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SPICE leans into uncertainty on its sonically rich, cautiously optimistic self-titled debut

Photo Courtesy of Dais Records

The self-titled debut of the Bay Area band SPICE sounds more like a third or fourth album from an accomplished rock group. The five piece carefully balances post-punk and indie rock while powering through nine cathartic songs with an underlying thread of optimism. Continue reading SPICE leans into uncertainty on its sonically rich, cautiously optimistic self-titled debut

The Beths’ sunny new LP, Jump Rope Gazers, is everything you could hope for in a sophomore album

Photo Courtesy of Carpark Records

The Beths rock, and the simplest way to back up that assertion comes in the form of its catchy new album, Jump Rope Gazers.

On the Auckland band’s second full-length, The Beths not only refines the charged indie pop songwriting and production that made its 2018 debut so charming, but also retains the witty lyrics and sun soaked playing that’s made the quartet one of the most exciting groups to emerge from Oceania in recent memory.

It’s difficult to listen to the lyrics of lead singer and guitarist Elizabeth Stokes without being taken by their cleverness. Stokes animates Jump Rope Gazers with a variety of thoughtful lines that explore love and interpersonal relationships, and are fittingly more cheeky than self-serious.

“I keep a flame burning inside/If you need to bum a light,” she offers on the excellent single, “Out Of Sight.” Elsewhere, on the chorus of the album’s closer, “Just Shy of Sure,” she contemplates unrequited love, a major theme throughout the album, most perfectly in the lyrics, “You still want me/I’m the one you adore/But I’m just shy of sure.”

Stokes also uses her conversational tone on the new LP to exorcise feelings of self-doubt, with several of her lyrics functioning as a reassuring balm to listeners feeling the same way. “Like an arrow always missing/I’m always missing,” she sings on the tropical sounding track, “Acrid.” Likewise, on the self-critical anthem, “Do You Want Me Now,” she relates, “I can’t remember if I like myself at all.” Lines such as these add personal depth to an otherwise lighthearted album.

All of Stokes’ lyrical observations are bolstered by catchy guitar melodies, steady bass lines and unobtrusive drumming. When he’s not plucking spacey notes or palm-muting verses, guitarist Jonathan Pearce breaks out into a number of brief but raucous guitar solos such as on the opener, “I’m Not Getting Excited,” or during the bridge of “Acrid.”

The Beths’ rhythm section composed of bassist Benjamin Sinclair and drummer Tristan Deck keep each song tight and lively, and especially shine on the song, “Dying To Believe.” As far as the album’s tracklist and production go, there’s little left to be desired. Every track feels polished and nearly all of them add momentum to the album’s runtime of close to 40 minutes.

The album’s title track, “Jump Rope Gazers,” is arguably the catchiest song on the whole thing. In addition to strong imagery and emotions, the song’s cryptic but intriguing chorus lyrics, “How could this happen/We were jump rope gazers in the middle of the night,” gives it an impressionistic hook that will lead listeners to come up with their own meanings. Of all the title tracks I’ve reviewed for this site, “Jump Rope Gazers” is the most memorable I’ve come across so far.

But not every song on the album rises to the greatness of its title track. Two songs on the back half of Jump Rope Gazers — the choppy “Mars, the God of War,” and the sparse, fingerpicked outlier, “You Are a Beam of Light” — lack the energy of the previous songs and feel slightly less developed. Luckily, the spirited closer, “Just Sure or Shy,” reignites a sense of excitement, ending the record with the oomph absent in two tracks leading up to it.

But, aside from a few sonic experiments gone awry, The Beths’ new LP is everything you could ask for in a sophomore album. It builds upon what worked for the band on its debut and branches out into new styles and musical territory while offering a string of catchy singles.

Early in the album, Stokes sings the succinct lyrics, “It burns me/But I’m smiling through the heat.” And, with its relatable lyrics on love, uncertainty and self doubt floating atop sunny, pop rock instrumentals, Jump Rope Gazers might have you smiling through the heat, as well.


Vile Creature’s ambitious third album, Glory! Glory! Apathy Took Helm!, expands the palette of doom metal

Photo Courtesy of Prosthetic Records

Despite being a duo, Vile Creature might be mistaken for a much larger band, especially considering the Ontario group’s lumbering thunderclouds of sound arranged over elaborate song structures.

And, on the band’s third album and Prosthetic Records debut, Glory! Glory! Apathy Took Helm!, drummer Vic and guitarist KW balance lightness with heaviness and catchiness with aggression to craft a doom metal album that pushes past the genre’s standard formula.

