Union Transfer


Alex G & Porches

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Alex G & Porches

Your Friend

Thu, April 14, 2016

Doors: 7:30 pm / Show: 8:30 pm

Union Transfer

Philadelphia, PA


This event is all ages

(Sandy) Alex G
(Sandy) Alex G
At the end of “Poison Root,” the opening track on Alex Giannascoli’s new album, Rocket, the 23-year-old artist repeats the phrase “Now, I know everything” again and again, his voice seething over a clatter of banjo, violin, and acoustic guitar sounds. It’s difficult to ascertain the exact tone: does he really think he knows everything? Or are these incantations a form of self-assurance, covering up insecurity? The tension between ambition and self-doubt in this closing refrain is typical of Rocket’s fourteen tracks. Over musical backdrops that effortlessly jump from sound collage to country pop to dreamy folk music, the cast of characters that Alex G inhabits have fun, fall in love, develop obsessions, get into trouble, and burn out. Rocket illustrates a cohesive vision of contemporary experience that’s dark and foreboding, perhaps especially because of how familiar, or to use Alex’s word, “unassuming,” the settings are.

With a goat-adorned cover painted by Alex’s sister, Rachel, Rocket is the Philadelphia-based artist’s eighth full-length release—an assured statement that follows a slate of humble masterpieces, many of them self-recorded and self-released, stretching from 2010’s RACE to his 2015 Domino debut, Beach Music. Rocket’s sessions began shortly after Beach Music’s ended, with Alex tracking songs at home, by himself and with friends, in the gaps between a hectic 2015 and 2016 touring schedule. Both albums were mixed by Jacob Portrait (Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Bass Drum of Death), who lent them a fine-tuning that retains the homespun personality of earlier efforts.

Amid the process, in the fall of 2016, Alex made headlines for reasons outside his own releases. He had caught the attention of Frank Ocean, who asked him to play guitar on his two 2016 albums, Endless and Blonde. More than any stylistic cues, what Alex took from the experience was a newfound confidence in collaboration. “I always have a hard time letting people play on my stuff,” he says, “but I saw how comfortable [Ocean] was using other people’s playing.” Alex’s previous albums are largely solo affairs, but Rocket wears this collaborative spirit proudly. Touring band members Samuel Acchione and John Heywood contribute guitar and bass, both soloing on “County”; Samuel’s brother Colin plays bass on two songs as well. Emily Yacina, a more frequent collaborator, sings on “Bobby” and “Alina,” and Molly Germer shows up throughout the album on violin and vocals. Germer’s violin was a game-changer, as the instrument “added a texture that I can’t get on my own,” Alex notes.

The looser, collaborative approach helped cultivate the variety of musical styles that Rocket presents. The dense, folky cluster of “Poison Root” leads to the bouncing country-rock of “Proud,” which is followed by the sophisticated harmonies of jazz-pop tune “County.” Later, the freaky, frantic “Witch” unsettles the album’s pop sensibility, while instrumentals “Horse” and “Rocket” set a more placid mood—that is, until the distorted, beat-driven “Brick” destroys any feelings of serenity exuded by the surrounding songs. Rocket ends with a rollicking free-for-all, “Guilty,” that in its numerous contributors and blaring saxophone synthesizes the album’s communal feel and restless sense of musical experimentation.

In addition to its fluid network of musical styles, Rocket showcases Alex’s ability to project the perspectives of several characters while maintaining a strong personal voice. Whereas Beach Music’s lyrics outlined vague situations, with Rocket Alex was “trying to create narratives that anybody could still inhabit,” he says, “but that had a more concrete quality.” He takes on the voice of memorable personalities such as what seems like an over-confident boy (“Powerful Man”), an alienated schoolgirl (“Alina”), and a couple with a creepily ambivalent relationship (“Bobby”). Their stories are at turns heartbreaking, puzzling, and hilarious; yet no matter the setting or the way he manipulates his voice, you always get an ineffable sense of “Alex G” as well as what he refers to as “an American perspective.”

