Liance - The Rat House

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The most formative years of your life seem to happen when you least expect them. Despite the narrative spun by popular culture, the most important events in your life are not always confined to childhood, or your first relationship, or any other “expected” demarcation point. You don’t get to plan the twists in your life, the only thing you can control is how you react to them. 

No matter what form these events take in your own life, we often don’t recognize them for what they are until they’re over. They become symbolic in our own narrative. One monument within an ever-changing mythology that we venture back to, draw from, and reflect upon for decades to come. On his newest EP as Liance, Brighton-based musician James Li has crystalized this time in his life and put it on display for the entire world to see. 

In contrast to his ambient project Ministry of Interior Spaces, Liance exists as a more autobiographical musical entity, weaving personal tales of grief, love, and loss all of which pull inspiration from his own life. Recorded between 2014 and 2018, The Rat House acts as a companion piece to Bronze Age of the Nineties, both of which recount Li’s time during college in Michigan and the hyper-formative events surrounding him at that time. 

We should all be so lucky to have the feeling of our college experience remembered in such a beautiful and undegredated form. From the people you meet to the specific details of one night’s drunken adventures, college contains some of the most important memories of your life, and often they only live inside your head. As the years tick by those memories get fainter and fainter, so it’s best to document them now before the whos and the whys become unclear

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In The Rat House’s 1-minute opening track “Bernie Rally,” Li recalls a chance encounter with someone at a Bernie Sanders rally. While the details date the song to a specific time and place, the feeling he manages to capture is a universal truth. A single spark that comes from a seemingly-divine meeting, an evening spent together, and then nothing. It’s a compact tale that opens the album on a bittersweet but lovingly-emotional note. 

Title track “The Rat House” acts as the album’s lush centerpiece, a multi-layered work pulling a wide range of instruments and wrapping them up into a single reflective package. Beginning with an uneasy guitar, the song grows over time and introduces a slowly-mounting drumline alongside gorgeous brass accompaniment all while retaining the same core melody and mood. It’s a single-song journey that aches with passionate beauty before exploding into sound, light, color, and life. 

Songs like “Milk” and “Julian” serve to further the plot of Li’s life through vignettes of abstracted beauty. Whether accompanied by banjo, dulcimer, or piano, each track adds on to the mythology of his own created life, sketching a portrait for the audience to absorb and internalize. 

The language Li uses throughout the release is both careful and loving. Lyrics like “I like the pictures that you take / I want to live in pictures you take” illustrate a distant form of appreciation that’s tapered off into something else entirely. Similarly, lines like “This house is stained with me and you” stand on their own and prod the listener into thinking deeply about the story being weaved while simultaneously projecting their own experience onto it. 

The Rat House is a beautiful release, and clocking in at only 14 minutes, it’s a marvel that Li was able to pack such a lovely amount of well-lived feeling into such a short space. It’s a heart-rending exposition of the self, and one that can only exist through music. It’s self-documentation of the highest degree. 

Sometimes remembering our own past is the only way to move forward, and The Rat House is a wonderful way to capture the multi-layered flash of one’s college years. While the album only documents Li’s specific experiences, its themes, tales, and feelings are unshakably universal. There’s likely to be at least a few moments in the EP’s 14 minutes that will send a rush of blood to long-forgotten memory in a distant corner of your brain. 

The Rat House is a beautifully-crafted release that impresses its feelings upon you and leaves you better for it. Years compressed into minutes. A lifetime of feelings that you didn’t even know you shared with the rest of the world. 

It’s rare to find a piece of art that feels so personal and relevant to your own life while also managing to tell the creator’s story effectively. Throughout this EP we see an artist who is tapped into something bigger, a universal struggle not just for happiness, but for life. The Rat House is the sound of hundreds of memories being unearthed, and it’s here to take you on that journey whenever you're ready.

InCrest - The Ladder The Climb The Fall

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Sensory overload has become a fact of life in a post-smartphone world. We live in a time where binging and excess have become the norm while pause and reflection have fallen by the wayside. It’s not that history isn’t valued, it’s that we literally don’t have time to revel in it. When the entirety of recorded music is a single click away, there’s a weird pressure to stay “up to date,” and it often feels like we don’t have enough time to look back and reflect on what has brought us here. In the midst of this hyper-consumer culture, there are a select handful of artists who possess a unique ability to shake us by the shoulders and remind us of what we’re missing, and that’s precisely what InCrest is offering up on The Ladder The Climb The Fall.

Hailing from Copenhagen, Denmark, InCrest is here to ensure no one forgets the majesty of the 90’s rock greats. Inspired by some of the genre’s best like Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Pearl Jam, InCrest’s newest album acts as a 39-minute time machine, a full-bodied reminder of how and why this era of music worked so well. 

