It’s hard to believe that Created In The Image Of Suffering is technically the debut full length from King Woman. The evolution from a solo project of Kristina Esfandiari to full band has really only happened over the course of two singles and an EP. The version of King Woman here sounds very far removed from the version that recorded the Degrida single back in 2013. While the earlier releases were definitive King Woman songs, there seemed to be a lot of overlap with what Esfandiari doing in Miserable. The sound was a little darker, but still similar. King Woman evolving into an actual band with other full time members really solidified it as something different. 2015’s Doubt was the turning point. It was evolution.
Created In The Image Of Suffering is a document of that evolution and musical growth. It’s also a perfect example of how King Woman defies genre classification. It has elements of metal, doom, shoegaze, and drone. In a lot of ways it is all of, and none of, those genres. It might piss off some purists, but must be acknowledged. The end result is a sound that is beautifully varied. The band has the chops to be dark and heavy, but they also have the restraint to be light and airy. The guitars can go from melodic and soft to just fucking riffing. Created In The Image Of Suffering is a split of power and vulnerability, not that those things are mutually exclusive. Everything is tied together by Kristina Esfandiari’s vocals. Mysterious and ethereal, but also fucking powerful.
These songs are clearly the result of a very complicated life and history. They are very dense and very cathartic. The biggest mistake is to assume this record is just some angry, brooding thing. There are songs on Created In The Image Of Suffering about the abuse Esfandiari received while in the church, but there are also songs about unrequited love. It is Esfandiari as a songwriter just putting it all out on the record. The tone feels like it might skew one way, but there is so much more happening.
I’ve talked about King Woman and Miserable before on here. Esfandiari is easily one of my favorite artists going right now. Created In The Image Of Suffering has built on everything she’s done before, and is an A+ addition to an already fantastic discography.
I can’t make heads or tails of post-genres sometimes. It gets especially troublesome when talking about a band like Cloak Of Organs. They could comfortably be listed under whatever post- genre tag you could rattle off. Post-metal, post-hardcore, post-punk, post-whatever.
Fuck it. Cloak Of Organs is a band that is not beholden to a specific scene or genre. They make music that is very melodic and airy in some places, but also very heavy in others. They’re self titled EP is the kind of record that would be at home in a metal collection as much as a shoegaze collection. It is an example of crafting atmosphere and texture.
The music is slow and brooding, and the vocals hit all the right “ethereal” hallmarks. This record sounds great in all aspects, musically and vocally. But, y’know, of course it does. This band is made up of Denver music veterans, and the combined experience means great things. The Nervous, Wovenhand, Planes Mistaken for Stars, and Slim Cessna’s Auto Club are all represented.
This is the perfect kind of record for fall. The music and the lyrical content both skew towards more dark topics. There are themes of body horror. There are themes of desolation. It’s not necessarily a “fun” record, but it sure is a great one. It’s definitely a great fall release.
Cloak Of Organs
Bandcamp / Buy It
Second Date are a young band coming out of Virginia. Their eponymous EP, also their debut, has a lot going for it. It is definitely worth some attention. They come out with a sound that takes from 90s alternative and the more modern incarnation of dream pop and shoegaze. They do it really well for the most part. “Bored” and “Ghost” are both very dynamic songs. They have a definite Lush by way of Pity Sex sound to them.
Second Date do fall into some common traps though. This is hardly unexpected for the genre, especially given their pop influence. “Flake” is the most obvious example. It’s not a bad song, but not as strong as the other two. It lacks a bit of bite, due to slightly weaker lyrics and some strange music choices. It has this weird funk-esque guitar line and a really out of place solo at the end.
That bullshit aside, Second Date is promising band that has a bright future. There are some things they can improve on, but there are also things that they’re totally nailing. But, y’know, that is a common thing for young bands.
I’m keeping this list brief this year. Not too many bells and whistles, or whatever. It’s the end of January, so I really need to just post it. 2015 was a weird fucking year, and I didn’t keep up with this stuff the way I should have. 2016 should be better. Anyway, on with the list.
Top Records of 2015. LPs, EPs, and splits. In alphabetical order:
- Adult Mom – “Momentary Lapse Of Happily”
- Annabel – “Having It All”
- Beach House – “Depression Cherry”
- Big Awesome – “Party On”
- Blind Mice – “Sunday Songs”
- Bong Mountain – “You’re Doin’ Great”
- Drowse – “Soon Asleep”
- Football, etc. – “Disappear”
- Haybaby – “Sleepy Kids”
- Island Of Misfit Toys – “I Made You Something”
- Jennylee – “Right On!”
- Kindling – “Galaxies”
- King Woman – “Doubt”
- Kind Of Like Spitting / Warren Franklin & The Founding Fathers – “It’s Always Nice To See You”
- Long Knives – “This Is Your Life”
- mewithoutYou – “Pale Horses”
- Pet Symmetry – “Pet Hounds”
- Sheer – “Uneasy”
- The World Is A Beautiful Place And I Am No Longer Afraid To Die – “Harmlessness”
- The Unlovables / Dirt Bike Annie – “Reunion Show”
- Waxahatchee – “Ivy Tripp”
One of the downsides to being a shitty 30 year old is that I remember the 90s. This has made the latest trend of bands playing 90’s alternative influenced music a bit challenging. It’s music I’m hyper familiar with, as it was music I grew up with. I definitely have blindspots, but those have been filled in over the years. Bands like Sheer are really interesting to me. I see what they are doing, and it hits all the marks I want to see a band hit. They manage to take influence without being derivative and repetitive.