Spanning five lengthy tracks that add up to 44 minutes, Glory! is composed of sludgy riffs, slow, pounding drums and dual vocals that use both black and death metal style deliveries. Vic perfectly controls the melodies of their black metal howls either alone or accompanied by KW’s deep, commanding voice. KW takes solo vocals on a few parts, but Vic is often looming in the background waiting to interject a shrieked lyric.

The album’s opening song, an 11 minute track called “Harbinger of Nothing,” was previously included on an Adult Swim metal compilation. Because of that, “Harbinger” feels like a self-entity in its structure and polish, more so than any of the later-penned tracks that make up the rest of the record. To start off the album with a high profile song with colossal riffs is an easy choice. But, to follow it with another 11 minute track, “When the Path Is Unclear,” really shows the band’s confidence in its material.

“When the Path Is Unclear” and the shorter, third song, “You Who Has Never Slept,” pad out the middle of Glory! by deploying sludgy, crawling chord progressions and conjuring up a heavy atmosphere. “When the Path Is Unclear” turns it up a notch from “Harbinger” by introducing an even rawer sound with more feedback and including the record’s only chugging guitar part.

“You Who Has Never Slept,” on the other hand, features some inventive drumming with a distinct galloping feel. And toward the end, KW applies a noticeable bend to the song’s guitar chords, creating a cool, quivering effect. With lyrics such as, “Don’t want what’s to come,” these two songs make up the heaviest part of the album and keep it engaging before the experimental finale.

The album’s final two tracks, which make up a suite of sorts, are interconnected by a heavenly choir of voices that take center stage on “Glory! Glory!” and reappear in the middle of heavy guitar riffs on the dynamic closer, “Apathy Took Helm!” It’s an ambitious sonic combination that ultimately sounds amazing and was worth the risk. By alternating saccharine voices with Vic’s anguished singing, the two songs not only contrast the idea of lightness with heaviness but also strive to marry heaven and hell.

Glory! Glory! Apathy Took Helm! is the rare doom record that isn’t afraid to throw a dramatic curve at the listener every now and then while staying true to the roots of the genre. Vile Creature takes all of the best parts of metal and repurposes them into a work that feels entirely original.


The odds and ends Tim Buckley comp, The Dream Belongs To Me, shows an artist never settling for what’s passable

Photo Courtesy of Real Gone Music

Folk singer Tim Buckley often workshopped his material at live performances and in the studio before committing the fully developed forms to wax.

Real Gone Music’s reissue of The Dream Belongs To Me compiles three studio sessions — two at the heights of his fame in 1968 and another during his 1970s funk period — that puts early sketches of his most memorable compositions alongside more obscure songs that never made it to an album.

The first half of the record features songs that Buckley scattered throughout his next four records, which would expand the boundaries of his earlier folk phase. It’s revealing to hear early renditions of “Song to the Siren,” “Sing A Song to You” and “Happy Time” even if they sound more hollow and less energetic than their final versions or recorded live performances around the same time. The song “Danang” is notable here because it shows Tim Buckley as a bandleader. Nearing the song’s end, he instructs his band, “Let’s do it again,” before going into a final verse of tender lyrics.

“Buzzin Fly,” a jazzy song much older than the rest here, is nearly in its final form, complete with a guitar solo and walking bassline. Buckley’s voice adds emotion to the chorus lyrics, “You’re the one I talk about/You’re the one I think about/Everywhere I go,” as if he’d sung them a hundred times before. Given its quality, this recording of “Buzzin Fly” easily might have wound up on Happy/Sad instead of the final version recorded in December 1968. It’s strong close to the first studio session.

On the second half of The Dream, Buckley, working out songs for his 1973 album Sefronia, is supported by a commanding rhythm section along with a funky electric guitar. Although songs such as “Sefronia,” “Stone In Love” and “Quicksand” aren’t as highly regarded as the songs from the comp’s earlier session, Buckley and his band’s fiery performances give fans alternate takes that are much more raw than the album’s polished mixes.

The compilation’s title track, which never made it to a studio album, is a shining moment of the 1973 session with its surreal lyrics and a menacing instrumental that recalls the song “Come Here Woman” from Starsailor. At its base, though, “The Dream Belongs To Me” is a love song, with Buckley singing lyrics such as “Just as long as a pearl in the sea/Your sweet love belongs to me.” “Falling Timber,” another non-album number, also shows remnants of Starsailor with its voice-as-instrument vocals. These two songs, while not the best performances captured during these sessions, are the rarest offerings on this reissue.

Despite being originally released in 2001 by another label, Real Gone Music’s reissue of The Dream Belongs To Me rekindles the mystery of Tim Buckley’s creative process through a collection of high quality studio sessions. Nineteen years later, we can still learn through this reissue about the lengths Buckley went to develop his songs and the discipline it took to render them timeless.