Album Review: Gem Jones – Admiral Frenchkiss

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Lo-fi pop doesn’t tend to be too rhythmic. The bedroom musicians who produce it tend to focus more on things like melody or atmosphere, since rhythm is probably harder to create with the limited production capabilities of a bedroom or whatever. If there’s anyone out there who’s starved for rhythm (also known as “groove” or “funk”) in the lo-fi world, don’t despair—Gem Jones can fulfill your need. The Iowa City producer’s latest release, Admiral Frenchkiss, grooves hard while still retaining a ragtag lo-fi charm.

Admiral Frenchkiss opens with “Black Lantern,” which combines jazzy brass with off-kilter synth effects. The combination sounds a little strange at first, but the track is nonetheless infectious with its energy. The same can be said for “Rock N Roll Dementia” and its soulful melodies. In both songs, the real star is the rhythm section: the drums and bass keep the melodies grooving along steadily. Things slow down a bit for the keyboard-driven “Shallow Rivers” (which, strangely enough, reminds me a bit of the “Waves” record from Nintendogs) and the laid-back “God in U.” Weirdness still creeps into these tracks, though—the meandering electronic sounds at the end of “God in U,” for example, elevates it from a straight reggae tribute to something more interesting. “Grimeshock” kicks things back into high gear with drums, bass, and synths once again powering away with a fierce rhythm. And finally, there’s “Ectomorphic Love,” a spacey ballad that sounds kind of like a love song from an alien. In fact, the whole album kind of sounds like it could’ve come from an alien, since I have no idea what Jones is singing the entire time. His voice ranges from falsettos recalling the days of classic soul to manic shouts reminiscent of Damo Suzuki. Rather than detracting from it, these vocals help to increase the weird appeal of the music.

With all the wild sounds present on Admiral Frenchkiss, it can be surprising to learn that Jones played all the instruments himself. It’s impressive that he managed to coordinate such controlled musical chaos on his own, and it’s an achievement worthy of commendation. So, you can reward Jones’ effort by buying Admiral Frenchkiss at his Bandcamp or getting it on cassette from Goaty Tapes. This is the kind of music that sounds good even when blasted out of a cheap old cassette deck—it might even sound better that way, actually.

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LeAnn Nguyen

Artist Profile: Frankie Cosmos

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It’s been a pretty big year for Frankie Cosmos. The band, fronted by Greta Kline (the eponymous Frankie), released their debut studio album Zentropy in March to some well-earned acclaim. Although Zentropy is her first album released through a music label, Kline has been making music since she was in elementary school, and started participating in the music scene of Westchester, NY in her early teens. Prior to Zentropy, there was already over 40 releases on Kline’s Bandcamp page, and that number continues to growthe band have added two other albums to their discography this year. Such prolificacy is made all the more impressive when you consider that Kline is only twenty years old. I certainly feel unproductive in comparison.

As Kline says in this interview, Frankie Cosmos’ sound is influenced by 90s twee-pop bands like Olympia, WA’s very own Beat Happening. You can hear some echoes of that band’s lo-fi sound in the basic instrumentation of tracks like “Birthday Song”(though Frankie Cosmos at least has a bass player). The simple arrangements of the songs, along with their almost child-like melodies, complement the subject matter of their lyrics. Kline cites poet Frank O’Hara (from whom she takes her stage name) as another influence, particularly his poems about everyday New York life. Her lyrics also concern relatively ordinary topics. For example, the song “School” is about, you guessed it, school, and in “Buses Splash With Rain,” Kline sings “I’m the kind of girl that buses splash with rain.” As far as characterizations go, that’s pretty mundane.

Just because the songs are about the everyday doesn’t mean they aren’t emotionally resonant, to be clear. When Kline sings about how a friendship’s changed on “Leonie,” or about missing her dog on “Sad 2” (the songs on Zentropy was actually written after the death of Kline’s dog Joe Joerest in peace), there’s something affecting in the simplistic way in which she does so. Such feelings are amplified by the music, which sometimes unexpectedly swells to a wave of beautiful sound. Other times, smaller details make the momentthe lovely marimba on “Sad 2,” for example. It’s moments like those that have made Zentropy one of my favorite albums of this year.