Coming strong right out the gate, Sheer play shoegaze/dream pop filtered through fuzzy alternative. There are similarities to bands like Lush and Galaxie 500. There is some Jesus And Mary Chain and The Breeders in there too. They take those influences and put their own heart behind it. Uneasy, as a record, is a great melding of the past and the present. But, that is really a roundabout way of describing sound. More simply, there is a great mixture of dense, thick guitars and more delicate, melodic ones. The guitar never gets too heavy on the old shoegaze shimmer. The sound is more reverb/distortion heavy than it is clean and swirling. Outside of that, there aren’t too many additional effects being used. “Orion” is probably the best example of things. The songs has a very powerful and dense build, it then hits a very melodic tone. The song shifts between the two extremes in a really great way. The vocals are also a strong selling point to me. Gina Almaguer has a great voice, and she can shift from strong/clear to the more genre standard “ethereal” vocals pretty seamlessly.
Sheer needs to get a lot of credit for making such a well worn genre sound crisp and clear. Gina Almaguer and Sean Sakamoto absolutely nail things on the guitar front. Anthony Quintero on bass and Jules Leon on drums keep everything on point and driving along. Uneasy is a record that shows a band working as a cohesive unit to make music that can get a bit loose and messy in less knowledgeable hands.
This is a record that has endless appeal to fans of all kinds of music. It takes a little from alternative, indie, shoegaze, and classic left-of-the-dial bands. It’s great, don’t sleep on it.
The Native Sound
I was briefly in Brooklyn last December. I was hoping that, in the week I was out, I’d be able to find out why there are so many great bands from there. My research was inconclusive. Let’s credit it to bridges or something. But, instead of a terrible conclusion based on terrible research skills, let’s talk about Field Mouse. Coming from the very fertile music scene in Brooklyn, they have made a record that will stand out from the pack. While the music they’re making fall into some very well tread tropes, they have managed to make the music their own.
Hold Still Life is a record that eschewed genre rules. You can call it a regular, adjective free indie rock record. You can call it an indie pop record. You can call it shoegaze, dream pop, or a million other genre tags that only nerds like me give a fuck about. All that shit aside, it is a good record. Hell, it’s a great record.
It’s the mixture of things that make it work. It’s an almost seamless mixture of straight ahead indie rock and dream pop/shoegaze. Songs can go from being driving to more dreamy and reverb heavy at the drop of a hat. You can have a song that is carried by guitars and drums lead into a song that is more reliant on synthesizers without missing a beat. The disparate styles are held together perfectly by the fantastic vocals of Rachel Browne. It’s driving and catchy, but then also a bit fuzzy and drawn out. Field Mouse is a band that exists in this weird open space where things that shouldn’t work somehow work.
The first three songs are a great example of the record as a whole. “A Place You Return To In A Dream” is a very straightforward rock song. “Water In The Valley” starts of with a great bass line, and has a more 90’s alternative (think The Breeders) sound to it. “Two Ships” is more driven by effects. It is a bit more spacey. And, really, the record carries on in this way for the remaining nine songs. “Netsuke,” which is right in the middle of the record, is all those things at once. Hold Still Life features a little from column A, and a little from column B. Then they throw in shit from column C through Z. Field Mouse are able to make it all work, and make it all make sense.
But, hell. It’s obvious that I really like this record. Field Mouse made a record that has so many things I love in one package. I mean, honestly. Hold Still Life is a record that you really should be listening to. Like, right now.
Kristina Esfandiari has been responsible for some of my favorite music this year. She just released an EP earlier this year, Halloween Dream, as Miserable. Now, as King Woman, we have the Dove / Fond Affections cassette single. It’s her second release under the King Woman moniker. It really reinforces the idea that she is a wellspring of creativity. While she is still best known from her days in Whirr, it’s her solo material that is really worth noting. It is going to be interesting, no matter what it’s released as. She is able to conceptualize music in a way that goes beyond most shoegaze/post-punk/post-rock/whatever. If those genres are built around creating moods in a non-conventional way, then she is one of the best out there right now.
There are a lot of similarities between King Woman and Miserable. This isn’t surprising considering the nature of the projects. Both have very drawn out, ethereal vocals. Both deal heavily in effects and non-traditional music. But, and this is very important, the overall way those pieces fit is very different. Miserable took a more traditional shoegaze sound and beefed it up by including some very dense, heavy music. King Woman deals more in ethereal psychedelia, with some post-punk and psych-folk added for flavor.
There are two songs on the new single. One is an original, one is a cover. The A-side, Dove, spans 15 minutes. It adds a new dimension to what King Woman does. It is a drawn out, slow-burn of a song. It feels more similar to her work as Miserable than it does her earlier King Woman songs. It is expansive and atmospheric. It never gets as dense as Miserable did, but it maintains some of the power. It’s a hauntingly beautiful song.
The B-side is a cover of Rema-Rema’s “Fond Affections.” The King Woman version that appears here is closer to the cover This Mortal Coil did than it is to the original (kind of). It’s a hell of a cover though. While remaining pretty true to the post-punk origins of it, this particular cover is has more a drone influence. It’s moody and engaging in all the best ways.
In fact, “engaging in all the best ways” is a great way to sum up this release as a whole. It is a must listen for anyone who likes their music ambient, unconventional, and experimental. Grab this while you can.**
The Native Sound
**As a result of being out on The Native Sound, this is a very limited release if you want it on a physical format. In this case, it’s a cassette with a limited run of 150. If that is something you’re interesting in, better act fast. Otherwise, you’re going to have to get it digitally.**