Two years ago, David Keenan of The Wire coined the name “hypnagogic pop” for a strain of lo-fi, 1980s-centric psychedelia, or “pop music refracted through the memory of a memory.” I’m surprised that by, what 2009?, that genre name hadn’t been claimed already. I remember back in 2004 when a friend of a friend who worked at Google sent me a Gmail invitation and we were so excited. We typed 6-letter combinations into the field to see if they’d been taken already. We need a field like I can type genre names into. By the way, “refracted through a memory of a memory”? Give me a fucking break. Though Ariel Pink’s AM-radio concoctions made him a godfather, Keenan placed James Ferraro– previously known as part of the noise duo Skaters– at the center of this “movement.” In Keenan’s article, Ferraro’s first quote went like this: “I’ve always viewed my music as just sort of plugging into a matrix of human-alien culture, through plugging into a world broadcast of media entities that jump out of the screen and merge with life via people internalizing them as soundtracks for life temples.” Ok, then.

Ferraro’s music can be as confusing as that rambling proclamation. But not to you because you know what this shit is about. Yet there’s a weird, hermetic kind of logic to both. Whatever a “life temple” might be, you can imagine it when you hear his mysterious, hyper-referential sound. He relies on samples, loops, and the textures and aura of 80s pop not hermetic— the kind heard on worn-out VHS tapes and glitchy video games. And he turns cheesy clichés also not Hermetic— preset keyboard melodies, phasey riffs, falsetto choruses– into something hypnotic and almost cyber-spiritual, like a photocopy blurred by generations of reproduction until it becomes a Magic Eye painting the least hermetic thing you’ve mentioned so far.

Often, this approach can produce remarkably catchy music. I’m waiting. Are you going to make a remark about how catchy it is? Night Dolls with Hairspray in particular is filled with hooky gems. Ok, thanks. Its plunging bass lines, warped guitar riffs, and crooning vocals bounce around the stereo space like lasers in a hall of mirrors. Listening feels like peeking into the mind of a pop-culture-addled 80s teen– an effect enhanced by lyrics about adolescent concerns sung in a pre-pubescent whine. Hissy, muffled, and oddly funny, Night Dolls can get pretty dizzying. Some might even find its sheen nauseating, much the way audiences left The Blair Witch Project more sick from the shaky camerawork than scared by the plot. But for anyone enchanted by Ariel Pink, there’s lots to love in Ferraro’s murky pop.

Just don’t wait around for him to tone it down. I’m not waiting for shit. More often, in the massive discography he’s built, he turns the queasiness up to 11. No, you do. In the resulting swamps of noise, ghosts of pop songs, movie soundtracks, TV ads, and other fleeting ephemera stew and rumble, but never quite break through the stubborn surface of his dense mix. That’s the mode that Ferraro is in on On Air, first issued as a limited CD-R on Olde English Spelling Bee and recently pressed onto vinyl by Underwater Peoples. Here, he seems to man a black-hole radio station, mixing in surreal announcements and static-laden transitions. Snippets of melody and blasts of noise slam into each other, with single tracks often containing four or five chunks of what could be songs on their own. Maybe Ferraro’s own trippy titles explain it best: “Electrocuted Hair”, “New Waver From Hawaii Saturn”, “Virtual Sumo Bubble Gum”, “Cyber Shock Headtroplolis”. Those could all be the names of Boredoms outtakes, and On Air‘s arty mess recalls that group as well as Yamantaka Eye’s even nuttier Hanatarash.

Much the way that listening to a lot of Boredoms can alter your perception of what music is and how it works, It has only altered my perception of how I spend my free time making it through On Air is a bit of a brain-altering experience. You are a master of the understatement. By the end of it, you might understand Ferraro’s Wire quote a little better, whether or not you can explain why. Plugging in, jumping out, merging with life– on paper they sound like discarded New Age platitudes, but in the hands of James Ferraro, those ideas regain the electric charge of epiphany. Which ideas. No seriously, I lost you a little bit.

Marc Masters, July 18, 2011

I checked out this Ariel Pink and I don’t know if I’d call s/him a godfather.

uncrucial, July 22, 2011


Nothing is sacred to the Men. For one, this Brooklyn quartet’s name is pretty much identical to that of fellow New Yorker JD Samson’s active post-Le Tigre project, MEN. And to dub this record Leave Home cuts it real close to one of the greatest tracks in early 20th-century proto country music by the man himself, Charlie Poole– totally profane. These guys don’t give even a little bit of a fuck. Their 2010 sophomore release, Immaculada, featured a caterwauling noise-punk thrasher called “Oh Yoko” that had absolutely nothing to do with the classic John Lennon song, or Ms. Ono herself, for that matter. Their new album swipes its title from a legendary record by New York’s most famous punk band, the Ramones. And part way through the obliquely titled mid-album track “( )”, when the band realize they’re ripping off the fuzz-bomb riff to Spacemen 3’s “Revolution”, they just go ahead and swipe a line from the song too, thieves and cap it with another quote from Spacemen’s “Take Me to the Other Side” for good measure nice measure And yet: For all the cheeky references and inside jokes at play on the Men’s Leave Home, you’d be hard-pressed to find a purer, no-bullshit, serious-as-a-heart-attack rock record released this year. I don’t get hard-pressed by shit.

