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Claire Rousay Traverses Liminal Space on “a softer focus”

In her own words, San Antonio artist, claire rousay (stylized in all lowercase) “is a person who performs and records.” She is a skilled percussionist and composer who makes use of her excellent ear for recorded sound to conjure sonic landscapes from the material of everyday life -- sounds from a kitchen, garage, desk, bathroom, or just outside the living room window. Her music prioritizes emotional immediacy, and on “a softer focus,” she has chosen to ruminate on the strange ways that isolation has intensified our fractured relationship to space in the digital era. Much of her discography can be placed within a broader tradition of experimental collage-based music, but “a softer focus” is a more composed release which explores diverse instrumental stylings in service of something more grounded; a classical album which seeks to stimulate the humanity often buried within digital experience.  

 

The first time I heard claire rousay’s music was at Me Mer Mo Monday, a weekly event once held at Volstead Lounge which served as an informal hub for Austin’s underground experimental music scene. The awkward tension between Me Mer Mo and the rest of East Sixth Street would make itself apparent whenever a bachelorette party or frat crew would stumble upon a free jazz or noise set by accident, yet on occasion these two worlds would converge amicably. In the middle of a particularly spacey duet with more eaze, claire set her White Claw down and began scrolling through her phone, but instead of a field recording or a sample, Charli XCX came blaring out of the Aux cord. claire proceeded to play the entirety of Charli’s debaucherous electropop anthem “5 In The Morning” before eventually transitioning back into an abstract jam. 

 

On one level, this was simply a fun moment -- I love Charli XCX and I was also drinking White Claws -- and everyone in the room was smiling. But I was also blown away by the boldness of this decision to insert an untouched pop song into claire and more eaze’s exercise in sonic manipulation. There is a moment on the track “peak chroma” which took me back to this avant-pop crossover: after two and a half seamless tracks of typewriter field recordings, wistful piano and swelling strings, claire’s heavily autotuned voice enters the mix and she begins to sing a melodic verse by crooning “I'm trying not to miss you / I put on the newest blackbear song”. 

 

A staged eavesdropping ensues, and we hear two or three auto-tuned voices whirl around one another as they casually express different attitudes towards posting on social media. One of them has a habit of deleting her posts as soon as they go up online, as she feels uncomfortable extending her sense of self into online space. More bluntly, the final track “a kind of promise” pokes at similar anxieties of technological representation -- a beautiful melancholy piano and string miniature is brought to a violent halt by a warbling cassette tape.

 

On “a softer focus,” recorded space is not limited to the conventional set of environmental sounds (oceans, insects, birds, traffic, etc.) which conventionally signify space or nature, though it does make extensive use of them. As social media usage has further settled into the environments where we live and listen, music which honestly depicts (or perhaps creates) the experience of being present must also include or reference the prepackaged and processed sounds that have found themselves more and more omnipresent in our lives. To me, the title of “a softer focus” deliberately evokes the unconscious experience which underpins the act of scrolling: staring into your screen in motion as sound peaks out at arrhythmic intervals, hinting at other places which arise from our shared topology.

 

By musicalizing the feeling of scrolling, claire rousay has beautifully illuminated the inner processes which guide that banal habit, and while what we do with this perspective is a bigger question, we are better off having heard it for ourselves. It’s important to note that none of these ideas would hit home were it not for the timeless beauty of the compositions that carry them. 

 

- Blake Robbins

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Mind Maintenance "Glow & Glimmer"

Mind Maintenance has released the first single, "Glow & Glimmer", from their forthcoming self-titled debut album which is set to be released on June 11th via Drag City.

This is the duo of bassist Joshua Abrams and drummer Chad Taylor who both traded in the instruments that they are widely known for to take up guimbri and mbira. This allows the duo to explore a more worldly sound from their deep rooted improvisational jazz perspective.

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Spirit of the Beehive take a dark ride on "Entertainment, Death"

Blatantly disregarding the double-live principle of rock school on their fourth full-length, Spirit of the Beehive instead take the listener on a dark ride. The record is called Entertainment, Death and with its cover image of faceless funhouse patrons being beckoned into the mouth of madness of an amusement ride’s entryway, a mouth belonging to a cartoonish but menacing red-eyed devil, we’re given a hint of what’s to come inside--a carnival ride full of herky-jerky twists and turns. 

