Bali Yaaah, Equals, Eskimo, Noise Revival Orchestra, and ((Sounder))
Reviewed by Austin Powell, Fri., Aug. 5, 2011
"One step forward, two steps backward," intones keyboardist Chris Brown with a terror-alert urgency in "Call It, for Real," the lead track on Bali Yaaah's madcap debut, Never Early Always Fate. That's a fitting summation of the synth-pop trio's retro-futurism, a sci-fi swirl of syncopated drum machines, white-heat guitar, and near-dub bass. This isn't chillwave drivel, either. "The Shakes" channels the confrontational zeal of Suicide in its Krautrock consistency and deep-psych drone, while "Wait for Me" melts slowly with long-form post-punk gloom. Equals juggles far more complex equations on its eponymous debut. The young math-rock quintet works in angles, crafting clean instrumental suites with asymmetrical time signatures that in the processed vox and computer-generated beats of "Salvo" land in Battles territory. The five compositions boast surprising clarity and confidence, maintaining an emotional breadth amid prog-rock complexities ("Electric Blanket"). Conversely, Eskimo, a new assemblage led by Sixteen Deluxe bassist Jeff Copas and Chronicle Sports Editor Mark Fagan, is still in discovery. The band's first showing yields three covers, notably an underwater rendering of Chris Bell's "You & Your Sister," with Carrie Clark. Sedated instrumental "Foxy Misadventure" and effects-laden original "You Know Right Now" show promise. Nathan Felix's the Noise Revival Orchestra, likewise, looks for strength in numbers, swelling on third EP Songs of Forgiveness to shelter the House of Songs project. The collective's twee indie folk compensates size for substance, but endearing closer "Sapphire" strikes the perfect balance between the two. Noted music video director and visual artist Mike Aho returns as ((Sounder)) for his latest EP, If We Don't Get Better (Celebrate Magic Hands), follow-up to 2008's overlooked Good Things Come and Go Like Bad Things. The road-trip-ready "Head East!" and MMJ-haze of "We'll Turn the Coffins Into Gardens" make this five-song outing an ideal summer soundtrack, rich with lo-fi anxiety and punch-drunk charm that's over far too soon.