Shoegazer

UgLi blur the line between DTF and WTF on heavy AF debut album

The South Jersey/Philadelphia-based band UgLi unabashedly bash out ‘90s style alt rock with panache—but still their music feels uniquely relevant to right now and it rocks hard enough to be relevant to any era.

Taking a genre (grunge) originally associated with flannel-wearing, chainsaw-wielding, primal-screaming lone-wolf types, the Philly foursome uses it to address topics like mental health afflictions, gender fluidity, body dysmorphia, medication overutilization, and the pure unadulterated joy of a new love. Surprised you with last one, huh? And while in reality grunge was always pretty multifaceted (oddly enough it only became less so in the later ‘90s morphing into rap-rock, nü-metal, and post-grunge all culminating in the nightmare of Woodstock ‘99) and it’s always included great female musicians (L7 easily rocks just as hard as Soundgarden) but in 1992 it was still necessary for a certain “sad little sensitive Pisces man” to put a not-unsubstantial contingent of his own band’s fans on blast in the liner notes to the Incesticide comp:

“If any of you in any way hate homosexuals, people of different color, or women, please do this one favor for us—leave us the fuck alone! Don't come to our shows and don't buy our records.”

UgLi could in this way be considered the culmination of Kurt’s wishes, and one can only hope that in between floating around and hanging out on clouds that somewhere up there he’s looking down pretty happy about it. Because as a band that’s otherwise made up of three pretty average looking rock dudes (no offense guys!) UgLi is fronted by co-guitarist, vocalist, and primary songwriter Dylyn Durante who also happens to identify as a queer trans woman. So when she sings lines like “How would you find love / you don’t fit in the box / you’re mixing colors and shapes / I think you need to get off” (“Why Be Pretty…when you could be free”) it speaks not only to the youthful alienation of grunge-loving kids across a couple generations but also to a very specific situation—a situation driven home by the tight instrumental work of co-guitarist Andrew Iannarelli, bassist Lucas Gisonti, and drummer Teddy Paullin who pushes the album forward with Jimmy Chamberlin levels of energy.

Wait, what album? The track above plus seven others make up the band’s first full-length on the self-released FUCK, which at first glance may come off as a blunt, simple-minded attention grabber of a title. But when you break it down “fuck” is actually one of the more nuanced and versatile words in the English language given its dozens of potential meanings, ranging from a modifier used to add emphasis (“no fucking way!”) to a single-word exclamation indicating anger or disgust; ranging from the sensual physical union of two or more human beings to the state of being badly damaged or even ruined. And on FUCK, Dylyn covers all these meanings and more in songs where she “gets fucked” in every possible sense, and in songs where the band modifies the grunge formula to fit their own means—adding musical flavors ranging from the proggy side of the alt-rock spectrum (e.g., the Pumpkins/Radiohead-esque “Bad Egg” which deals with the difficulties of transitioning) to the dreamy chamber pop turned shoegazy slowcore rock ballad of the eight-plus-minute closer “Naegleriasis” with it’s vibey vibraphone and hazy horn section played in waltz time.

And finally, when it comes to the exclamatory qualities of FUCK, the record benefits greatly from the aforementioned intricate arrangements and the impressively warm/crisp/clear yet crunchy/dirty/overdriven production work on the album—produced in collaboration with Dave Downham at Gradwell House in Haddon Heights, New Jersey (Dave is credited with recording, mixing, and mastering the album alongside a full production credit on “Naegleriasis”) and I’m guessing that Butch Vig may be feeling just a little bit jealous now reading this. So whether you consider yourself a “House Pet” (“Nobody taught me how to care / I think I should’ve picked it up somewhere”) or a “Bad Egg” (“I’m searching for that high note / grasping for survival / well, what the fuck do I know”) you may want to follow the former song’s advice to “shimmer while you can” because the album itself follows this advice and it seems to work out pretty well. (Jason Lee)

   

"Subversive To Care" comp released to benefit AAPI communities

In today’s fast-paced modern era of music streaming and profligate playlist making (not to mention Twitch DJing and all the other means of assembling original musical mixes) the notion of an old-school compilation album (or “comp”) may seem hopelessly out of date. But comps can still be wonderful things, and Subversive To Care (referred to as Sub2Care forthwith), which has been released to coincide with the launch of Paul Is Dead Records, checks off many of the boxes that make them good things.



For one thing, comps are often assembled to raise money for charitable/activist organizations and this one fits the bill with proceeds going to several AAPI organizations—The National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum (www.NAPAWF.org), Asian Mental Health Collective (www.ASIANMHC.org) and The Tibet Fund (www.TIBETFUND.org)—in response to alarming levels of hate crimes and ongoing struggles against prejudice against Asian American and Pacific Islander communities.

What’s more, a good comp is a great way to discover new music and new artists without having to continually troll Spotify’s Teen Beats playlist (granted, SyKo’s “#BrooklynBloodPop!” has its pleasures). And with 60 original songs by the original artists Sub2Care should keep you occupied for a while as you make your way from the start (Wake Up’s “Hurricane” in exclusive demo form; the band is pictured above) to the finish (Squires’ “Tombstoning”) so you basically have got a conceptual theme here of moving from wakefulness to the Big Sleep—not that you can’t skip around within and between individual tracks which is another one of the nice things about comps. They’re basically sampler platters in musical form.

