Woozy bedroom pop with a fuzzy heart and a Beatlesque soul.
Woozy bedroom pop with a fuzzy heart and a Beatlesque soul. Without introduction, “Love or Death” dives directly into the eight-measure melody that becomes its backbone. The sound is buzzy and semi-distorted without ever losing its sense of sharpness and movement. There’s a big difference between fuzz and mud, and Jordan Geiger, Hospital Ships’ one-man band, embraces the former without getting stuck in the latter. Listen, for example, to how he processes and reverbs and layers his high-ranging tenor so that it becomes an important textured element of the music without at all losing its humanity. Listen too to that deep, cello-like synthesizer that provides a melodic bass line for the song, comingling as the song unfolds with a buzzing organ (maybe?) that manages to add both to the distortion and to the musicality.
The song’s brisk spirit is reinforced by its irregular structure. The eight-measure melody cycles through five times, each time with different lyrics; there is a break after the fourth iteration for something that might be a chorus except we hear it only once. The lyrics seem to rise and fall out of earshot, with certain phrases calling more attention to themselves than others. “Like a mirror just reflects his lonely twin” is one such line, ripe with sudden poignancy and deeper meaning—so much so that in this case, Geiger pulls the name of the whole album from this lyric: Lonely Twin.
The album is the second for Geiger as Hospital Ships, and is due out next month on Graveface Records. Geiger, from Lawrence, Kansas, was formerly in both Shearwater and the Appleseed Cast, and was front man for Minus Story. Thanks to Consequence of Sound for the lead here.
Full of tweaky and and clattery and glittery and rubbery electronics, “Lilly” also bursts with such infectious melodic energy that I for one don’t really care what odd sounds Sebastian Zimmer wants to throw into the mix.
Full of clattery and glittery and rubbery electronics, “Lilly” also bursts with such infectious melodic energy that I for one don’t really care what odd sounds Sebastian Zimmer wants to throw into the mix.
Not that you necessarily see the brilliance coming. From the intro through the opening verse, “Lilly” bounces modestly along as a two-chord shuffle with a vaguely island-like feel. Close listeners might enjoy the crafty dissonances one of the synthesizers insists upon carving in the soundscape, but more casual ears may remain unengaged until 0:46, when the electronic equivalent of a car crash launches us into the bubbly chorus, full of vocal leaps and dives that sound spliced together rather than sung through. But damned if the cut-and-pasted melody line isn’t its own kind of oddball hook—there’s an energy unleashed by the mashed-up-sound, accentuated by Zimmer’s feathery tenor, that transcends its electronic trappings. And then, as a sort of counter-balance to all the artifice employed to create the song’s core, we get at 2:04 an instrumental bridge featuring what sounds for all the world like honest-to-goodness stringed instruments (but are probably still synthesizers).
“Lilly” is the a-side of a digital single released this month on Alchemist Records. Zimmer has been recording as One In A Googolplex from the German state of Saarland since 2009. The name comes from the third Back to the Future movie. In his own words, Zimmer is “constantly trying to compose his songs as universally as possible in order to be able to enjoy the music even in some thousand years from now or on a different planet, where there is no money, no television, and no heartache anymore.” I want to go to there.
The whispery tenor singer/songwriter who holes himself up in a room and records an album is by now a lasting icon of ’00s indie music (thank you, Sam Beam!; you too, Justin Vernon!), with no sign yet of abating in the new decade.
The whispery tenor singer/songwriter who holes himself up in a room and records an album is by now a lasting icon of ’00s indie music (thank you, Sam Beam; you too, Justin Vernon), with no sign yet of abating in the new decade. It is very easy to be tired of this type of musician in theory and very hard—believe me, I’ve tried—to overlook one when he’s got it going. And maybe it’s a fine line between having it going and having it gone. Or never arriving.
But Nathan Mathes has it going. One thing I like is the crispness of both the song and the sound (after, that is, the opening 13 seconds of white noise). Guitars are chunky but clear, the subdued bass and drums anchor the mix without dragging everything into a muddy bottom, leaving a light, uncluttered sonic space through which the unpretentious melody ambles. Lyrics are intriguingly difficult to decipher, but it’s not because Mathes mumbles or buries his voice—if you’re not paying attention at first, in fact, you’d think the lyrics were clear as can be. Only when you go back to listen do you realize you can barely make out a word. That kind of elusiveness I can get behind. The song casts a humble spell; there is nothing immediately special about it except for an ineffable sense that there is in fact something special about it. Okay, guys, you can keep your laptops. Just get some fresh air every now and then.
“The Sea is Ridge” got its title from a typo; Mathes had typed “Sea” instead of “Seat,” then changed the lyrics accordingly, because he liked the way it sounded and felt. The song is from the Green Bay singer/songwriter’s debut album, American Whitecaps, which he put online in August as a free download, either via Bandcamp or as a .zip file on his site. (Additionally, all songs are available as direct individual downloads on a different page on his site.) Also of potential interest: Mathes has written a short, soul-searching book about the process of recording the album, which is also available on his site (scroll down a little on the right).