temple Volant and AyGeeTee) is breadthy in duration, and a near masterpiece of an album. It is ambient-ready, IDM-esque, sample friendly, steadily melodic. Further, it is a work that can easily be played on repeat, like all FOANS releases, hence the candy reference. Having said that, there still is a quality to Schema that communicates the artist having taken things up a notch.

You know the type of dub ambient that is rhythmic without (much) drumming or dub, like Loscil? That is the place where FOANS hangs out, except that he still doesn't really sound like anyone else. Tracks like "Orsa" and "Copacabana" present percussion, the latter being a most enjoyable and familiar track. With a light and spiraling clarinet sample that reminds me of the one in FSOL's "Max", the melody feels Broken Social Scene-inspired, as it is down-home soothing, polyrhythmic, and - bear with me - Toronto-like: it's all about the way the light hits those low buildings off of Bloor and the nearness of the intimidating body of fresh water. Later, tracks like "Compensation" and "Comment #1" are succinct, catchy, and pro-dance. "Steam" is agreeably of Lobster Theremin caliber with its housey snare hits and wrestling shimmering melodies, balled up by their rolling motion. 

"Lean," however, is an example of percussion-less rhythm. It is thematic and sprinkley, looked after by an agile bass line. When "Sizzle" sneaks in, we have an Aix Em Klemm-cadence of contemplation on our hands. With another notable bass line present, we sense some protectiveness rather than ability, perhaps conveyed by its concentrated persistence. We may sigh and simply give in to one by one acknowledging the layers and calm evolution that they endure.

"Touchscreen" is a breathtaking trance track minus drums, and, due to its potency, it is terribly challenging to recap. Its watery foundation hooks us at once before a Carpenters-sounding vocal loop enters to lead a plethora of gorgeous pad synth formation. The leading melody is truly cinematic, something to inspire grounded optimism for the seasons to come. "Dakan" drives the same point home even more further, and valorously. Just try it, you'll see.

For me, there's something significant about the fact that FOANS is in Denver, Colorado, the bursting-at-the-seams-of-your-white-collar-shirt recreational paradise. Having spent some significant time in that area over the last year, I can testify that Denver is gorgeous, expansive, and both soft and harsh. The atmosphere of the area is complicated and congested: it takes what feels like a full day to get from one area to another (despite all the visible coutryside) and one often catches oneself stuck in a traffic jam on the epic mountain pass on the way to the ski hill, ironically. Isn't skiing an activity that occurs moreso in areas less populated, on a mountain, in the natural world? Isn't part of it all about zoning out and escaping pressures of other people? This is normal speed and paradox for the population of the Denver area, and the empirical knowledge that I simply do not resonate with any part of that lifestyle feels pacified by FOANS. Having music this compelling and atmospheric come out of a place I find vibrationally fucked up, I am able to peer indirectly into the beauty and inspiration it offers so many millions of people; I can have gratitude for the place while lying safely distant from it.

Schema is out now on Speaker Footage. Order the tape here, and be sure to pursue more FOANS here.

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Watch: Erasers “Returning Home” (exclusive)

03 Nov 2015 — Preston Ossman

Perth’s Erasers (not to be confused with similarly named 80s English New Wave duo Erasure) allow their dreamlike ambiance to invite a listener’s interest. Their recent full-length Stem Together is a brisk swim in a briny bath of lo-fi percussive loops and melancholic organ hymnals. Rebecca Orchad’s ghostly incantations build and swell, reverberant crooning resonate on another ethereal plane. At times, the record feels best suited for the pitch-black solitude of an insolation chamber, while at other times opening up to nothing short of a psychedelic sermon, a lulling drone underscoring songs like an understated sonic scripture.

In the group's latest video for the song "Returning Home," the viewer is brought into the congregation on a beam of light. Solar glare glistens on the waves as the group’s atmospheric organ rumble fades into audibility.  ‘On a silver sea / returning you home,’ Orchad repeats. The lyric implies patience in movement, the idling that accompanies any expedition, laying in wait. To travel is merely to pass time between destination and origin, and Erasers emphasise this lacuna. The accompanying visuals to "Returning Home" tell this story of stasis in travel: a single swimmer, in a silver sea no less, paddling in place as the water splits around her; stagnant sediment washed over repeatedly by rolling water; the relentless ripple of one’s own wake. The constant motion that the ocean insists upon is often overlooked by its perennial nature, as if to say, “the ocean isn’t going anywhere,” despite that it is always going, pushing, pulling, occillating like that familiar drone.

Stem Together is out on Fire Talk. Get it over here.

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Watch: Paco Sala “Square Jaw / LGO” (exclusive)

29 Oct 2015 — Henning Lahmann

It's been a while since we last heard from London project Paco Sala aka Anthony Harrison and Leyli. The vocalist having recently relocated to Berlin, the first result since crossing the Channel is a full-length with the fitting name Der Gast, "the guest" – a multi-faceted notion that avoids deliberations about more loaded concepts of existence in contemporary Berlin, such as "tourist", "immigrant", or "expat". To be a guest implies both a limited timeframe and the expectation to be welcome. The two aspects, of course, are intertwined, scantily concealing the word's more twisted connotations (the first generations of immigrants from Turkey and other southern European countries in Germany were labelled Gastarbeiter, "guest workers", in the public discourse, which rather openly hinted at the fact that the German society expected them to leave again and not to settle). 