Sub2Care was put together by the new LA-based label Paul Is Dead Records (with satellite offices in New York and Wisconsin apparently) and is likely named either after the notorious Beatles urban legend, or the recent death of Paul Van Doren, patriarch of the Van’s sneaker empire. And while LA artists predominate on the comp (speaking of Vans some of these LA artists no doubt look a lot like Jeff Spicoli or perhaps Phoebe Cates) there’s also a decent number from other locales including New York/New Jersey like Frankie Rose, New Myths, Mevius, Dahl Haus, CITYGIRL, Skyler Skjelset (Fleet Foxes), The Natvral (Kip Berman from The Pains of Being Pure at Heart), and Shana Falana (featuring Shana Falana).

Across musical history, comps have occasionally played a key role in defining the sound of a nascent genre or a new record label—like the Lenny Kaye-compiled Nuggets (1972) that set an early template for punk rock, or the 1988 Sub Pop 200 comp that was a who’s who of future grunge all-stars—and while Sub2Care isn’t strictly speaking a “label comp” since it’s made up of tracks donated by “artists who are close friends and family members of our label” quoting label head and co-founder Evan Mui, it’s still got a certain vibe or aesthetic, if you will, while being pretty darn eclectic at the same time.

I would prospectively call this vibe or aesthetic Twilight Music. By Twilight Music I mean songs that’ve got a certain hazy/dreamy/slightly off-kilter quality whether they’re upbeat or downbeat or mid-beat. And in this way it’s good music for putting on around twilight say when you’re pregaming for a Saturday night out (tracks #13 and 14 are two good examples: Smirk’s “Do You?” and Eternal Summers' “Belong”) or waking up Sunday morning trying to recall what happened the previous night (rewind to tracks #10-12: Four Dots’ “I Left My Heart Pump In San Francisco,” D.A. Stern’s “Funky Holocaust (Drunk Demo),” and Big Nitty’s “Chemical Plant”) or songs that fit equally well for either scenario (for example, tracks 32-34: Dahl Haus’ “Silhouettes and Alibis,” Black Needle Noise’s “And Nothing Remains,” Built Like Alaska’s “Ran Into A Coroner").

So throw a few bucks in the Bandcamp bin for Paul Is Dead Records if you like what you hear. And in return you may discover a new favorite artists or two--whether one of the ones mentioned/displayed here or some other deserving object of your musical admiration. (Jason Lee)









 




   

Bubble Tea and Cigarettes take road trip to "Santa Monica"

In keeping with their name, Bubble Tea and Cigarettes capture the enduring pleasures of the most fleeting of pleasures. On the two singles they released in 2020 the bedroom pop combo were just as likely to be found in the kitchen unpacking their latest comestibles with dreamy elegies dedicated to eating empanadas at 5am or about ordering fried chicken from the takeout joint downstairs in the middle of the night and the inevitable reflections upon one’s own mortality (“people all die soon”) provoked by such activities. 

Newly signed to Madrid-based Elefant Records, the duo’s latest single ventures a bit further afield from their local bodega for inspiration, namely all the way to the Left Coast and ocean-adjacent “Santa Monica” in particular where the song and the sumptuous shot-on-location video (dir: Shicong Zhu) depict an amorous yet hesitant couple cruising down the “violet street” of a purple-hued Pacific Coast Highway shooting home movies and sucking on candy ring pops and smoking cigarettes while pondering the question “is this love ended or it never started?” before ending up at an sparsely populated amusement park straight out of Carnival of Souls and cavorting together in slo-mo illuminated only by the lights of the ferris wheel and the colored flames of hand-held sparklers before our narrator is finally left “lost in love” waking up alone in a parking lot as her partner speeds off on a motorcycle.

The languid longing and overall slowcore/sadcore/dreampop vibes of "Santa Monica" are ably assisted by twangy “Duane Eddy on Xanax” guitar, lugubrious strings and mournful castanets (two words you won't see together elsewhere) with vocals that sound as if they’re emanating from a wormhole to another dimension more than from a human body and it all exerts an appropriate gravitational pull. BT&C is comprised of Andi Wang and Ruinan Zhang and while I’m not sure which one of them is “Bubble Tea” and which one is “Cigarettes” it's no matter because together they capture the sugar-and-nicotine rush and subsequent comedown inherent in the combo and I’m guessing that they only left “weed gummies” off from their name because it got to be too long. So grab a jumbo straw and suck down some taro covered tapioca globules in musical form in between drags on a Pall Mall assuming this is up your alley. (Jason Lee)

   

Phantom Handshakes: Shoegaze on Broadway

ALT TITLE: "Dream-pop Girls"

Way back in 2020, the Phantom Handshakes put out a song called “Aisha (Vs the Dirty Tongues)” which just from the title alone sounds like it should be a rock opera. And it’s not just the title because the song’s dramatic, moody music is likewise suited to the stage and would likely appeal to the youth of today since they don’t yet have a rock opera to call their own. Anyway I’d say the time has finally come for a shoegaze/dream pop takeover of Broadway and the West End.



