Ghosts of Urban Decay: DiS Meets Andrew Wasylyk

 

I think it’s a cloudy day in Hawkhill, though it’s hard to tell. A slow, hazy brightness envelops the landscape. In the middle distance there stands a grey stone building, roof long since gutted, an old tree looming over its derelict frame in defiance. Everything here is charcoal-grey and silent. I’ve never been to this place. But I’m staring at Joseph McKenzie’s black and white photograph of the area, taken from his 1966 collection Dundee – A City In Transition, and I can hear a piano arpeggio charting its course around the edges of the frame.

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Gregg Kowalsky – L’Orange, L’Orange

Like magical realism, the key signifiers of ambience are invariably opaque: as a genre, it thrives on ambiguity, haze, distortion, the ‘undecidable’, the inversion of assumed values. Light, where permitted, may only be dusky or twilit, carved out in anaemic shards of an otherwise pitch-black or cobalt totality. It may not be bright or, heaven forbid, sunny. It should not conjure Miami or California. Beyond all else, the ambient record denotes the absence of certainty, a precious world outside our own built from spiderwebs and choral loops. With L’Orange, L’OrangeGregg Kowalsky compromises all our prose about misty forests and abandoned skyscrapers. It is incandescent.

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Cults – Offering

By the time the Manhattan duo had released their debut album, the continued existence of Cults already felt like a survival fight. While breakout hit and 2011 ubiquity “Go Outside” gambolled through its four minutes with the insouciant, no-fucks breeziness of its contemporaries (Sleigh Bells‘ “Rill Rill”, Chairlift‘s “Bruises”), it also revealed glimpses of a heaviness that no glockenspiel could carry. Above all, they faced the dread fate of creating a cute hit: moving on from it. Now on their third album, Offering finds the band exploring the scope of their natural ballast with some of their darkest songs to date, while simultaneously sounding freer than ever; no longer one-hit wonders, theirs proves to be a robust kind of levity.

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This Will Be The Last Time: DiS Meets Chuck

 

Each generation is obsessed with the idea of legacy, the cultural artefacts it will box up and leave pristine in memoriam, but few have failed quite so abjectly to achieve it as ours. Following a correlative spike in nostalgia, we’ve been forced to watch a succession of rose-tinted discographies – including both Pavement and Smashing Pumpkins, though no word on a ‘Range Life’ duet yet – jacked open and stripped for parts, cobbled together in a grotesque, wrinkled parody of the nineties. Charles Griffin Gibson, AKA New York-based DIY indie rocker CHUCK, hasn’t settled any expensive lawsuits with his work, but he still knows when to call it a day.

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Anna of the North – Lovers

Reminiscing on the countless albums that have been signposted as eighties nostalgia, it’s striking how few of them actually sound like anything from that decade. Sure, the drums are loaded with gated reverb, the synth modules are preset to soft tones that were disowned in the nineties, fade-outs are a thing again, and the saxophone is suddenly an acceptable replacement for the electric guitar.

What’s perhaps unsurprising is that all these records represent exactly what they are: a loving pastiche recreated from memories, a tribute rather than a precise facsimile. Anna Lotterud – AKA the vocal half of pop duo Anna of the North – was born in the summer of 1989, a few months before Taylor Swift. On debut album Lovers, she calls back to an era she couldn’t possibly remember, but her nostalgia forms part of a cultural renaissance that now merits its own chapter in pop history.

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Kesha – Rainbow

As our march toward the world’s end builds to a canter, the narratives we wrap around human tragedies both great and small remain the same: resurrection, hope not hate, the phoenix rising from the ashes. After Eagles of Death Metal survived the terrorist attack that interrupted their 2015 Bataclan show in Paris, the appropriate responses began flooding in, spearheaded by (a) a collection of largely ersatz covers of ‘I Love You All The Time’, and (b) the usual well-meaning platitudes about hope and fear. Frontman Jesse Hughes didn’t get the memo. ‘I know people will disagree with me,’ he told The Guardian a few months later, ‘but it just seems like God made men and women, and that night guns made them equal.’ Suddenly, it appeared the protagonists had their own complex moral code, one that didn’t necessarily fit with the scripted liberal response. The phoenix proved as unmanageable as the ashes.

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Everything Slays: What Indie Rock Can Learn From Animation’s Queer Voices

 

The world is a sharp place, and art that serves only to map out its painful edges proves as useful and welcome as Owen Smith’s post-election hubris, or chlamydia, or waking up and realising that Owen Smith’s post-election hubris has somehow given you chlamydia. The scenes that leave a real scar are those that locate the intersection of tragedy and farce; the ragged contours, the poignant moments Simon Reynolds once described as “the exquisite meshing of two contradictory feelings”. It’s driven by characters who compromise the expectations attached to their role, and by proxy, the way we identify ourselves within them. The world’s villains are still easy enough to caricature. But if you happen to fall outside the heteronormative matrix, chances are the heroes don’t look anything like you either.

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Beach House – B-Sides and Rareties

‘All I wanted comes in colours,’ Victoria Legrand once sang, and while it’s tempting to mark that as a collection of euphonically pleasing words rather than a mission statement, there’s an element of both. Perhaps I’ve read too much into Beach House’s artwork over the years, but all those records seem to hold together as cohesive shades from start to finish: the woozy amber of the first two releases; Teen Dream’s pearly whites; the cobalt midnight of BloomDepression Cherry, of course. It’s no coincidence that their reviews tend to be written in visual terms, too, with inclusion of the term ‘widescreen’ increasingly mandatory since their 2010 breakthrough. Whichever way you cut it, Beach House records tend to come in colours.

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