The record starts off like a powderkeg on “No Second Chance” where an explosive drumline and lively riff throw the listener headlong into the band’s fast-paced style. They up the ante even further on “Nightcrawler,” the album’s lead single which boasts a hard-charging instrumental that builds up to an anthemic chorus.

Lead singer Malte Slywest’s vocals are immediately reminiscent of Scott Weiland’s grungy rasp; meanwhile the guitar, bass, and drums fuse together into an impactful force. The entire instrumental feels tightly-honed but also has enough of an edge that it retains that “throwback” style while simultaneously feeling uniquely-modern. 

Throughout the album, every band member gets a chance to show their respective chops on various tracks whether it’s the rapid bassline on “Aces” or the crashing cymbals on “100 and Ten.” More than that, the band as a unit show their range on songs like “Highway” and “Neversleep” which provide the audience a temporary breather as the album’s two slower-paced tracks. 

It’s nice to know that in today's fast-paced, ever-moving, always-online world there’s a band like InCrest carrying the torch of a seemingly-forgotten genre. The Ladder The Climb The Fall serves as a reminder of a simpler time in music, and a simpler time in the world. They say those that don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it, and InCrest are here to make sure we never do.

Symmetrix - Being There

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Everyone’s truth sounds different. For some, it’s poetic confessions placed over a single acoustic guitar. For others, it’s expansive instrumental music that encapsulates what words cannot. For Marita Ryan, it’s hypnotic electronic music, soulful instrumentals, and inspiring words of personal belief.

Hailing from Melbourne Australia, Ryan began recording under the name Symmetrix back in 2013 with a vision of creating something that could combine both her love of electronica and indie pop, with a bit of rock music thrown in for good measure. Influenced by everything from 80’s synth-pop to alternative and shoegaze, Symmetrix has evolved into a unique fusion of indie and electronica in the vein of Half Waif or Hatchie.

Musical influences aside, Symmetrix’s upcoming album Being There is a wholly-unique and ever-shifting release that’s sure to surprise listeners of every musical background. Whether it’s the betrayal of a close friend, an ongoing battle with inner demons, or the impact of technology on our culture, Ryan’s lyrics run the gamut but offer a comprehensive sketch of everything that’s on her mind. 

All recorded over precise instrumentation, each song is a self-contained journey that sounds nothing like what’s come before it. From a radiant synth beat on “From Here On End” to a downright Frusciante-esque guitar solo on “Where Have You Gone,” the range of influences on display is vast and comprehensive. 

Everyone's journey is different, as is how we present it to the world. We’re lucky to live in a world where artists like Symmetrix can crystallize their truth for the rest of us to live through.

HOFFEY - “Love Is Wild”

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At some point, everyone has experienced the same type of relationship. The one that changes you. The one that alters your brain chemistry. The one that rises so high above everything else that it eclipses your sense of self. That sort of passion is the fuel burning at the center of HOFFEY’s new single “Love Is Wild.”

Based out of Vancouver, Canada, Jordan and Erika Toohey met when they were studying music abroad in Sydney, Australia. While their relationship initially centered around writing and performing songs together, the two soon found that their bond went far beyond music. Now married and releasing songs together as HOFFEY, the duo’s debut single “Love Is Wild” was released on July 27th.

Just in time for your mid-summer playlist, “Love Is Wild” is a dynamic song that captures the feeling of infatuation that comes with a new relationship. Beginning with a scrambled version of the instrumental, the track quickly warms up to a boiling point within seconds as the drums kick in and Erika starts singing words of commitment and love. With Jordan placed just under her in the mix singing the exact same lyrics, it gives the song a borderline pitch-shift effect that makes it feel as if the words are simultaneously being sung from both the male and female perspective. 

As they mirror each other’s words of devotion the rhythm warbles beneath the duo until they reach the chorus. Suddenly Erika takes the spotlight and the beat reduces to its most minimal components. As she sings the track’s namesake, the song explodes into a vibrant explosion of light and color that's both dancy and engaging. Evoking the best parts of MØ, Diplo, and Banks, “Love Is Wild” is an exciting electronic single that bottles up the feeling of intoxication into an exotic and affectionate three minutes.

Stream “Love Is Wild” on your platform of choice here.

Small Town Junkies - The Music Industry Is Dead.

