Indie Current is stoked to present the first instillation of our newest feature “Triumvirate,” which will showcase and review three disparate and distinct releases (tentatively divided between hip-hop, electronic and guitar music) within the independent music sphere.
The Brooklyn-resident electronic beatsmith Jim-E Stack’s debut album Tell Me I Belong isn’t so much a desperate plea as it is a gentle assertion or a coy inquisition: Do You Think I Actually Give Two Shits About “Fitting In”? A quick once-over of the record could provoke befuddling reactions. It might feel underdeveloped or staunched by its own creative impulses, but that’s only because this release works directly against the strict, normative guidelines set by left-leaning, dance-oriented electronic music. Each track feels singular and dependent of the other aural visions found on the album, refusing to abide by any one mood or influence or aesthetic tributary. If anything, Tell Me I Belong is conceptually aligned by its collective feeling of repression, a definitive sense of total loss. Sometimes it’s adorned with taut, rhythmically engaging electronic cadences, other times it’s truncated and diluted against sparse piano melodies–but it’s always present and permeating within the somber grooves.
Jim-E Stack reportedly used samples in Tell Me I Belong that he’s held onto since high school, and it instills within this release a stark, contemporary timelessness. The IDM mastery found on tracks like “Run” and “Out of Mind” are instances of erudite and contained beatwork that never expound as indulgent or overzealous, and coincidentally (or rather, quite deliberately) the BPM, key and sonic footprint of the two are nearly identical but starkly distinct with disparate samples. The rest of the tracks here, though, feel could hardly be more different from one another.
Stack has an incredible talent for sculpting these beautiful, massive-sounding melodies and knows exactly how long to exhaust them. “Below” is a sleek and sophisticated future bass romp that features sweet, saccharine vocal samples. The following track, “Reassuring,” capitulates the momentum at halftime with remorseful piano chords anchored to a hapless, slow-step reggaeton beat. “Is It Me,” the album’s most bombastic and provocative number, is simple and rousing in its supersonic self-contemplation as exasperated synthlines whizz and howl with the conviction of a human voice. This album is burdened, desperately striving for some form of absolution, ultimately achieved by two closing tracks “Without” and “Wake.” The former is the only traditional verse-chorus-verse structure found on the record, but it hardly feels anomalous or jarring. The latter is dredged down by vacillating bass hits and breathy vocal inflections. It’s dense with desire and despair, but not enough to keep you from dancing.
The Olympia, Washington-based trio Naomi Punk‘s sophomore full-length Television Man is 36 minutes of incensed, relentlessly brooding guitar music. Reeling from 2012’s quasi-bewitched debut album The Feeling, which was comparably pallid and decidedly weird-for-the-sake-of-being-weird, the Captured Tracks-released album settles upon a more homage-paying iteration of Northwestern punk music. Reverences suits them well. Or maybe what we perceive as a not-so-subtle nod to punk legends like Beat Happening, Television and even Nirvana is mistaken for sheer minimalistic determination, simple impassioned ideas exercised with the least amount of effort possible. The vaulting ten-track progression–despite often sounding like indecipherable variations on an unruly and calamitous theme–is uninhibited, happy to be grieving, excited to be young and stupid.
Electronic textures are employed with interesting methodology on Television Man, namely as a means to resolve and neutralize all the abrasive noise. The song following the record’s title track, “Plastic World no. 6,” is all tightly-wound synths and warily chugging guitar licks tacked to the ass-end of “Television Man” as a slow, stumble-drunk outro. Vocalist Travis Coster’s embattled musings often sound garbled and incomprehensible under all the raucous, bric-a-brac fanfare. The almost entirely instrumental number “Eon of Pain” wavers between one blisteringly heavy-footed chord and a second, sharper chord just one octave raised, and when Coster’s volatile alto finally starts up it’s nothing but muddled and disjointed syllables. “I’ve written about myself as a female in a lot of lyrics,” said the singer in an interview with Wondering Sound, which would prove infinitely more provoking if said lyrics were in anyway audible.
There are tentative low points on this record, moments where the energies wear thin and the band’s well-maintained facade of intimidation and aggression feels like a front, like the wary lilt of “California Truth” or “Whirlpool of Anguish.” But it all rounds out well by the end of the eight-minute unapologetic closer “Rodeo Trash Pit.” Naomi Punk revisits The Feeling‘s album closer “Linoleum Tryst” as “Linoleum Tryst #19,” escaping the heady fog of cannabis smoke for a bulkier, more lavish rendition of the track, and it goes to show just how much the group has refined their sound in the past two years.
Recent Brooklyn-transplant Nick Hakim toured with soul maestros like Emily King and Maxwell in preparation for the release of his debut EP Where Will We Go Pt. 1, a perfectly rough-around-the-edges, soul-bearing collection of songs via his own label Earseed Records.
The stagnant, sample-based collagework of “Intro,” splices melodic fragments together before dipping into the first delectably clipped chords of “Cold.” The lyrics are pointedly mournful, too specific to be anything but autobiographical, but the salient groove tethered to this subversive funk anthem seems to work directly against the melancholic prose. Nick Hakim sings the hell out of this song, mustering up vague recollections of Sampha‘s 2013 EP Dual or anything D’Angelo ever laid two hands on.
The following track “The Light,” delves further into deep-seeded, echo-chambered longing, making it more than apparent that this release is about coping with and trying to eradicate extreme and irrevocable loss. Less literally, however, Where Will We Go Pt. 1 could be about the space between light and darkness within ourselves that tirelessly work to maintain. “I was caught in a hazy gloom, alone in my room, filled up with booze while writing this music,” said Hakim on recording the EP. “I would write very early in the morning after nights of no sleep. Dunkin Donuts coffee was my friend. I would set up a mic, record, and later make sense of whatever came out.”
Tracks like the patiently-abiding lull of “Papas Fritas” and the submerged neo-soul frailty of “Pour Another” lend themselves to sleepless nights and caffeine bing sessions, but they also shed light on the introspective meditations of this ridiculously talented singer-songwriter. The EP ends with a positive turn, a spacious outro that has Hakim imploring us to “find another way,” which could justifiably be the follow-up EP, Pt. 2, out September 16.