hope all is well presents:
The forms AT the monkey house
WITH fixtures, plastique mammals, grease face
DATE: Thursday, march 22nd
VENUE: the monkey house [30 Main St, Winooski, VT 05404]
TICKETS: $5 [21+] // $7 [Under 21]
Every so often, an album comes along that seems to operate entirely within its own orbit; to obey its own peculiar, inscrutable logic.
Native Land, the first full-length outing in a full decade from the musically meticulous Queens-based duo The Forms, is just such an enigma. It is – to put it simply and not quite squarely – an album of electronic dance-pop as envisioned by a couple of reformed auteurist math-rockers. It’s leftfield pop with left-brain chops. The familiar sound of young hip America, made newly strange. A pleasantly disorienting experience, rendered with crisp, hyperrealistic precision.
Which is not to say that Native Land is a record entirely free of sonic context. Indeed, its eleven tracks are audibly steeped in the sounds that have emanated from the band’s neighboring Brooklyn (and throughout the indie-verse) over the past decade and a half: the trebly, ersatz-tropical percolations of Tanlines and Yeasayer; the emphatic, beat-heavy propulsion of !!! and Out Hud; the densely polychromatic vocal- and electronic-overload (and general outré loopiness) of Animal Collective, Gang Gang Dance and Dan Deacon. But it approaches these well-trodden reference points from fresh, unfamiliar angles; effectively rebooting and rebuilding 21st century art-pop from the ground up. It’s as if the duo picked up a slightly dusty, late-00s-vintage indietronica toolkit off of Craigslist and, upon discovering it was missing the instruction manual, decided to write their own.
The resulting music could perhaps be pithily described– to borrow the title of one typically off-kilter cut – as “metadance.” These are fizzy, hands-in-the-air anthems assembled with wonkish, nose-in-a-book exactitude. This is unflinching musical experimentalism stretched to the brink of pop immediacy – or is it vice versa?
Well, it’s actually tough to say, although the specifics of Native Land’s lengthy and rather curious gestation – which point toward some explanations for the album’s striking singularity – would argue for the former.
A bit of history might be in order. Native New Yorkers Alex Tween and Matt Walsh, who’ve made music together since they were in high school, skyrocketed to the apex of mid-aughts indie cool when their epigrammatic self-released, Steve Albini-recorded debut offering, Icarus, received rapturous plaudits from Pitchfork, and the rest of the fledgling indie-rock internet, for its obstreperously arty, mathematical post-rock. An eponymous full(er)-length follow-up tempered the group’s knotty, technical compositions and instrumentalism with increasing warmth and melodicism. But it was 2011’s oddball Derealization EP – a “reimagining” of the band’s earlier material that featured guest vocals from some of their musical heroes: Shudder To Think’s Craig Wedren, The National’s Matt Berninger and Andrew Thiboldeaux of Philadelphia art-rockers Pattern is Movement – that pointed the dynamic (albeit highly roundabout) way forward.
While vocalist/guitarist/pianist Alex Tween, the more “physical instrument-oriented“ half of the duo, was busy wrangling Derealization into its finished form, Walsh (who’s also responsible for the idiosyncratic side-project/alter-ego Desert Fathers) occupied himself with creating what would become the seed material for the group’s next endeavor. Drawing inspiration from Olaf Stapledon’s 1937 sci-fi novel Star Maker, in which an omnipotent, dispassionate but diligent creator figure makes a series of trial worlds in a quest to create the “perfect universe,” Walsh set out to create music that evoked “pure, colorless energy.” This project yielded dozens of brief, synth-based musical fragments, some of them just a few seconds long, which Tween later assembled into more song-like structures, sometimes re-recording the fragments or supplementing the synthesizers with more organic sounds including steel pans, cello, hammond organ, tack piano and, on the album’s airy, mesmeric finale “All Souls Day,” a custom-built set of bass steel pans. Only after these often convoluted musical structures were in place did Tween begin the painstaking process of carefully tailoring melodies to fit them, as though injecting color and humanity into Walsh’s inert musical worldlings.
It’s an odd way to make a pop record, for sure, and an ambitious one at that – and the results are varied as they are distinctive: from the euphoric smash-hit electro-dance of “Southern Ocean” and the pounding piano pop of “L=R” to the stuttering, circular rhythms of “Backstep” and the surging, drifting bewilderment of “Finds Its Own.”
Then again, for this band, ambition and oddness are more or less a mother tongue. Though it sometimes seems light years away from the harder-edged, guitar-based territory of their early work, making this album was a sort of homecoming for The Forms, a return to a natural state that they’d perhaps never previously attained: working purely as a duo; recording at leisure in their home-based studios – at first in Ridgewood and then relocating to Rockaway Beach, less than a mile from where Walsh was born. This is their comfort zone. This is their Native Land.
Fixtures are a four piece band, founded in the Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY. Their new EP, "Trust Yourself, I Guess" has 5 songs containing varying levels of noise, hooks and harmonies that can belie their subject matter. They are happy sounding sad songs. Their work is best described as "music for people going through some shit right now." Fixtures are Jay McGuire on bass, K. Liakos on vocals and guitar, Alain Paradis on guitar and vocals and Robin Fowler on drums. Jerry is a skull.
Grease Face is a three-piece band that currently resides in Burlington, Vermont. The three gentleman became aquatinted in elementary school school out in sunny Hinesburg, Vermont. Skipping class and honing their punk rock chops while developing a taste for loud noises in their parent's garage, Grease Face has indefinitely characterized themselves as garage-punk-rock. With or without the hyphens. Grease Face is wild. Grease Face is GREASY.