Entertainment, Death moves restlessly between ambient floating-in-space “tunnel of love” passages like heard in the song above and whiplash passages as illustrated below, similar to when the midway ride's bumper car rolls over a relay switch illuminating a skeleton or some other scary creature leaping out of a casket and lunging straight at you, accompanied by a loud cackling laugh and a spray of hissing steam. 



Despite the seeming stream-of-consciousness of much of Entertainment, Death the album is organized around a conceit that makes thematic sense out of its through-composed structure. Album opener “Entertainment” begins in medias res and ushers the listener through a sonic birth canal of rumbling drones, squealing test tones, scuttling percussion and intense ethereal whooshing. But relative calm then descends with a loping rhythm and chirping birds and a pastoral folk song melody with harmonized vocals informing us that “I woke up when I heard the blow / heading east towards KSMO” a calm that’s broken only slightly by the entrance of glitching synths and a warped string section. 

Guitarist/vocalist Zack Schwartz and bassist/vocalist Rivka Ravede have explained elsewhere that while on tour for 2018’s Hypnic Jerks they suffered a tire blowout in route to a gig in Kansas City, Missouri (a tour that had them opening for the band Ride no less) which led to them imagining a scenario where they perished in the aftermath of a car accident and where their new album would be conceived as a series of fleeting thoughts and musical fragments and distant memories triggered in the split-second leading up to their imminent death occurring on the last track fittingly called “Death.”

More than just an inner space travelogue the record also serves as a reckoning of sorts for lives spent creating and consuming “content” (a.k.a. entertainment) with the Beehive crew expressing some ambivalence and admitting “I regret some choices I’ve made / entertainment only remains / while I keep descending / who will decipher the pain from the lie?” and between the bookmark tracks of “Entertainment” and “Death” the album delves into a sonic and lyrical purgatory for the rest of its running time, descending into Hell for the penultimate multi-part “I Suck The Devil’s Cock,” a song that doesn’t so much advocate demonic fellatio as it advocates demonic fellatio used as a metaphor for the Faustian bargain of selling one’s soul for rock ‘n’ roll or of serving the servants by serving new content to the modern-day deity of the Internet server.

Just in case you're not finding it easy, one good way to get on the wavelength of Entertainment, Death is to read up on what the Buddhists call “bardo”--intermediate, indeterminate state of non-being (based in becoming vs. being) like the twilight state between wakefulness and sleep (a.k.a. hypnagogia) or the cosmic void between life and death or between death and rebirth. Spirit of the Beehive cross the dharmata bardo or “luminous void” described in the Tibetan Book of the Dead with Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle as represented by the record's shifting tempos, warped pitches, flanged timbres and vacillations between chaos and stillness where “enough is never enough” and where the “remember[ed] promise of a future” is replaced by an eternal present. 

Both the quotes directly above are taken from “There’s Nothing You Can’t Do” which transforms a cheap ad slogan into an aspirational mantra and a luminous void (“Property of Void Industries”) and for almost two minutes it comes on like a song you’d hear at a sexy alien discotheque--with a slinky groove wedded to a strangely alluring detuned trumpet and wispy vocals that declare the merits of a “heavy hand, middle class / chemical in a bag / all I want; love me all the time” before lifting off into s hook at 1’13 that's sublime enough for one to overlook the quiet desperation of lyrics like “Could it all be in my head?” and “I made my bed, I’ll lie in it”--a song that just about any other band would leave untouched and promote as their radio-ready new single. But instead SotB drown their potential hit song in the bathtub toward its end, submerging it under waves of feedback and distortion and paranoid-sounding screaming that promises “I’ll be your friend” over and over again but which I usually hear as asking “Are you afraid?”

 

And so with Entertainment, Death the Philly-based three piece (reduced from five on their last LP; Zach and Rivka are joined here by multi-instrumentalist Corey Wichlin) Spirit of the Beehive have assembled fragments of their musical past--ranging from early shoegaze and noise-based music to sample-based collage and dreamy indie rock and electronic experimentation--into a cut-and-pasted musical journey that combines the aforementioned elements with other influences (e.g., vaporwave) resulting in a manifesto for the end times that beckons you to enter the void and to buy their band t-shirts and art works. (Jason Lee)





Queen Mob bring on the "Pop Sickle"

Queen Mob are a two-piece from Psychedelphia, who as individuals go by the names Beth and Colin, and if they placed a band personals ad it'd probably read something like “freak-folk-shoegaze-vaporwave band seeks absolutely no one because we don’t collaborate and we don’t cooperate.” 