The newest release by the Phantom Handshakes entitled No More Summer Songs could be the album to break the impasse and tap the potential for a dream pop rock opera if somebody could just find the next Mr. Lin-Manuel Miranda and get him or her to write a staged adaptation. I mean just listen to “Cricket Songs” and it’s inner monologue describing the protagonist’s heightened sense of perception in the midst of a summer heatwave complete with bedroom dancing and sweaty sheets and overemotive mothers and drifting off to the sound of chirping crickets. It’s pretty evocative stuff and so is the video above.


The album’s opening track “I Worried” would make a perfect overture with its ghostly echoes looking back at past misspent summers (that’s my take on it anyway) which would serve as a perfect framing device for the musical, and then the next song “No Better Plan” would be the crossover crowd-pleaser with its wordless catchy yet slightly taunting “Nya Na Na” refrain which should translate well to foreign markets.



The song captures a doomed-yet-determined forlornness but with a sunny/boppy melody and beat (sidenote: the aforementioned hit song from Hamilton also has a “Na Na Na” refrain) with lyrics about “building sandcastles despite the wind” which is essentially what King George does in Hamilton

P.S. I’ll gratefully accept a producer co-credit and a modest percentage of the gross box office if this idea comes to fruition. But if it turns out to be the next Moose Murders just remember you didn’t hear any of this from me.

   

Jeremy Bastard threads the needle on debut LP

“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. A needle used to be required to hear pre-recorded music and maybe it still is if you're a vinyl junkie. You also need one to sew a sweater or scarf and other warm and fuzzy things. But "to needle" someone means to bug the hell out of them in a very un-warm and fuzzy fashion. Intravenous needles are used to save lives. But they're also synonymous with drug addition and deadly ODsAnd when you're on "pins and needles” you’re not sure whether to anticipate or to dread a future event. 

“Needle” is also the first song on Jeremy Bastard's Everyone Is History, There Is No Memory, his first full LP as the featured performer and producer. The album is full of warm analogue synths tones but mixed with a coldwave sensibility, and the overall sound is by turns murky and sleek or sometimes both at once. And who knows if we're talking about good needles or bad ones in a song like this, but either way much of music has a pins and needles quality to it in a way that reminds me of the Tech Noir scene in the first Terminator movie.

For one thing there's the death disco vibe of "Needle" that sounds just right for an 80s club with a chain link fence around a neon-saturated dance floor. But there's also something about the sound design like in how the soundtrack gets all echoey and distant sounding just as the scene above transitions to slo-mo visuals. And then the music transitions from diegetic to non-diegetic sound, but so gradually and seamlessly you could miss it if you're immersed in the action too much but it alters your perceptions either way.

Jeremy Bastard's music does this same thing too with overlapping layers of sound that alters your perceptions. Like when waves of echo seems to coalesce and follow their own rhythmic logic independent of the rest of the song. Or when a sound is pushed into the red far enough that you can get lost in its ruptured, distorted interiors. Overall there's a clear focus on being diffuse on the record (Official Paradox of the Day) but just don't get it twisted because this isn't an experimental noise project. It's still a dance record but one that threads the needle with sonic experimentation. 

Take for instance the first of the two tracks featuring Electra Monet on vocals, whose singing could be described as Nico-esque or if you prefer Jane Birkin-esque. Normally if you've got a voice like this to work with you'd expect the producer to make that voice sound as angelic and ethereal and "pure" as possible. Ms. Monet's singing on “Shadow Boxing” is all these things except pure (and all the better for it) because the production highlights the grit and grain of her voice (including, most unusually, the sibilance of echoing "Sssss" sounds) and of the instrumental sounds from the pounding drums to the insistent keyboard ostinato to the John McGeoch like guitar outro. These are dreampop angels with dirty faces.

But then next the third track "Love is a Mistake" (featuring Disolve) would be a perfect fit for John Hughes’ never realized sequel to Pretty in Pink because it's a hooky indie-electro-pop song with romantically tragic overtones that would be perfect for the scene where Duckie drives up to the class reunion blasting the song on his car's cassette player still bitter at how he didn't get Molly Ringwald in the end (sidebar: the ending of Pretty in Pink was changed because Duckie wasn’t considered Molly-worthy enough by test audiences). 

And Jeremy Bastard could play the DJ at the reunion prom because that's something he does too. And on Everyone Is History he holds onto that DJ-minded curatorial mindset by featuring a different singer/lyricist/collaborator on every other track or two, and according to Jeremy himself it was the motivating spark behind the entire project. Exiled to Florida for much of the past year, Jeremy turned to producing and long-distance collaborations as a way to maintain creative momentum and human contact. And in the process he may have found his future musical lane, or one of them, because this one-on-one approach apparently suits his creative muse, at least judging by other recent releases in this format (see below) and bonus non-album tracks from the album's various collaborators that keep popping up as b-sides to its singles like needles in a haystack. (Jason Lee)