Author Archives: Rich

Mixtapes, Smokestacks, and Planetariums: Joywave Forging Their Path

joywave 88888 cover

“I think of it as being kind of like the space program in 1960s,” said Daniel Armbruster when asked about the level of experimentation involved in creating Joywave’s latest release. “Each mission was about accomplishing a certain goal that ultimately was about putting a person on the moon. ‘Alright, Mercury we’re going to have people circle the Earth. Gemini, we’re going to have crafts docking.  Eventually, we’re going to get there.’ That’s kind of the same philosophy I guess we take to our music.”

If you were to look at the cover art for Joywave’s new mixtape, 88888, the satellite circling the 8 would clue you in that the band has launched into orbit. It may be a step in the right direction in terms of evolving the sound of the Rochester electro-pop outfit, but not yet accomplishing the ultimate goal. What that goal is remains an unknown to lead singer and songwriter Armbruster and his band mates, but their identity has been forged and they are venturing onward into uncharted territories.

The mixtape—a unique characteristic of Joywave’s existence—has a long tradition in the world of music. What started as a piece of merchandise sold in truck stops in the 1960s and 1970s has evolved into a cultural staple. Music fans create them to express their feelings to loved ones, and they have become a vital source of promotion for up and coming hip-hop and electronica artists.

Enter Joywave. The band introduced itself to the world using the mixtape method—something that is highly unorthodox in the indie rock scene. “It’s a chance to experiment with music,” said Armbruster. “On our first one, we were trying to establish an identity.”

That first mixtape, 77777, included songs consisting of samples from artists such as The Flaming Lips, Beach House, LCD Soundsystem, Miike Snow, and Drake. Add in a cover of Robyn’s “Hang With Me” as well as a couple of original songs, and Joywave provided a recipe for an ideal mixtape. As a playlist, 77777 covers the gamut in styles—from slow burners such as “Winnipeg,” to disco-inspired dance numbers like “Titan.”

“The first one was much easier to create because we literally just sampled songs that we liked or we were into at the time,” said Armbruster. “We straight up took the mp3s, stripped out what we wanted, and put vocals over the top.”

The workhorses that they are, Joywave has not slowed down since that first mixtape. In addition to 77777, the band’s resume includes the following: a 7” release of the single “Ridge;” a concert at the Strasenburg Planetarium; numerous concerts around Rochester, Buffalo, and New York City; multiple performances at South by Southwest in 2013; weekly sets with the DJ collective Cultr Club; producing and playing on the Fuck Jams EP for Rochester electronica group KOPPS; releasing the seven-song Koda Vista EP; an electronica side-project with Alan Wilkis named Big Data, and now a return to form with the second mixtape.

With the arrival of 88888 on April 15, 2013, Rochester and the music blogosphere were treated to further proof of the versatility and originality that exists in Joywave’s music.  Artists and musicians often go through phases, looking for ways to reinvent themselves and their work. On 88888, instead of taking the music in a different direction via samples from other artists, the band reimagined themselves.

“The stuff we sampled on the new mixtape is from Koda Vista, mostly,” explained Armbruster. “Vocals from Koda Vista, things that we liked from Koda Vista, everything on the mixtape was created by us. Before it was let’s repackage things that we like and put a twist on it. This is all Joywave.”

Creating a new piece of work from an original piece is a project that brings the band’s thought processes to a higher level—a level that goes beyond what Armbruster experienced being part of the defunct Rochester pop-punk band, The Hoodies.

While artistically unsatisfied playing pop-punk, Armbruster was still able to take away important and usable lessons. “You get a good sense of melody from pop-punk,” he explained. “The music relies exclusively on vocal melody to draw you in because you take away the vocals and everything else is the same between songs.” That melody has carried over into Armbuster’s vocal stylings, but not just with the lyrics and at live performances. On 88888, vocal melodies are sampled and looped in ways that stretch the tone and create spastic electronic blips, creating unique progressions that craft the atmospheres of the songs.