“Proud,” the album’s longest (and perhaps catchiest) track, depicts a guarded, potentially disingenuous conversation. “I’m so proud of you,” the narrator says. But later, their sincerity falls away: “I wanna be a fake like you…,” they add. “I just wanna play the game.” The chorus strikes an earnest note—that the person singing works not to play “the game” but to provide for their “baby.” Yet Alex makes sure that it’s never perfectly clear who’s talking, or who believes what, casting doubt over an otherwise personable, inviting song. Track eight, “Sportstar,” traces another uncertain—though, in this case, one-sided—dialogue. Here, the narrator is an obsessive fan of the titular “sportstar” who, with pitched-up vocals and atop a melancholic piano lead, recites stalker-like requests that range from benign (“Let me tie your Nikes”) to violently sexual (“Could you hit me too hard”). That the “sportstar” remains anonymous speaks to Rocket’s open-endedness. Even if the stories are grounded in specific ideas and real experiences, Alex paints pictures that leave room for listeners to share in the events—to interpret them however they’d like, without regard for a “right” answer.

“I want [Rocket] to be completely unassuming,” Alex says. “I wanted it to be full of these characters that don’t know how crazy they are.” Rocket doesn’t have a pointed theme so much as these general feelings of unsteadiness and incomprehension—feelings we remember from growing up and that creep into the everyday life of adulthood as well. In some ways, the album’s title encapsulates this sense: “I like the word ‘rocket’ because it sounds immature, attention-seeking,” Alex explains. But while rockets certainly make a big impression, they also burn out. On Rocket, the myopic characters teeter between the initial explosion and the ultimate burning out. Alex himself, though, in a collection of songs that’s both his tightest and most adventurous, is poised only for the ascent.
Early on his third record as Porches, The House, Aaron Maine outlines his rifting desires: “I don’t wanna leave you out/I just wanna leave the house.” Though the debate is seemingly simple (the classic “should I stay or should I go” scenario), at the crux of the sentiment is an urgent need to exit the comfort of domesticity and be one’s own person. The House is driven by this urge to step back and reconcile with oneself. Whether examining identity through a relationship, nostalgia, or isolation, the key to unlocking The House is the conscious act of renewal.

Unlike 2013’s rollicking indie rock crusher Slow Dance in the Cosmos or the lush synth-pop of 2016’s Pool, Porches’ third record is a conscious effort in minimalism and honesty. “While making Pool I learned how valuable the spirit of the demos are,” says Aaron, “so for The House I made a point to try and capture the song the day it was conceived.” He recorded only for “keeps” and initially limited himself to a 4-track as a means of committing individual songs. Though he would later rework the arrangements, Aaron focused intensely on recording the essence of the song, embracing the imperfections of some of the performances in hopes of putting forward something more honest. Though Aaron largely composes on his own, The House features contributions by Alexander Giannascoli (Alex G), Dev Hynes (Blood Orange), Maya Laner (True Blue, Porches), Kaya Wilkins (Okay Kaya), Bryndon Cook (Starchild & the New Romantic), Cameron Wisch (Cende, Porches), Jason Arce, Bea1991, and his own father, Peter Maine. As with Pool, Aaron brought his recorded work to Chris Coady (Beach House, Slowdive, TV on the Radio), who then mixed The House at his Sunset Sound studio.

In accordance with the raw recording process, The House finds Aaron saying less with more intention. Because of his urgent desire to document immediate sensations, The House’s fourteen tracks offer a series of diaristic vignettes. There are moments of emerging from fear of ego death (“Leave the House,” “By My Side,” “Now The Water”), escaping the corporeal (“Now The Water,” “Swimmer”), the terrifying thrill of young love (“Country,” “W Longing”), and parting with the past (“Wobble,” “Goodbye”). As on Pool, images of water suggesting salvation at every turn: “Think I’ll go/Somewhere else/Where I can sink/Into myself” (“Find Me”); “can you make it right/can you do no harm/break the water with your arms” (“Country”); “This cold pool/Glowing against the night/Is the only thing/I believe is right” (“ W Longing”).

While these themes possibly paint The House in a dark light, the record is marked by an excitement at the prospect of self-discovery, and commitment to the process of getting there. “Find Me,” for example, touches on anxiety and isolation, but is put forward as an icy dance track where one might be able to celebrate those two emotions. The same paradox can be found in “Goodbye,” a piano track Aaron wrote after taking a solo trip to his hometown. Though it is initially a melancholy reflection of youth’s ephemerality, the chorus’ image of slipping into a lake invokes the beauty that sometimes accompanies the act of letting go. “Now The Water” also features one of The House’s most affecting images: “Red clutch farm kid not making a sound.” As Aaron explains it, the image is of a rural adolescent who sneaks out into a field at night. Only then, lying there alone while the world sleeps, do they truly feel in touch with themselves. This idea of being fully oneself is the ultimate state of liberation, and with The House, Aaron Maine creeps closer to realizing that goal for himself.
Your Friend
Your Friend
Since the release of her debut self-recorded EP, Jekyll/Hyde, in early 2014 via Domino, Taryn Miller has experienced many firsts as an artist – her first tour (with Courtney Barnett), her first SXSW (in 2014, in support of the EP release), and her first time working in a proper studio with a producer. And now, the 24-year-old who resides in Lawrence, KS and makes music under the moniker Your Friend, begins the process of another first – the release of her debut full length album, Gumption, out March 2016. 