While I have to admit that I’ve yet to dive into the rest of Frankie Cosmos’ lengthy discography (I’ve been too busy listening to Zentropy), I’m sure I’ll do so eventually. And you can, too, by checking out their BandcampFacebook, and Tumblr.

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LeAnn Nguyen

Outlander in the Emerald City: “Dance the Gloom Away” with Springtime Carnivore’s New Album

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With Seattle’s rain accumulation on the steady upswing, I think it’s safe to say we could all use a bit of sunshine.  Well, you’re in luck: Springtime Carnivore’s self-titled debut comes in clutch when trying to brighten up a particularly overcast day.  With lofty melodies and a tone that places a warm and fuzzy feeling deep in your bones, Springtime Carnivore provokes a nostalgia for a time that many of us (including Greta Morgan, mastermind behind this project) have never actually experienced.  Head-bopping beats, whistling melodies and bright keys epitomize the best aspects of early ‘60s pop, and Greta’s voice is just distorted enough to give it that lo-fi feel we all love. 

The album begins with the short “Western Pink”, a keyboard-dominated instrumental that flows right into the poppier aspects of her sound.  “Collectors” and “Name on a Matchbook” each showcase SP’s supreme talent for weaving catchy pop sensibilities amongst fuzzy guitars and psychedelic-tinged keys, creating an indie-pop song that will force you to drop what you’re doing and dance around like a teenager at a Sock-Hop.

Things slow down with the ballad-y “Foxtrot Freak (Something in the Atmosphere)”, featuring a beautifully bare vocal track free from effects until her reverb-drenched harmonies flood the chorus.  “Other Side of the Boundary” is even more stripped-down, and is best categorized as a truly melancholy acoustic ballad.  This tune allows SP’s folk side to shine beautifully, and her falsetto in the chorus leaves you with chills running down your spine.

After picking up the tempo a bit in “Last One to Know” and “Two Scars”, Springtime Carnivore ends on a somber note with “Find a New Game”, featuring only Greta and her keyboard. Get a taste by listening to the latest track available for streaming, “Sun Went Black” below:

From full-blown indie-pop songs to simple piano accompaniments, Springtime Carnivore reaches a wide range of appeal, all the while maintaining loyalty to a ‘60s sound that the younger generation wishes we could have experienced the first time around. However, her record brings a modern twist that gives the music much more depth and longevity.  I’m sure we’ll be envied by our grandkids for being able to experience her sound the first time around.  

Check out her full album on iTunes and Amazon, and get a taste on Autumn Tone Record’s Soundcloud

AND if you dig what you hear, catch her with the Generationals at the Crocodile THIS SATURDAY (November 15)!

Katie Hanford

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Katie Hanford

Outlander in the Emerald City: King Tuff at Neumo’s (Show Review)

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Despite the brutish nature of their name and their look, King Tuff were anything but at Neumo’s Crystal Ball Reading Room this past Wednesday, October 22. 

Front man Kyle Thomas, bassist Magic Jake and drummer Old Gary Goddard burst onto the stage with cut-off, patched up jean jackets and a positivism that permeated the entire room.  For their opening song, a wall of distortion and feedback transformed into the title track of their latest album, Black Moon Spell.  In the interim between the first few tracks, Thomas and Magic Jake continued a banter infused with good vibes, at one point mentioning how honored they were to be performing in Seattle, the “home of so many influential artists”. 


Magic Jake and Kyle Thomas rock with attitude

The love flowed throughout the night, with all members of King Tuff beaming permanent grins at their ecstatic fans song after sloppy song.  As the crowd got rowdier and the mosh pit’s circumference increased, King Tuff’s energy skyrocketed, climaxing during the supremely-catchy “Bad Thing”.  Although the musicality wasn’t much to be amazed at, the constant upbeat energy and no-holds-barred attitude of its members allowed King Tuff’s performance to shine with grungey, shredding, lo-fi mastery.  

Take a listen to their new album (embedded below):

(Photo credits to Alex Ostenberg)

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Katie Hanford