Take the track “Tongues” for example, which contains these vocal samples from KOPPS vocalist, Patricia Patrone. While the words may be incoherent, sounding like an electronic version of scatting, they contribute to establishing the mood of the song. It is a characteristic unique enough to have one question how these attitudes, features, and electronic elements are replicated live with a five-member band, particularly when 88888 is also the first release from the band that includes hip-hop songs. Two songs to be specific, which include the rhymes of Atlanta-based rapper Sugar Tongue Slim, known by his stage name, STS. With an eclectic track list like this, it becomes an enigma to try and crack the band’s writing style.

Turns out that deciphering Joywave’s songwriting process is difficult because it is consistently inconsistent. Case in point: Armbruster explained how he wrote and recorded the track “Ridge” by himself. Once it was in a place he was pleased with he then took it to the other band members so they could collectively figure out how to play it live. The final result being that the live version features heavier guitar levels than the recorded version, which instead emphasizes synthesizers.

This differed from the process used on 88888, since more samples meant spending more time finding the puzzle pieces, putting them together, and then overlaying the vocals. For this, Armbruster explained that bassist Sean Donnelly also contributed a large portion of the sampling and mixing. Now the next step for the band will be bringing these songs to the stage.

Rochester has been receptive to Joywave since the band’s formation and the band has returned the favor by being supporters of their hometown. “One of the things I like about living and playing here is that I don’t feel the pressure to fit into something specific,” said Armbruster. “That’s been really important to our development. Not that Rochester is an island, but it kind of is. There aren’t a million bands that are trying to do the latest coolest thing.”

The support for the Flour City can be found sewn into various pieces of work. From the cover art of Koda Vista to the final song on the EP, “Smokestacks,” which refers to the billowing towers of Kodak Park in Greece where a majority of the band’s members grew up, the band is proud of its heritage.

“Our entire band is a byproduct of Eastman Kodak,” recounted Armbruster. “My dad is from Ohio, but he moved here right after college and got a job at Kodak. Either someone’s parent worked at Kodak, or Travis [Johansen, guitarist] works at the Eastman House. Without Kodak, without George Eastman, none of us would know each other. I probably wouldn’t be making music, I probably wouldn’t have met the right people to influence me.”

As far as the next mission for Joywave, Armbruster promised new original music from the band. He found his songwriting stride post-Koda Vista and said he has written numerous songs since the EP’s release. The objective behind the 88888 mixtape, while a testament to the bands evolving creativity, is to serve as a bridge connecting Koda Vista with the next release of original music. Armbruster said that a series of EPs is likely, but with Joywave it is best to not make predictions and let the band’s creativity run naturally.

Joywave play with KOPPS at the Bug Jar on Saturday, May 18, 2013.

[album review] Jimmy Cliff // Rebirth

Jimmy Cliff Rebirth

On its surface, reggae can appear to be a simple artform. Rhythms and melodies are remarkebly similar among different artists and bands, with differentiators peaking through in the form of catchy bass lines, a B-3 Hammond, or perhaps a brass instrument or two. Yet, there are certain reggae artists who have shone brighter than others. Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Toots Hibbert, and Lee “Scratch” Perry were recognizable voices within the genre, perfecting or redefining the music’s boundaries. However, none quite dug as deep to the roots of the reggae genre, and maxed out what it represented as a cultural more, spiritual connection, and social compass as Jimmy Cliff.

Never one to shy away from the injustices of the world, Cliff has routinely been the reggae artist to break away from the overabundant optimism that flows throughout the measures of the music and focus on everyday issues that create overcasts in our lives. Crime, murder, poverty, political corruption, hypocricies, war—these have all been pushed to the front by Cliff. The Harder They Come solidified his place as a social conscience, a guiding light for the right path while also addressing the grey zones we walk through every day. Now, 40 years after the release of that movie and groundbreaking, genre-defining soundtrack, Cliff has released Rebirth – an album that’s as vibrant and mindful as his most relevant work.

