It’s our Bandcamp Picks of the Week, featuring Kinfeplay’s powerful, glacially moving ANIMAL DROWNING and Wilder Maker’s enlightening guest filled rocker MALE MODELS!
Knifeplay – ANIMAL DROWNING
Favorite Tracks: “Promise,” “Deserve,” “Untitled”
Genre: Shoegaze. Post-Rock
It feels reductive to try and put what Knifeplay do in a box—yes, the grunge, shoegaze, and noise rock labels apply to the Philadelphia outfit, but you don’t need to take in more than a minute of “Nobody” to reckon with the grandiose scale of the groups latest record, ANIMAL DROWNING. The lavish strings of the opener color the woozy-yet-muscular slowcore guitar tones, widening the already massive sound of this group; like the rest of their sophomore outing, “Nobody” is a sweeping, cinematic post-rock experience where the builds and erosions of each passage or transition accentuate the simple beauty of the songs.
ANIMAL DROWNING, perhaps more than any other release this year, feels powerful in a way few other albums can; bold instrumental passages, complex crescendoing noise orchestrations, still moments of chilling quiet, and instantly manifested vocals from Tj Strohmer bring an immediacy to this album that is forceful and intentioned. A part of that is that aforementioned post-rock influence—again it’s reductive to boil this band down to the sum of any parts, but you can hear classic staples like Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Mogwai in the walls of sound surrounding the signature Philadelphia slowcore. But the other part is just how relentlessly the tracklist ebbs and flows. By the time we’ve reached the haunting coup de grace one-two-punch of the floating eight minute idyll “Untitled” and the jagged, sobering noise rock ballad “Cold Rain,” there’s a weight you can feel lifting. As heavy and intricate as these orchestral arrangements can be, it never slows down—you could listen to the warped circadian looping of “Promises’” dream pop chorus forever and be content before the band ceremoniously blows it up at the close. Rightfully, ANIMAL DROWNING has become the rare album that only takes one listen to understand the hype, and thankfully the hype is only growing. Give it a listen today over on Bandcamp. [CJ Simonson]
Wilder Maker – MALE MODELS
Genre: Pop, Rock
Favorite Tracks: “Letter of Apology,” “5 Train,” and “A Professional”
I remember writing for blogs in the mid-2000s and seeing everyone find God. I won’t name any acts specifically, but if you were a writer circa 2009, it felt like every new buzzworthy band had opened up the very minds and hearts of my colleagues and showed them profound musical truths. I, on the other hand, mostly found an enjoyable album or two. Does that mean I had more selective taste? Maybe. Did it mean I should’ve been more open and optimistic? Sure. But the fact remains: this “era” felt like a transformative time for attentive music fans.
But, thanks to Wilder Maker, I might finally have my aural apotheosis.
I won’t claim the New York band as some second coming of mega rock acts of the blog era—I’ll only say that their latest album, MALE MODELS, felt like that rush of pure excellence I’ve been waiting for since Barack Obama’s inauguration. I also won’t oversell this LP—some folks might only find it a solid rock record the way I did fifteen years ago. There’s a singular focus and set of structures to this 12-track effort, and that means when it shines, it does so brilliantly. And then it sort of doesn’t elsewhere. But it’s those big moments that offer the rock critic’s true dream: pure transcendence.
It’s in the unassuming-but-organic sense of ’70s-style cool (or detachment?) in “Letter of Apology,” earning the band bona fides in the nostalgia department because (and I’ve researched this) they act like it ain’t no big thing. It’s in the expert use of collaborators: Felicia Douglass lends “A Professional” the credibility needed to make a slightly funky lite jazz song really flourish; Katie Von Schleicher is the aching heart at the center of the disarming “Silver Car;” and Yellow Ostrich integrate with the band proper to make “Surfers Trace” an understated folk ballad brimming with mysterious vibes. It’s in “All Power Must Remain Hidden,” where that band’s aforementioned retro tendencies contort—you could call this the best Black Keys song ever written—showing a mastery of influences and a willingness to embrace other, more novel notions. It’s in “5 Train,” where a fully fleshed guitar part can define the shape and scope of the song, which seems like a particularly effective way to communicate sonically. And it’s in the slow and mournful album closer “Jason,” where this vital, utterly alive LP closes with a whimper of sorts—a maddening choice that works on so many levels.
Maybe you’ll find a similar celestial power elsewhere on this record. But it’s certainly there enough—a living pulse that, at least for this writer, speaks soft truths and shines with a kind of indescribable magic. Still, I don’t want it to seem like I’ve never heard a good record before; there’s heaps of music that’ve set my meager heart ablaze. But this one feels all the more effective for reminding me of a moment in my life where I and some friends/colleagues looked for big ideas in rock albums–only now I’ve actually found the pure joy I’d missed or struggled to find. Do I weep for what was lost, or slap my skill for needing more time and space? Nope. I spin this record and feel something from when the world was alive and scary for a whole other set of reasons. Listen to it now over on Bandcamp. [Chris Coplan]