Over the past year Queen Mob have released one album and one EP (Easy, Liger and Against A Pale Background) and three singles (“Comeback,” “Sidecar,” and “Pop Sickle”) the last of which I’m declaring to be the best runaway-carousel/broken-calliope music I’ve heard since MGMT’s “Lady Dada’s Nightmare”. 

In their recorded work to date the band have already demonstrated impressive range by alternately sounding like an inebriated Beck, an inebriated Swervedriver, and an inebriated Jandek (so, just, Jandek). Or maybe instead of inebriated they're just experimental. It's not really our business how they get to that place. 

Beth herself describes the single above as “haunted dystopian electronic music” and that strikes me as pretty accurate for their lastest music. So hop on to the merry-go-round and hold to your horse pole becuase Queen Mob will take you on a ride. (Jason Lee)





Anastasia Coope releases "Norma Ray" into the wild

Here at Deli Enterprises Inc. we don’t cover nearly enough of the freak folk. And so to make amends we present the debut single out today by Anastasia Coope called “Norma Ray.”

Or not. Because there’s really no obvious label to apply to this music (plus who am I to gauge the level of freakiness?) which is an encouraging thing to say about any new artist. About the best way I can come up to describe the sound of “Norma Ray” is to say it's like if Liz Phair went in a more experimental ambient post-rock direction early in her career (or later in her career). Or like if PJ Harvey made a psychedelic acoustic album produced by Brian Eno. Or like if Joanna Newsom hired Jane Birkin, Kate Bush, and Diamanda Galas as backing vocalists and gave them an echo box and told them to imitate a flock of seagulls. No, not the band, actual seagulls. Or like if…well, just listen to the song below and insert your own scenario because I don’t get paid by the musical simile sorry to say.

Anyway we have it straight from Anastasia herself that she “draws from influences such as Vashti Bunyan, Family Fodder, David Berman, Animal Collective, and early electronic composers in the vein of Daphne Oram” and that she's also way into “Stereolab, the Everly Brothers, Steve Reich, Neu!, Pylon, Silver Jews, Spacemen 3, Faust, Broadcast, and many more” which means there is probably some more interesting music coming down the pike because that's quite a list. (editors note: see the Purple Mountains/David Berman ((RIP)) cover version appended at the bottom of this entry)

Anastasia goes on to explain she “began writing music in a serious sense when quarantine began” and that she “continued this endeavor throughout my first year at Pratt Institute where I study painting.” Which points to some interesting parallels between some of Ms. Coope's paintings with their oversized pointillistic portraiture (check out some of the paintings here) and the musical architecture of “Norma Ray” with its swarm of pinging echoes moving across the stereo spectrum like dots against an open-skied horizon created by faraway avian creatures in flight. And speaking of avian creatures in flight, I feel like this must be something like what bats hear when navigating by bio sonar aka “echolocation” and hey there’s a good name for this musical style or we could go with batcore instead. (did I say seagulls before well nevermind)



So, like, “Norma Ray” is a cool headphone listen for sure and it may even serve as good bio-sonar training for aspiring vampires. But the unorthodox vocal sounds are grounded by acoustic guitar backing and a small choir of overdubbed voices singing incantatory phrases in unison meaning this song could be used to ward off vampires and vampire bats too maybe. Quoting from Anastasia's bandcamp page the combined effect is both “disruptive and whimsical” and that's pretty dead-on, much like a tragicomic mime who experiences love and loss with a ragtag traveling circus or better yet a moonstruck Pierrot. And speaking of Pierrot Lunaire the seductive sonic disorientation of "Norma Ray" is mirrored in the song's lyrics with its opening image of reflective surfaces (“maybe five screens will do what she wants them too”) a line that's repeated and refracted through a new melodic contour followed by additional shards of impressionistic imagery and interior thoughts.

In conclusion, you can take your pick whether the song is more like a Kate Bush fever dream or a gaggle of vampire bats or a transitional Fellini movie or a ritual of mystical incantation or the musings of a moonstruck clown--or maybe if we're judging by the title it's an imagined dialogue between the nearly-titular labor activist and surrealist painter/photographer May Ray because why not. (editor's note: remember, you don't get paid per simile or metaphor) But whatever. The real takeaway is that Anastasia Coope paints a vivid, memorable picture in just under two minutes even if you can’t quite make out what the picture represents which is probably why I used/abused the word "like" eleven times in the text above. (Jason Lee)

 
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