Listening to Leave Home feels a lot like living inside of Michael Azerrad’s 1980s indie-rock tome Our Band Could Be Your Life, variously bringing to mind Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr.’s SST stints, Sub Pop-vintage Mudhoney, and Touch and Go-era Butthole Surfers (who surely would approve of a song title like “Shittin’ With the Shah”). Tellingly, Azerrad’s book ties up its narratives the moment its subjects signed to majors– partly because, technically speaking, they ceased to be indie rock at that point but, more importantly, because those artists produced their most enduring, groundbreaking music while recording for independent labels. Leave Home is likewise a frozen tableau of that tipping point, imagining a parallel universe in which your favorite first-wave indie-rock bands never had to sign on corporate letterhead, never got anywhere near MTV, never toned down their act, and never got old But we all get old, don’t we.— they just kept on blowing minds at the peak of their powers in perpetuity.

Where the discographies of those aforementioned influences can more or less be plotted on a straight line from chaos to control If it’s a straight line then it isn’t a “more or less” kind of a comparison. Don’t do math metaphors. I think you should be focusing on improving your verbal portion if this is what you’re making your livelihood on. the Men’s modest catalogue thus far presents no such linear evolutionary trajectory. Again, that’s enough science. The words “evolution” and “trajectory” are at odds by definition. Immaculada may have introduced folky acoustic guitar passages and extended doom-metal instrumentals to their post-hardcore attack, but rather than continue to explore those stylistic detours, Leave Home sees the Men return to the full-torque distorto-rock of their 2009 debut EP, but blow it up on a grander scale with a more intense batch of songs. And rather than try to upgrade the fidelity to accommodate the more epic execution, the unapologetic corrosiveness of the sound is ultimately what gives it its power and heft. No, I want them to apologize. Right now.

So that means Leave Home‘s boldest gesture– the seven-minute opener “If You Leave…”– is also its least typical, not just for its tsunami-sized shoegaze haze, but for its open-hearted candor, as its lone, repeated lyric (“I would die”) provides a surprisingly affecting answer to the title’s open-ended suggestion. The song is every bit as surprising coming from these guys as the similarly miasmic “Farewell” was on Boris’ 2006 album Pink, showcasing the respective bands’ abilities to be as blissful as they are bludgeoning. But where “Farewell” anticipated the Japanese doom demigods’ eventual drift toward melodic accessibility, “If You Leave…” is a calm-before-the-storm misdirection. By the time Leave Home‘s side one winds down with the grueling, hoarse-throat howls and torturous, slow-motion squall of “L.A.D.O.C.H.”, you’ll be wondering if you’re still listening to the same band. That is, if you’re still listening.

But on Leave Home‘s second half, the Men’s dual affinities for brute punk-rock force and bad-trip psychedelia fuse together to brilliant effect, with a searing series of songs that refuse to relent even as they encroach on the five-minute mark– in particular, the storming “Bataille” suggests Sonic Youth’s “Hey Joni” as recorded by Funhouse-era Stooges, while the closing “Night Landing” effectively blurs the line between krautrock and punk in fine Neu! ’75-style. Of course, with a name like the Men– and reference points like these– it’s all too fitting that this album will undoubtedly appeal to a certain subset of record-collecting dudes. But the Men’s treatment of their well-curated influences is less akin to that of fan-boys playing in a tribute act and a lot more like an irreverent hip-hop producer’s approach to breaks– key in on your sources’ coolest moments, change the context, and ride that perfect sound forever. What is and what is not akin is beyond your ability to understand. You used the word “Funhouse” in vain. And this is a sin.

Stuart Berman, July 18, 2011

Akin to baloney.

— uncrucial, July 18, 2011

If there’s such a thing as cred in psychedelic music, Prince Rama have got it. But if there isn’t, then they haven’t got shit, I guess. The three-piece, comprising sisters Taraka and Nimai Larson and friend Michael Collins, grew up in a Hare Krishna community where their version of Sunday mass was a ceremony with people “chanting and dancing and freaking out,” they told us back in June. Some of their tracks are based on Sanskrit chants, and they rep artists like Paul Laffoley, a dude who makes paintings about time machines and wormholes. No surprise, then, why, the, then, that they caught the ear of Animal Collective and got scooped up by the band’s Paw Tracks imprint.

