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Album Reviews

Hand Habits - Wildly Idle

Caden Marchese

by Jamie Nagode

Meg Duffy of Hand Habits drops her anticipated debut album Wildly Idle (Humble Before the Void) in February 2017, after having spent a few short years touring with friends and signing with Woodsist records just months before.  Recently, her following has expanded through sheer merit, gaining momentum playing guitar with other musicians on the up-and-up: Kevin Morby, Mega Bog, Weyes Blood, and Amber Arcades.  In that time, she dreamt up a lush of an album on the road west.  Wildly Idle (Humble Before the Void) is certified bedroom pop, but you can listen anywhere these days, right? Listen to this album on a train going nowhere in particular. It blends beachy salt water through acrylic autumn leaves and leaves you wondering where the music is leading you.  The album was written and recorded in upstate New York and later in Los Angeles, accompanying Duffy’s west-coast move.  Its incredibly truthful, oozes dreamy imagery with soft, sad vibrations. She spills her heart on the coffee table and leaves it there to stain.  

Flower Glass plays with layers on layers of reverberant guitar and soft overdubbed angelic voices.  She whispers her love for someone close – a person deserving of love but doesn’t necessarily believe it.  You can imagine how a song like that feels.  I need a pick-me-up.  Enter Actress, the clouds dissolve so slightly and welcome a more content level of melancholy.  The beat picks up with eggshakers and a jazz kit, tries to make light of a gloomy affair – a breakup and a resolution. This is easily an album favorite; its genuine and meticulous with nothing left untouched.  Following the single is one of three instrumental interludes, Greater La (Scene), using a keyboard and heavy distortion masking vocalized spoken word; these split up the album.

In Between is bass-driven with a little swing, though at a slow pace, like walking through a cemetery.  Monotone vocals tell the story of a ghost, the paranormal feeling of living in between worlds and crossing over.  The second single on the album, All the While is a spooky little take on submission and death, freedom and nihility.  A groovy guitar break consumes the bridge, as if surf indie found itself lost in the middle of Oklahoma, just twisting in the wind, regardless of the rain. Demand It slows down and jazzes up some vocal woes, and Cowboy (Scene) closes the curtain on the second act with another interlude much like the first.

Sun Beholds Me, a heart-wrenching acoustic ballad with orchestrated atmospheric tones in the background, effortless and natural bleeds your heart out.  As if you had empathy left over from the first side of this record, the melody shocks your system and exhausts the neurons that force you to relate.  This phase is slightly remedied with the following song, Book on How to Change, a somewhat lighter number, contemplative and reminiscent, like looking out the window on a fast moving train. This is bookended with the last interlude, Time Hole (Scene).

A meditative song like Nite Life, with dissonant harmonies on every note and continuous looped guitar, frees you from carnal containment and lets you float through.  The sound grows with reverb as if you’re submerged in deep water, listening to the sounds distort as they fall away into the abyss.  Bad Boy and New Bones play on this distortion, adding more layers and harmonies to finally close out the record with serenity, leaving the body content and calm. For a first full length LP, Hand Habits certainly sets the table for something beautiful to come.


Priests - Nothing Feels Natural

Caden Marchese

by Jamie Nagode

Priests, an activist punk rock band dwelling in Washington D.C., drop their fourth album, Nothing Feels Natural, on January 27, 2017, one week after inauguration day.  After a few years writing, recording, and re-recording, they have arrived at a piece that is sociologically stimulating and combats societal pressures.  It is a work of honesty, a critique on our culture with no holds barred.  It breathes rebellion and, no doubt, breeds unrest and political opposition.  The album is written and recorded in a voice with clear direction, yet slyly redirects the listener through an elaborate web of subliminal notions. This can make it seem as if the punch line is concealed in some shabby stream of conscious, but that is certainly not the case here if you’re really listening.  This album is one of the most relevant, and sets a beautiful precedent for contemporary artists to stand for something when society fails.  

The album starts with a ferocious drum pulse, enter Katie Greer, the group’s vocalist and lyricist.  “You want some new brutalism?” she asks and takes you down with the honest truth of the American Dream.  Appropriate, the song’s title, means to take something for your own use without permission. Manifest destiny is on the stage.  This album is roasting it. Appropriate preheats the oven.  Tritone guitar intervals drive the verse with a half-step decent into the chorus; it’s a grimy tune.  Climactic drums spiral through a controlled yet impulsive segue into a slower second half of the song when you hear “I work too hard to have friends like you anymore”.  Lethargy turns into anger and gradually accelerates with a realization of self-worth, when those who surround you slow you down and you don’t have to explain yourself.  

JJ is a surfey upbeat song about dating the wrong person, acknowledging the fault in having bad taste in that respect, but coming out on top because that person kinda sucks.  It’s a postmodern method of earning sympathy, skillfully used here; list your fatal flaws, show some heart, tell your story.  It may come off blameful, but its cathartic as hell to write a song like this, and it totally grooves.  Nicki is a spookier song that follows JJ, about the exhaustion that naturally hails from befriending snakey people that sell you out.  Vocals are layered over riffs from the guitar and lyrics are clever and well thought out; “I’m gonna buy you before you buy me” is a perfect warning.

Lelia 20 is driven by a striking bass line with an upbeat major-chord progression.  Its difficult to locate a downbeat until the second half of the song, which gives some sensory deprivation to the first half leaving you in a dreamlike state, which is reflected in the lyrics.  It coincides so nicely.  Everything aligns in the second half of the song with hypnotizing harmonies that conquer the nightmare described in the vocals.  No Big Bang follows with a frenetic drum line and an equally rapid bass with guitar trailing over the top.  The vocals are all spoken word, telling a story about misconceptions and the two sides to manic productivity.  A reverberant instrumental interlude follows to prepare for the second half.  

Nothing Feels Natural, the song for which the album was named, is a beachy upbeat song run with guitar slides and feverish drums.  Vocals float through as if on a breeze; its catchy and lulling all at once.  The piece seems to acknowledge a dismal suspicion that maybe this life isn’t really good for anyone, its not much more than waiting to greet death without salvation.  Its melancholy, for sure, but somehow comforting.  The single is followed by one of the most provocative songs on the album, Pink White House, a critique on the polarized government, the prescribed American Dream, and complete submissive conformity.  The lyrics are an outright work of art; its songs like these that demonstrate the beauty of location in that they are making so much noise living in our nation’s capitol. Puff regurgitates the blood of the previous song with slightly more ferocity and, more or less, nails our culture to the cross.

The final song on the album, Suck, is a little livelier, bass driven with cute guitar interjections and a completely different set of drums that they – no doubt – borrowed from LCD Soundsystem.  There’s a lot of freedom in this song, a lot of improvisation contrasted by the lyrics that basically describe being trapped in a vocal prison, and the guards are cops that are hard of hearing.  This song acknowledges the pressures felt between cops and punks – you know the story.  The song ends with vocals like sirens trailing off “Obsessed with the police”.  It’s an essential listen – super catchy with a lot of great points, matching the rest of the LP. Overall, Nothing Feels Natural was a stunning album in more ways than one, and worth the wait.  I feel smarter after listening to it.