Musically, "Square Jaw" and "LGO", the first tracks from Der Gast, continue Paco Sala's distinct blend of kosmische-informed synth arrangements and crystalline vocals, though the rhythmic patterns are a little more prominent and dynamic this time around. Watch the video for the single exclusively below.

Der Gast is out on cassette November 6 via Night School Records. Pre-order the tape now over here.

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Ocean Hope “Forever” (exclusive)

29 Oct 2015 — Henning Lahmann

Arriving fashionably later for the 4AD-infused, shoegaze-informed dream pop revival of the early 2010s, Greek brother/sister duo Ocean Hope do not seem to care too much for Internet hype cycles. Which is fine with us – a song like "Forever", the second single from their upcoming debut EP Chamber Dreams, will work in the fading sunlight of any given October. Dream your own dream while streaming the track below.

Chamber Dreams is out digitally on November 13 via Hush Hush Records.

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Antoine 93 “Me and the Sound”

29 Oct 2015 — Henning Lahmann

A little while ago, I had the honour to be part of the jury that picked this year's winners of Berlin Community Radio's Welcome to Berlin, a Musicboard-funded venture that attempts to tap into the city's forward-thinking pop undercurrents. One of the three nominees is an NFOP regular, Quebec City native Antoine Lahaie aka Antoine 93, and he is also the first to have taken advantage of the chance to record a new song in a fully equipped, professional recording studio. The result of that day-long project is "Me and the Sound", a glistening gem that stays true to the sound of the Montreal/Berlin axis that Lahaie is as devoted to as few others. The single is furthermore backed up by a compelling remix by fellow Montreal cosmopolitan Agor Cowan aka Blue Hawaii. Both tracks are available as a free download right here. There's also a comprehensive interview with the artist over at i-D, another partner of Welcome to Berlin (in German).

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Stream: Tara King th. & Halasan Bazar “Unreleased from ‘8’ E​​P” (exclusive)

27 Oct 2015 — Zachary Taube

The collaborative project of Tara King th. (FR) and Halasan Bazar (DK, mostly) has been one of nostalgic exploration and vintage aestheticism. This year’s broodingly hallucinogenic 8, an album filled to the brim with luscious farfisa and space-echoed 60s pop nostalgia, placed the project in line with continental European neo-psych aesthetes Jacco Gardner and Forever Pavot. “Dreaming On”, a lost track from 8, fathoms and romanticizes the vast mythos of the American expanse – a theme of endless inspiration for any psych junkie. Patient, cinematic and tied together with the strings of a zither, “Dreaming On” is a (re-)imagining of the American century from the distance of the 21st century old world – an ode to and lamenting of the spirit and legend of “American culture / sound / lives.” Give it a listen below, alongside four more tracks of previously unreleased material and remixes from the 8 recordings.

The Unreleased from "8" E​​P is out now via Greek imprint Melotron Recordings. Get it via bandcamp.

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Arca “Soichiro” / “EN”

26 Oct 2015 — Andi Wilson

Arca (aka Alejandro Ghersi) is someone we all can’t stop watching. An ever-evolving transformation since the &&&&& mixtape, several EPs, 2014’s release of debut album XEN, not to mention collaborating on production with FKA Twigs, then Björk’s ninth record Vulnicura; it’s difficult not to be addicted to the aura that is Arca. The Venezuela-born, now London-based producer has shared two new tracks from the forthcoming, sophomore studio album, Mutant.

“Soichiro” is extremely emotive and sensual while recently released video for “EN” only showcases the abnormalcy that Ghersi strives for. In white thigh-platforms, it shows Arca, dancing in slow-mo to match the track’s dark, experimentally-pioneering manner. Both tracks are freeing and continue the project’s radical spirit. Nothing seems too ambiguous for Ghersi at this moment. In regards to the release, they reveal “softness as a weapon when the mind attacks itself”.

Mutant is out November 20 via Mute digitally, on CD, and 2xLP. Also peep the artwork from long-time collaborator Jesse Kanda.

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Stream: Mansions and Millions “Mixtape Vol 1” (exclusive)

22 Oct 2015 — Henning Lahmann

Not least channelled through acclaimed Montreal-based imprint Arbutus and Berlin club/concert mainstay Shameless/Limitless, the two cities have had a fruitful creative connection for quite a while now, a fact that local label Mansions and Millions only began to seriously tap into not even a year ago. Adding some flavours of the equally buzzing (if almost unnoticed) Warsaw scene, label head Anton Teichmann's knack for highly enjoyable outré pop – invariably slightly off-kilter, mildly dazed, lo-fi, you know the deal – is starting to pay off, as neatly summarised by the appropriately christened Mixtape Vol. 1, a compilation put together on the occasion of last weekend's Cassette Store Day Germany. Pretty much all the artists that come to our minds when someone uses the words "Berlin" and "Montreal" in one sentence are gathered here, the wonderful Magic Island, veteran Sean Nicholas Savage, Antoine93, NFOP darling Pascale Project, or Bataille Solaire, sitting next to a couple of promising wild cards such as Karolini, Helen Fry, or Jason Harvey. Well curated and meticulously assembled, Mixtape Vol. 1 might not push any musical boundaries, but it may serve as a fitting introductions to the trans-Atlantic state of outsider pop, further corroborating the involved cities' prominent status as some of the last true refuges for free-thinking musicians.

Check out the whole tape below and get it via Mansions and Millions' bandcamp.

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