Thursday, January 31, 2013

Ten-lane super highways

Retreat From Moscow - In Search of Home
Long Lost Records

Retreat From Moscow (the project of Dubliner Stephen Tunney) sounds absolutely fully formed on debut In Search of Home. It's like opening a modeling kit and peering inside and seeing the airplane has already been assembled. There's acoustic and electric guitar parts that supplement one another, a finely tuned rhythm section, crisp lyrical narratives. I believe Tunney handles all the songwriting and all the instruments. He sounds like he's been playing and arranging for a lifetime, not a tiny, bite-sized portion of one.

In Search of Home calls to mind Oh, Inverted World or Saturday Looks Good to Me. Or even Sarah Records, the guitar pop authority on how to make hearts soar/sag/stop. On "Street Life," Tunney's thin, reedy voice transforms the chorus, "I can't live on the street where you live," into an act of total surrender. It's a decisive moment captured perfectly: He will not stand his ground against the one who spurned his advances but instead, fully retreat.

Tunney actually fizzes over on "With Uncertainty Comes Reassurance," peppering his lyrics with naughty words: "I don't give a fuck about your second or last regret." But even then, Tunney's anger sounds like it comes with its own thin, melancholic-coated shell. Like he's exasperated with this individual, but at the same time, torn up over letting their dissolution occur and even more torn up over realizing there's no chance of hitting the relationship rewind button.

(A completely unrelated side note to all this: On one of my various trips to Ireland—on this occasion, we were gamboling about Killarney—we took a cab to a golf course I have since forgotten the name of. During the ride, the cabbie told us about his recent vacation in Moscow and when asked what he thought of Mother Russia, he only wished to discuss the super highways entering the capital. "They have massive, 10-lane highways going into Moscow. Ten lanes on both sides. Ten going in and ten coming out. Massive. You wouldn't believe it." Part of me believes Stephen Tunney is this man.)

Friday, January 25, 2013

The promise of a pretty boy

The Aqua Dolls - We Are Free
Burger Records

There is ambitious and there is ambitious and there is Mark E. Smith-level ambitious. Finally, there is Burger Records-style ambitious, which at the moment trumps any other variety of ambitious. The Fullerton, Calif., label is releasing a new cassette every day during the month of January. I'm probably telling you something you already know, but that's a fuckton of home dubbing and cutting of inserts.

The Aqua Dolls' We Are Free was the Jan. 6 release. The two-girls-and-one-boy threesome does candied, messy, up-tempo pop that reminds me of Shop Assistants, the Flatmates, and Talulah Gosh.

I jotted down my favorite moments on the inside of an empty popsicle box:
• The opening guitar melody in "Pizza Party" sounds like it has a tiny hitch to it, like a slight pause in between notes. Almost as if the guitarist forgot what to play or his fingers slipped or he was distracted by someone opening a bag of potato chips nearby.
• I particularly dig the manner in which "Keep away!" is sung in the tune of the same name. There's some enmity, sure, but the sendoff is also delivered with a hint of sweetness. Like a handwritten note with the words "We are finished!" and the I's are dotted with tiny hearts.
• "Maybe" is your classic girl-pines-for-boy number. The vocals oscillate between pouty and sultry. The chorus leaves you a bit heartsore ("Maybe you can maybe love me too") until you realize this song is all about promise: the promise of a pretty boy, the promise of a new day, the promise of a whole career writing lovely ballads such as this one.

A mass quantity of bubble wrap

Adultrock - Loves
Long Lost Records

Adultrock never met a synth line it didn't like. This debut cassette from the Newbridge, Ireland act (and on the Irish label Long Lost Records) features purring synths and wilting synths, and synths that are like fizzy champagne bubbles tickling your nose and other synths that leave you feeling tingly in the legs like when you're about to jump from a significant height into water, a snow drift, or a mass quantity of bubble wrap.

Synthesizers provide the foundation to just about every track on Loves. Droning, uncomplicated melodies serve as the backbone, while incessant, staccato synths course through songs like adrenaline through veins. On "Sleeper," the mood and pace is dictated by two different synth lines that flirt, walk hand-in-hand, push one another off bridges, and have make-up sex.

However, my favorite track, "Poplife," is not dominated by synthesizers at all, but the vocals of a singer named Jen Connell. Her words are indecipherable, but that's just fine, because the allure lies in how she sounds, not what she says. And Connell sounds like she's trapped underneath the sonic surface of the song, like the synths have entombed her in glistening, frosted glass, and rather than express panic, she's pleased with this tiny slice of solitude, pleased enough to make the listener feel a pinch of jealousy.