Before recording Gumption, Miller searched for the right sonic touchstones for her full length. She struggled initially with the evolution of her sound, calling her EP “raw and innocent”, and was concerned with how to write newer material, while being conscious of a platform that could be wider reaching. Miller asked herself: How are you able to identify what is genuine to you and not under the guise of the potential to have a larger audience? After making calls to close friends, and even reaching out via email to the avant-garde composer William Basinski for advice, Miller took direction from perhaps an unlikely source – her former high school teacher, who simply said: ““Art is just where you are now. Where are you right now?” Miller used this simple maxim as the basis to start recording. 

Miller began writing the songs that would become Gumption at her studio space and apartment in Lawrence, KS after returning from touring in mid-2014. As a part of the album’s process, Miller acquired a field recorder that she used to explore sound from a familiar place. She took it to her family farm in Dexter, KS and drove around, dipping her senses into childhood nostalgia. If you listen closely, you may be able to identify a few of these noises on Gumption - creek water and engine noise (on ‘To Live With’), the wings of pigeons on the walls of their cages (‘Who Will I Be…’). 

Gumption builds on the ideas of Jekyll/Hyde, dealing with the dualities and nuances of human interaction, and questioning how much we, as individuals, are responsible for in the ways we are perceived. Jekyll/Hyde came from a place of, “how am I being affected,” while Gumption takes that and says, “how am I affecting?” Recording with producer Nicolas Vernhes (The War on Drugs, Deerhunter) at the Rare Book Room in Brooklyn helped Your Friend fulfill a penchant for drones, loops and found sounds. “I paid attention to textures,” Miller says. “I was trying to remove myself from an approach that I had followed before, but to be able to bring in that melodic element that is most inherent to me, and marry it with a more sonically meditative landscape.”

The album opens with “Heathering,” a brooding track Miller had been working on long before entering the studio. The opening acoustic guitar sample was something that Vernhes had caught before she knew they were tracking. It was left as somewhat of a playful placeholder initially, but then ultimately became an endearing and important part of the opening. 

“Come Back From It,” was composed of salvaged pieces of an almost entirely scrapped song during the demoing process. The whirling, dark, drum loop (arguably the backbone) and the crackling drone were the only original pieces of audio from the demo. Vernhes encouraged that there was something about the lurching nature of those elements that was worth pursuing. Miller already had a sense of verses, but there wasn’t a “relief,” as Vernhes said, when referring to a chorus. Vernhes sat her in the control room and played Lou Reed’s “Pale Blue Eyes,” with the both of them in silence, then said, “you have thirty minutes, go write a chorus.” After the structure was formed, Miller took on the task of creating several, separate loops for each chord in the entire song, and Vernhes collaging them and achieving an overall cinematic type of texture.

“Gumption,” came from two separate songs that worked better blended together than apart. “I really struggled with this one initially. One of the songs was more lyrically strong, while the other may have had stronger progressions.” It ended up falling together in an unexpected way, with Vernhes sampling old drum machines in order to find a percussive element that would move the song. “He really amazed me with his ability to shape them and give them an entirely new presence with his mixing and editing.” 

The record closes with “Who Will I Be in the Morning,” a haunting, shimmering track that nods at those first few, rewarding seconds that come with waking - that small amount of time in between sleep and consciousness, before you can decide how you feel about anything.

“The songs on the EP were coming from the lens I was looking through. Now, the lens is flipped around and facing me,” Miller says about her songwriting for Gumption. Thematically, the album deals with growing pains that come from self-inducing this sense of quiet that can be uncomfortably revealing. “I was sitting with myself so much, I got to know myself in ways I liked and ways I didn’t like,” Miller admits. Gumption is a record of courage, as its title suggests - of having the willingness to make necessary shifts, and to have a sense of self-awareness that ultimately leads to growth.
Venue Information:
Union Transfer
1026 Spring Garden St.
Philadelphia, PA, 19123