Recordings | May 2015

Three albums we're listening to this month

By Cait Brennan, May 2015 Issue.

Mary Epworth
Dream Life
Highline Records |  5stars

MaryEpworthThe tendency in music reviews is to compare something new to something that’s come before, which is an impossible task with Mary Epworth. One can suss out influences and inspirations, but she’s an artist of breathtaking originality and rare courage. From the astonishing single “September” – potentially the greatest minute and a half in the history of rock – to the eerie, lysergic synth-funk of “The Wolf And The Woods,” Epworth pushes deeper into the mystic than any other contemporary artist. Think Bowie, St. Vincent, PJ Harvey and Kate Bush. She’s that good.

Her debut, Dream Life, is a heady mix of psychedelia, harmony-soaked sunshine pop, take-no-prisoners rock and fever-dream imagery that will stay with you long after it’s over. “Long Gone” starts off almost at a whisper before its chorus thunders across the sky triumphant on the wings of archangels, all gospel fire and pagan heart. But the second punch lands even harder: “Black Doe,” a secret in the woods, all mystery and hushed tones, suddenly blasts open with a fuzz-pedal feedback apocalypse and drums that pound harder than any Sabbath or Stooges album ever could.

The perfect “Sweet Boy” left its broken heart in Hawthorne, Calif., while “Two For Joy” amps up the dizzying psych-shoegaze quotient to great effect. “Heal This Dirty Soul” makes the gospel influence explicit. “Six Kisses” recalls a bit of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” (but thankfully is not another cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”). “Ray Of Sunlight” ends the set like an alternate-universe Laurel Canyon psych gem, like Neil Young jamming with Linda Perhacs. You’ve never heard music like this. Dream Life came out in the United Kingdom in 2012, but is just now being released here, and Epworth is currently on tour in the US and already has a new album is in the works.

Derek Bishop
Bicycling In Quicksand
derekbishop.net |   4stars

derekbishopOut artist Derek Bishop gave us one of 2012’s underappreciated delights with his debut album Resistance Is Beautiful. This lively and enjoyable set of piano-based pop, inspired by his experiences growing up gay in rural West Virginia, is a fine record, but occasionally its indie recording limitations get in the way of the songs. On his latest, Bicycling In Quicksand, Bishop’s mighty hooks and winning charm are complemented by a giant wall-of-sound production by Jay Braun (Jon Spencer Blues Explosion) and a full band that features Braun, Luis Illades of Pansy Division and Emily Panic of Foxygen.

“Baggage” is the first single, featuring a hilarious music video that plays on gay stereotypes of the past 40-plus years, but the real treat is the music, which ranges from Manilow’s Copacabana rhythms and ‘80s synthpop to lush harmonies in the space of a couple of minutes and a narrative worthy of the Pet Shop Boys. Funky, fun and dynamic, Bishop brings that spirit to the rest of the album. Opening track “Backburning” kicks off with a merciless synth-bass line and a syncopated early ‘80s groove that could give “Uptown Funk” a run for its money.

“Number Ten” is not, in fact, about a torrid affair with British Prime Minister David Cameron, but rather an exuberant New Wave homage that sounds straight out of early MTV, only better. Analog synths and chunky guitar riffs duke it out on the tasty “Taffy,” while the dramatic title track plays a little like a hard-rocking show tune, with a samba swing and Bishop’s candid, funny, no-BS lyrics. “Red Flags” reminds us how clear everything is in retrospect, while the closer, “Toesmashers,” sounds like a modern take on one of the great girl-group belters of the ‘50s and ‘60s. Inspired and inspiring, Bicycling In Quicksand is one of the best indie pop records of the year.

Bogan Via
Madly EP
soundcloud.com/bogan-via |  4stars

BoganViaMadlyThere was a moment, in the ‘80s, where the film noir vibe of the 1940s looked a lot like the future. Blade Runner, Body Heat, Slam Dance, the Motels’ “Only The Lonely” and Wang Chung’s “Dance Hall Days” to name but a few, suggested that the future belonged to conflicted guys and complex dames in a gorgeous neo-noir future ‘40s world.

Whether they know it or not, Bogan Via may be the living embodiment of that prophecy. Stylish, haunting and unforgettable, Brett Bender and Madeleine Miller have captured a perfect mix of future-forward synth-pop and timeless indie sounds. Founded (and still beloved) in Phoenix, Bogan Via recently relocated to Los Angeles. Their latest EP, Madly, puts them at serious risk of becoming the best synth-pop duo since Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart’s Eurythmics.

Since moving to LA, Bogan Via’s songs have taken on a richer, more complex sound, with shadowy, sinister undertones that are fittingly LA. On the excellent title track, Bender’s edgy, achy vocals convey a heady rush of desperate emotions over a pulsating, anxious beat. “Feelin’ Alright” showcases Miller’s pure, deceptively winsome voice, as much rueful as it is a seductive siren call for yet another chance. The shimmering synth riff drives this one on through the night, and it may be their best work yet.

“Dandelion” showcases Bogan Via’s uncanny gift for melodies and atmospheric, synth-rich soundscapes, with undeniable beats and a call and response that will have you singing along, too. “Runnin’” features Danish chanteuse Kirstine Stubbe Teglbjaerg, whose vocals blend with Miller’s for an amazing harmonic effect. Two fine dance remixes of “Feelin’ Alright” round out the set. Their retro-future (or retro-now) aesthetic really shines in their videos (check out “Kanye” and “Gatsby” for starters).