Brooklyn indie pop band Beach Fossils formed in 2009 as a vehicle for the solo recordings of multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Dustin Payseur. Beach Fossils’ debut self-titled album was released on Captured Tracks in 2010 and was met with critical acclaim. 2011’s What a Pleasure showed the band continuing to experiment and refine their songwriting chops. The next Beach Fossils album Clash the Truth featured a more energetic sound reminiscent of the band’s live shows and was issued in early 2013 on Captured Tracks.
After extensive touring, the group began working on a new album. This time out, Payseur involved the other members of the band in the writing process, with bassist Jack Doyle Smith and guitarist Tommy Davidson contributing ideas. Somersault showcased a band in bloom. Charting into new musical territory with a refined songwriting style, Somersault is an album that captures flashes of life in New York grounded in personal experience. The record was made in various locales in New York City, Los Angeles and a cabin in Upstate New York, featuring guest vocals from Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell among others. Somersault was released in mid 2017 on Bayonet Records, a label Payseur started with his wife Katie Garcia.
There is a way a voice can cut through the fascia of reality, cleaving through habit into the raw nerve of experience. Nika Roza Danilova, the singer, songwriter, and producer who since 2009 has released music as Zola Jesus, wields a voice that does that. When you hear it, it is like you are being summoned to a place that’s already wrapped inside you but obscured from conscious experience. This place has been buried because it tends to hold pain and Zola Jesus’s new album, Arkhon, finds new ways of loosing this submerged, stalled pain.
On previous albums, Danilova had largely played the role of auteur, meticulously crafting every aspect of Zola Jesus’s sound and look. This time, she realized that her habitual need for control was sealing her out of her art. Arkhon sees Zola Jesus’s first collaboration with producer Randall Dunn (Sunn O))), Earth, Mandy and Candyman soundtracks) and with drummer and percussionist Matt Chamberlain, whose prior work appears on albums by Fiona Apple, Bob Dylan, and David Bowie.
Arkhon reveals itself as an album whose power derives from abandon. Both its turmoils and its pleasures take root in the body, letting individual consciousness dissolve into the thick of the beat. Despite the darkness curled inside reality, there is power, too, in surrendering to what can’t be pinned down, to the wild unfurling of the world in all its unforeseeable motion. That letting go is the crux of Arkhon, which marks a new way of moving and making for Zola Jesus.
When Chris Stewart set out to write and record his third album as Black Marble, he was newly living in Los Angeles, fresh off a move from New York. The environment brought much excitement and possibility, but the distance had proved too much for the car he brought along. With it out of commission indefinitely, he purchased a bus pass and planned his daily commute from his Echo Park apartment to his downtown studio, where he began to shape Bigger Than Life. The route wound all through the city, from the small local shops of Echo Park to the rising glass of the business district, to the desperation of Skid Row. The hurried energy of the environment provided a backdrop for the daily trip. When Stewart finally arrived at his studio, he’d look through his window at the mountains and the sky, seeing the beauty that makes L.A. unique — the same beauty his fellow commuters, some pushed to the edge of human endurance, had seen. That was the headspace he was in when he began to map out the syncopated drums and staccato arpeggiation of Bigger Than Life, an ode to his new condition and a shimmering synth-pop response to its cacophony.
With their second album ‘Excess’, Automatic — Izzy Glaudini (synths, lead vocals), Lola Dompé (drums, vocals) and Halle Saxon-Gaines (bass) — synthesizes a new strain of retrofuturist motorik pop. It’s often said yesterday’s science fiction reads like today’s grim reality. On their new album ‘Excess,’ Automatic channel both. The LA trio’s second album for Stones Throw rides the imaginary edge where the ‘70s underground met the corporate culture of the ‘80s; or, as the band puts it, “That fleeting moment when what was once cool quickly turned and became mainstream all for the sake of consumerism.” Using this point in time as a lens through which to view the present, Automatic takes aim at corporate culture and extravagance, weaving deadpan critiques into cold wave hooks. The album’s overarching themes of alienation and escapism emerged as Automatic wrote ‘Excess’ together, fleshing out songs before decamping to the studio for sprint recording sessions with producer Joo Joo Ashworth (Sasami, FROTH).