The songs on Rebirth touch on Cliff’s his usual topics. “World Upside Down” opens the album with an addressing of the injustices and chaos we see on a daily basis. Backing these topics with joyful melodies is a musical oxymoron of sorts, but it’s what Cliff does best. Sure there will be a bounce in your step, but listening to the words drops some important perspective from a man who has seen and lived through it all. Conscious songs such as that and “Children’s Bread” provide the politics, while others such as “Reggae Music” provide the break in the clouds, the half-glass-full optimism, that Cliff injects in each song. Times are tough, but they’ll get better.

On the production side, Cliff’s voice has not change one iota compared to the soul that resounded on “Many Rivers to Cross.” He sounds as youthful as ever, which is definitely most impressive for a 64-year-old with a 40+ year career. His wails on tracks such as “Bang,” and the lead single, “One More” show that Cliff has kept up with his craft, hitting every note up and down the octaves while maintaining the style of cantor/lecturer that has permeated throughout each of his last 29 albums.

The sound of his backing band, The Engine Room, is impressive as well, possessing that roots dancehall sound that existed on his albums from the 60’s and 70’s. A large thanks can be given to Rancid’s Tim Armstrong, who both produced the album and plays guitar throughout its entirety. Armstrong – a ska/reggae connoisseur – brings the classic Hellcat Records club vibe to Rebirth, a style that’s commonly found among other Hellcat bands such as The Slackers, Hepcat, and The Aggrolites. The drums echo, the organ is cranked up, and the upbeat guitar strums keep the mood light. It’s a classic M.O. that Cliff certainly influenced, and has come full-circle by allowing Armstrong to use it on his own work. His presence on the record is certainly felt throughout it, and from the first pop on the snare to final beat, it’s crystal clear that Cliff and Armstrong were meant to work together. Rebirth is a jovial creation that sets reality before us and shows us that there will be brighter times.

Jimmy Cliff // One More [mp3] from Rebirth

[mp3] Maserati // The Eliminator

Maserati Maserati VII

My brain nearly exploded when I came across this song on Pitchfork today. As a fan of jam bands, instrumental post rock, and electronica, Maserati offers up a wonderful conglomerate of all three, creating music that is a mixture of intensity and atmospheric trance. You may get lost in the songs, or you may rock out. Totally up to you but know that both are a possibility, and “The Eliminator” is an excellent example of this.

The first single from the Athens, GA band’s upcoming album, Maserati VII – due out October 2 – “The Eliminator” starts with a bang and never lets up. Full of relentless beats and tremolo picking, I felt like I was caught in a Road Rash race. It’s fast paced, powerful, and heavy, building off of the new sound that debuted on the band’s last album, Pyramid of the Sun – a record that was a stark contrast to the milder psychedelic post rock Maserati previously released.

It’ll be interesting to see where the other songs on Maserati VII go from here. Hoping it’s a nice mixture of what we hear on “The Eliminator” with the styles of older numbers such as “The Language,” which is a softer sound, but relies on similar characteristics such distorted chords and feedback.

Connect with Maserati: // Website | Facebook | Twitter

Maserati // The Eliminator [mp3] from the forthcoming Maserati VII

[album review] DIIV // Oshin

The dream-pop genre has certainly become saturated these days, making it more necessary for new bands to become inventive when attempting to tackle the sound. DIIV, the solo project of Zachary Cole Smith, has a jumpstart on other acts. He has been playing guitar in one of more more notable acts of the genre, Beach Fossils, and is thoroughly familiar with what it takes to build the hypnotic and ethereal elements that mold the dream landscapes.

Turning the reverb on the guitar and vocals to 11, Smith has created an album that is unique enough to immediately grab hold of your consciousness and guide it through each of his scenes. Setting the mood with instrumentals titled, “(Druun),” DIIV’s Oshin is similar to other dream-pop albums in that it’s a mood record. The reverberated streams and incoherent echoed vocals induce deep stupors that are difficult to emerge from, but that’s okay. From “(Druun)” into “Past Lives,” and on through part two of “(Druun),” Smith doesn’t change too much in his M.O. aside from speeding up the tempo from time to time. The weird thing is, this seems like monotony, yet I can’t not listen. And that’s the beauty of Oshin. In all of its repetitiveness and similarity to other dream-pop records, Smith has mastered a formula that creates a stranglehold on one’s attention.

