Our top picks this week - featuring our favorite dapat music connoisseur Don.a.aron, harrowing emoviolence from Nuvolascura, and the majestic orchestral beauty of Owen Pallett!
“A Bloody Morning”
From his fantastical sagas as Final Fantasy to the wide-eyed songcraft of Heartland, Owen Pallett’s intricate chamber-pop songs have always been delicate exercises of introversion - but by scaling back even more on their fifth full-length effort, Pallett manages to extract a poignant tale of faith and humanity from a wandering, orchestral expanse. Six years on from the vulnerable In Conflict, the Canadian composer reprises the character of Lewis, the protagonist of 2010’s Heartland. Having defeated his omnipresent deity Owen in the album’s predecessor, Lewis is now alone, washed ashore - and instead of their usual exuberant electronics, Pallett’s achingly beautiful arrangements take center stage, weaving a restrained and brooding tale of self-reflection. The record’s first half is much more reserved than his previous efforts. From the folky picking of “Transformer” to the prancing “Paragon of Order”, Pallett’s airy vocals present his novel-esque mythology episode by episode, while the orchestra looms in the background, waiting for the perfect moment to emerge.
A Bloody Morning, in turn, is Island’s magnificent centrepiece. As the album erupts into a narrative climax, Lewis brings a ship to impending ruin as a drunken, distraught sailor, presenting a monologue alternating between masks simultaneously sarcastic and self-reflective. As suspended piano chords color an insistent pulse played by Liturgy’s Greg Fox, obstacles emerge in the horizon (“Our two-masted yellow schooner seemed to need some course correction”) - only for Lewis to meet them with cynical apathy. "Who gives a shit about them? When did they ever give a shit about me?" he notes. His pride is his hamartia, and it begins his literal and figurative descent, as a rumbling brass motif awakens him from his stupor. As Fox's powerful drumming lights up the previously sparse expanse, the track’s sudden density is overwhelming, and sets up a dramatic, heart-rending scene.
“I've mistaken self-indulgence for self-care/But do not be scared” he assures, and soon amidst cascading waves of timpanis, horns and strings, the disaster unfolds graphically. Hulls batter into rocky shores, passengers topple overboard amidst violent winds, chaotic scrambles for survival ensue in treacherous oceans. The majestic bombast - brought about by the lush stringwork of the London Contemporary Orchestra - reduces Lewis to an insignificant speck, as he is literally swallowed whole by the dense instrumentation, struggling to swim to shore. After riding endless crescendos, the curtains close with an uncertain, fading dissonance, bringing Pallett’s narrative arc towards its resolution, as Lewis’ soul-searching and yearning for his former deity eventually vanquishes him (more specifically “fucked into space”).
Yet even within these grandiose orchestral arrangements, a sense of grounded clarity resonates throughout the track. Pallett's delivery remains subdued even under Lewis’ duress, and it feels as if Lewis is aware of the absurdity of his existence. Even in moments where Lewis is overcome with overwhelming gloom, calling for Saint Christopher and his deities, a hopeful sense of triumph persists. “Surely some disaster will descend and equalize us/A crisis,” he remarks, in a particularly devastating line. Here, his observation doesn't just serve as a turning point within Pallett’s narrative universe. As Lewis survives amidst his suffering, his tale may also be a hint for our troubled zeitgeist. Under overwhelming forces, we are reduced to equals, regardless of achievements - even as a defeater of god. There is light within darkness, hope within despair - perhaps, the bloody mornings can only signal new beginnings.
Listen to "A Bloody Morning" here.
- - by JX Soo
“Pixel Vision Anxiety”
As We Suffer From Memory and Imagination
The year has been one of shock and paralysis - one borne root from senseless violence and disease, activated through trauma and media, manifested through overstimulation and disorientation. With their blistering self-titled debut in 2019, the Los Angeles four-piece vaulted to screamo’s forefront with their white-hot salvos of mathcore intensity, spearheaded by dynamic, desperate songwriting and frontwoman Erica’s piercing vocals, like on punishing tracks like “death as a crown” and “half-truth”. On their sophomore effort, however, they have expanded their sonic palette, with tapped technicality, ambient collages and tonal and tempo whiplashes coloring the duration of As We Suffer’s… brief 21-minute runtime.
Between melancholic arpeggios and emoviolence freakouts (for example, on “Essentially A Vivisection”), their balancing acts between beauty and mania allow As We Suffer...’s songs to transcend their original live-room claustrophobia, and craft images of a much bleaker reality - one both prescient and plagued grey in the context of a calamitous year. At times, the breakdowns still remain too long for their own good, and yes, the drums still noticeably scream their formative influences (Orchid, specifically), but the best of these brief tracks manage to capture a sense of painful urgency, akin to an internal world lit on fire.
This reaches maximum effect on album highlight “Pixel Vision Anxiety”, where the band lurches headfirst into neurotic, knotty riffs, painting vivid images of disease and self-medication. Riffs slot nervously in and out of another upon an insistent rhythm section, and unlike their previous all-out ferocity, their newfound-sense of restraint allows them to channel an urgent despondency. Locked in at every measure, the rhythm section hinges on every fragment of Erica’s words. Here, every slight tempo shift and acceleration translates like an alarming shock to her mental state. Amidst her distraught shrieks, the words document a gradual, crushing descent, from flickering dispositions (“hope for the best yet brace for the worst”) to staccatoed observations (“medicated and numb/regimented, overwhelmed”). As Erica’s imagery closes in on herself (“sweat prevails/constant strain of sickness”), the track suddenly disintegrates, akin to a sense of resigned isolation.
But the break is merely a deceptive calm before the storm. As the track’s neurotic riffs reemerge, frantic tapping battling with drum breaks, they feel akin to panic attacks - as if fighting to regain control amidst feverish pain, only to no avail. Eventually, the episode gives way to an explosive, tremolo-laden freakout, as Erica shatters. “Remember when I didn't need 50 pills to function/Remember when my body turned against me,” she frantically screams, and the cacophony comes to a crashing halt, welcoming the apocalyptic tape loops and Morse code that await in the smoky distance. A haunting portrait of distress, Pixel Vision Anxiety is a three-minute monster that feels like it lasts ten - grounding not only a poignant, personal statement from one of screamo’s leading lights, but also itself serving as a harrowing mirror for a collectively shared despondency.
Listen to "Pixel Vision Anxiety" here.
- - by JX Soo
DON.A.A.RON (feat. CHERIE SLAYN)
Inspired by the separation anxiety that came with the lockdowns as a result of the global pandemic, DISTANCE sounds like it could about a long distance relationship, a couple being way too clingy or just about any scenario that involves yearning for your lover, either way it’s a banging retro-pop bop.
Featuring one half of producer-songwriting duo SLAYN (whose debut album had recently been announced by Singaporean independent label Where Are The Fruits?), CHERIE SLAYN brings slick guest vocals to accompany Don a.aron’s signature citypop sound.
A tasteful combination of a simple albeit groovy retro-futuristic rhythm section, shimmery synth stabs and Don.a.aron’s staple arsenal of ‘80s embellishments paired with the emotive vocal performances from both Don.a.aron and CHERIE SLAYN, DISTANCE simultaneously harkens back to the likes of Alexander O’Neal while also reminding me of modern pop powerhoueses such as Ariana Grande or Dua Lipa (à la this year’s Future Nostalgia)
You can check out a stripped down acoustic version of the song that they premiered on Facebook recently here, as well as the single itself here.
- - by Isaac Yackem