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Schools play a vital role in our culture. Sure, they teach basic skills like reading, writing, math, and science, but they also serve an important function as the first line of defense in our society’s moral compass. School is the first time most children figure out who they are, how to interact with others, and what’s right and wrong. While most kids learn by doing, there are also a certain number of platitudes everyone has instilled in them from an early age. Treat others the way you want to be treated. Sharing is caring. And, of course, “don’t judge a book by its cover.”

While these principles serve as revelatory words of wisdom in our youth, they sort of just fade into the background once we reach adulthood. Call it jaded, or heartless, or just chalk it up to a sad by-product of caring less, but these tenants that seemed so important in childhood quickly become eclipsed with different concerns like fitting in, making money, and capitalistic self-worth. 

And I’m not just pointing fingers here; I’ll be the first to admit I wish I considered these phrases and their implications more often. I’ve recently caught myself judging a book by its cover not only in life, but in my hobbies too. From music and video games to TV and movies, sometimes I’m just looking for an excuse not to like something. Whether its a TV show with an impenetrable mountain of episodes, a viral video that’s a few minutes too long, or an album with a cover I don’t like, sometimes it’s easier to just write some off before committing to it. This is all to say that I judged Small Town Junkies before I’d heard even one song, and now I wish I hadn’t. 

Hailing from Streetsboro Ohio, Small Town Junkies is a multi-faceted music project helmed by David Stump creating emphatic alternative rock that’s so steeped in 90’s Love it would make J Mascis blush. After making waves in his local scene with “Vampire Summer” off Small Town Junkies’ first EP, Stump segued this newfound visibility into multiple projects including the group’s debut full-length, an acoustic album, a stoner rock album, and a highly-collaborative internet-fueled record. Now ready to drop his newest LP as Small Town Junkies, Stump’s 12-song The Music Industry is Dead. is set to release September 28th.

While Stump’s blown-out HDR-abusing aesthetic is consistent across his Bandcamp page, album art, and music videos, I jumped into The Music Industry is Dead. expecting something completely different than what I got. The record’s titular opening track wades the listener into the album with a self-deprecating, tongue-in-cheek sentiment as Stump sings “The Music Industry is Dead / I’d rather read a book instead” over a jangly guitar. Shifting from a low vibrato into a bright chorus, the song opens up like a county road in a moment that sets both the tone and mission statement for the remainder of the album. Content to spread ideas and connect with an audience, Small Town Junkies admit that there’s no money in what they’re doing, but that’s why they’re doing it. Stump and his band are chasing something ephemeral, something soul-affirming, something more

Third track “Never Enough” serves as the album’s lead single, a distorted and funky cut with a rhythm that sways back and forth at an extremely-headbangable pace. Alternating between chest-inflating southern rock verses and high-rising choruses, “Never Enough” centers around a groovy riff that leads to both an early-album highlight and an absolutely killer single. 

Once I’d made it even a few tracks in, I was able to see the brilliance that lied in wait behind the album’s multi-colored cover. Actually a wonderfully-apt indicator of the record’s vibrancy and maximalism, I quickly found myself regretting my initial judgment. 

After that early trio of songs, the album takes the listener on a voyage of childhood memories, long-lost love, and newfound hope. Both “The Haymaker” and “I Feel Fine” revel in memories of recess, cafeterias, and schoolyard fights, meanwhile “We Just Met” is an earnest recount of love on first (or second) sight that’s at once hilarious and heartfelt. From getting lost in the minutiae of caller ID and living room dates to the double-edged sword of being unemployed (which means having all the time in the world, but none of the money), the album is packed with clever observations and catchy choruses. 

The style and texture of Music Industry also change as the album ventures forward. “Not Alone” is one of the record’s most slow-moving tracks with a spaced-out and airy guitar that quickly ratchets up the distortion on the choruses for a borderline stoner rock effect. Much like Bush’s “Bomb,” the track builds beautifully into explosions of love and regret that swirl together into a void of nostalgia.

Album closer “We Made It” centers around an earnest slice of life tale about busking for ice cream. The song builds up to a gummy Weezer-esque chorus that’s guaranteed to get stuck in your head for hours. But it’s not over there, the secret song “Mean Pitbull” makes its entrance after several minutes of silence with a pang of blown-out guitar. Sending the listener off on a reminder of the joy that can be found in the simple things, the final song bears an endearing message of happiness wrapped around one of the album’s most well-crafted choruses. 

The Music Industry is Dead. has more cards up its sleeve than you might initially expect. Despite how harshly I judged the album based on its cover, I found myself emerging from the LP having enjoyed every second of it. Deeply personal, sometimes troubled, but incredibly well-put-together, The Music Industry is Dead. is an alternative rock release that’s guaranteed to take you back to the amber-coated memories of your 90’s childhood.