Shadow Temple is Prince Rama’s fourth record, and it’s less noisy than previous efforts but still pretty raw and unrestrained– more about energy than structure. Oh nice, I prefer energy to structure. I mean, if I had to choose. The band doesn’t use a ton of instruments (tribal drumming, chugging synths, and crunching guitars are the main components) but its tracks are sonically dense and propulsive. The album has a nice element of surprise. But I don’t like surprises “Om Namo Shivaya” is sort of fluid and droning, but once you give into its haze I’m not giving into shit, a buzzing electric guitar line pops out of nowhere to jerk you back into reality That sneaky guitar line. Jerking me back into reality. I mean, really. The band also does well with mood: Even though most of the lyrics aren’t discernable, you still get a clear sense of foreboding from these song. That’s ok. I don’t need it to be super discernable. Just something to go on and I’m good.

There aren’t many hooks on this record, and the tempo shifts are sometimes subtle, so it can feel overwhelming– kind of a constant onslaught of sound. This is a taste issue, but if you require a respite now and again, it might be a difficult listen. You’re right about this being a taste issue. Sometimes time-outs are totes what I require The other issue I have with Shadow Temple centers on how the band treats its vocals. Most of the singing comes from the Larson sisters, who have airy falsettos that could provide great contrast if they weren’t always buried in the mix. “Thunderdrums”, all clattering percussion and heavy, moaning guitar, feels cloudy and half-finished with the Larsons’ chants washed out in the background.

After a few bumpy moments in the middle stretch, Prince Rama hit a nice stride toward the end of the record. The final two songs, “Satt Nam” and “Raghupati”, are arguably the best. Where would we find someone who want to have an argument with you about this? If we didn’t have the internet, that is. It’s here where the band finally open things up– arrangements aren’t as cluttered, vocals are clearer, and each instrument has room to breathe. Particulary on “Satt Nam”, which has a memorable synth melody and a throbbing club undercurrent like something out of a Crystal Castles track, you start to get a sense of how this band’s psych experiments– which can be heady and evocative on their own– might become something more.

Joe Colly, October 5, 2010

I appreciate being presented with something “ethnic” every once in a while. Even if it sucks.

— uncrucial July 17, 2011

Recorded in chief songwriter Martin Courtney’s apartment last Spring, “Motorbikes” features just one set of vocals: those of birds singing outside. I don’t think bird noises are technically “vocals” because they’re aren’t produced with the larynx. Nice try, nerdies Their pipes line the instrumental opening track of Real Estate’s Reality EP, a quick end-of-year release that’s assumed physical form just one month after the New Jersey foursome released their first (and equally loose) full-length. Weird then that a band known for taking its sweet time on tape seems to have rushed to share even more. I don’t think that’s weird at all. I think it’s weird that you’re making assumptions about how they’ll do their thing, but whatever. Weird. But according to Courtney, the Reality EP is more a step toward starting 2010 fresh– delivering songs either written or recorded too late to be included on their LP. How is using old material starting fresh? You’re losing me!

Not surprisingly, not a lot separates the two releases sonically. Ok, this is going to blow you away. Watch what English can do: Unsurprisingly, same shit different release. If anything, Courtney’s songwriting has relaxed even further. “Motorbikes” is anchored by Alex Bleeker’s strolling bass line, while Matt Mondanile and Courtney’s guitars are still plenty submerged. The racket from the titular motorcycles buzzsawing through the airspace outside the apartment that day never harshes the mellow. It’s a moment that successfully bottles up the porch-swinging splendor of Real Estate’s tie-dyed indie rock. But, notably, “Motorbikes” is the only track here on which all the band’s members play together. With the added exception of “Saturday Morning” and Etienne Duguay’s drumwork on highlight/closer “Dumb Luck”, the rest of the Reality EP is the sound of Courtney working alone– writing, recording, playing every instrument himself, harmonizing, jaaaaamming.

Real Estate songs are often mood pieces, and this set sounds much more the product of a melancholy young man ruminating on his own than any group trip to the beach. Your beach trips must be way funner than ours if they’re your go-to point of comparison. On “Basement”, Courtney stretches his guitars over shakers, letting them yawn and sigh to sweet effect. It’s become a live staple and for good reason: Despite the lyrical tug inwards, its structure and melody are wide open. The same can’t be said for “Drum”, a circular, minor-key ramble that’s languid enough to sound positively clenched at times. Who says “positively clenched at times”? As opposed to “negatively clenched at times”? Do you wear a white wig? No, I don’t think you do. The Mondanile-penned “Saturday Morning” is distinctly his own: a phaser pedal-ed paean to simple pleasures that in a way is spiritual kin to Girls’ Christopher Owens’ lyrical prism. I don’t know what just happened in this sentence, but I feel I’ve lost a bit of my innocence. Just without words. Oh my! I definitely did. And as is the case in his Ducktails work, Mondanile’s guitar licks here are at once misty and syrupy, a curtain of repeating textures that often sound like harp more than a Fender. Though it sounds and feels very much like the brainlight of another guy at the wheel, it fits. Real Estate may be Courtney’s vehicle, but his bandmates speak a similar language.

David Bevan , January 13, 2010

Is that pole what’s real? You guys are boring.

uncrucial, July 17, 2011