[mp3] DIIV // How Long Have You Known?

I liken this effect to why I enjoyed Craft Spells’ Idle Labor, Wild Nothing’s Gemini, and of course, Beach Fossils’ albums–the songs are catchy, aesthetically pleasing to the ears, and enjoyable to listen to multiple times. On Oshin, the album runs a bit long, with the monotony kicking in at around “Sometime” or “Doused.” It’s not the songs in particular that cause me to stop listening, but I’ve noticed that when I feel it’s time to switch albums, that those are the numbers I’m stopping on–a sign that my attention span could’ve used a couple of tracks cut. But that’s an unfair assessment to what Smith has created on Oshin–a complete album that expands upon his work with Beach Fossils in a way that’s more fantastical and imaginary. Difficult to do in such a crowded and clone-like genre, but Smith pulls it off with DIIV on Oshin.

DIIV // Facebook | Twitter

[album review] POP ETC // POP ETC

I’ll just come right out and say it – there’s a lot to enjoy on this album. If you’re a fan of hook-ladened synth-pop, then POP ETC provides you with your fill and then some. There are melodies on this record that have stayed with me long after the last song, to the point where it requires an immediate replay. But with that being said, there’s also a fair amount of material on this album that’s disappointing. And not because it’s a departure from the band’s former style as the morning benders, because I didn’t start listening to those records until after I listened to the POP ETC mixtape. It’s just that with some of these songs, the stylings and lyrics are pretty cheesy and mundane, and it gets to the point where fast-forwarding is the immediate thought as soon as a few particular song(s) come on.

First we’ll start with the good, nay, the great: “Back to Your Heart,” “R.Y.B.,” and “Yoyo” are probably the catchiest songs I’m going to hear all year. They’re like a cold you just can’t shake, and I mean that in the nicest way possible. Their thick synth lines linger in your brain, and you’ll try other remedies, (Me? I tried other pop records that could only be described as infectious) but no medicine will relieve you. “Yoyo” particularly seems fit for Top 40 Radio. The simplistic lyrics and basic beats could almost be confused as being the newest song from One Direction. But nope. Believe or not, this is the product of an indie band who’ve taken part in a metamorphosis of sorts from a psych-pop beach band to the likes of the latest electro-pop craze that continues to flood the airwaves. I shouldn’t be complaining. I love the song and can’t get enough of it. Call it a guilty pleasure if you want, but it’s still playing in my head and I’m not ashamed.

Building up to those moments, POP ETC set the tone right from the get-go with the opener “New Life” – an auto-tuned love song that has more in common with the robotic crooning of Daft Punk on “Something About Us” than the rest of the auto-tuned garbage on the radio. Lead singer Chris Chu has a good voice, so auto-tune isn’t exactly necessary, but the effects add to the mood and complement the band’s new style. The band overdoes things a bit with the auto-tune effect, but not to the point where it ever really sounds bad or out of place. It just appears too often, mostly in spots where it’s not necessary.

Now the bad: Chu’s influence of early-90’s R&B and dance music doesn’t always transfer well to POP ETC. The lyrics on “Live It Up” are cringe-worthy to the point where I can’t tell if Chu is trying to be serious or tongue-in-cheek. Regardless, it’s tough to bear listening to him explain how he’s a player, and that he respects women by not calling them ‘ho’s.’ “Live it Up” isn’t the only example of this. It’s rampant on songs like “Halfway to Heaven” and “I Wanna Be Your Man,” begging the question, “Was the style departure from the morning benders really worth it?”

After listening to the POP ETC mixtape and my three favorite songs on this album, all I can say is…maybe?

Connect with POP ETC // Facebook | Twitter | web