In this week's Listening Post, I take a look at some albums from Megafortress, Problems That Fix Themselves, Gwyneth Moreland and Girlpool. From bleak folk rhythms to industrial drones and stripped-down indie rock, the records in this week's column will quickly find their way into your regular playlists. Which albums are you looking forward to hearing this week?
Brooklyn artist Bill Gillim (AKA Megafortress) knows how to induce the chilly static of winter and the disassociation that can often result from its ensuing iciness. In other artists' hands, this sense of distance and emotional separation could easily have led to something sterile and lifeless, but Gillim utilizes a distinct and broad palette of sound to frame his wonderfully evocative voice. Synths, saxophone, odd samples and bits of atypical percussion come together under his careful direction, resulting in a stark, austere picture of minimalist self-deception that rides along on a series of haunting and crooked melodies
These particular facets of his preternatural musical ability all come out on his debut LP, "Believer," and seem determined to split your heart (or your head) down the middle. But this isn't accomplished through a pummeling or even vaguely cathartic wash of sound and noise—in fact, these songs tend to steer away from most forms of melodic release. That's where Gillim tends to stay, nestled comfortably in that middle ground between hope and disillusionment. Nothing really comes into focus on "Believer," whether it's the often-obfuscated lyrics or musical uncertainty that perforates the entire record. It never quite gives you what you think you need, and therein lies Gillim's genius—as much as we think we know what we want, he seems far more inclined to give us what we actually need.
Problems That Fix Themselves, "Which Is Worse"
What can be gleaned from noise? Or to put it another way: What insights can be offered from a series of droning segues and arrhythmic textures? Well, the answer is that you would indeed be surprised at how inclusive these jarring sounds can actually be—just look at Chicago-based industrial noise duo Problems That Fix Themselves. Composed of Already Dead Records founder Joshua Tabbia and longtime musical collaborator Alex Borozan, this outfit wades through the hiss and static that so readily finds itself aligned with the genre, but they still manage to inject an emotional presence into their compositions that keeps them from ever falling into a preprogrammed circuital rut.
For their latest album, "Which Is Worse," the duo looks toward something far more melodic and substantive. They're still dealing in bent electronics and damaged noise, but the resulting rhythms are anything but jarring—at least for the most part. So while they occasionally dip back into the harsh sounds of their previous work, "Which Is Worse" finds them working through their digital and analog issues with a newfound sense of confidence and rhythmic viability. With a record as subjective as this, it's only fair to say that each person will probably find something different to latch onto—whether it's a damaged bit of melody or a series of interlocking drones. Tabbia and Borozan have created a noise record with a heart, and that thudding synthetic beat will have you inching closer and closer after each listen.
Gwyneth Moreland, "Ceilings, Floors and Open Doors"
For most singer-songwriters, the difference between sounding authentic and being authentic is what keeps them from ever finding a substantial audience. This idealistic disconnect can derail even the most nobly intentioned records. But when you hear the music of California singer Gwyneth Moreland, any sense of that disconnect is quickly swept under the rug and forgotten. Her music is bare but emotionally present, as if her songs were captured spontaneously as she played on her front porch in the last few hours of a spring evening. Running through strands of Americana and early folk music, she finds a beauty and emotional restlessness in unadorned words and sounds.
Her latest record, "Ceilings, Floors and Open Doors," was recorded live, with just two mics and the minimalist of instrumentation. She doesn't need anything else. Influenced by artists like Nanci Griffith and Billie Holiday, Moreland settles into her folk niche with the grace and poise of someone who has lived a handful of lives in the past few years. There's something to be said for the abject simplicity that she offers her listeners—in terms of the music if not the emotional involvement. As mesmerizing as the night sky and as dreamily nostalgic as your favorite Loretta Lynn record, "Ceilings, Floors and Open Doors" captures the spirit of the past 60 years of folk and country music without ever batting an eye. How's that for authentic?
Girlpool (self-titled EP)
Los Angeles rock duo Girlpool creates music that feels drawn from the same vein as early riot grrrl bands like Bikini Kill and Bratmobile. Operating as a bass and guitar duo, musicians Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad churn through their music with a primordial punk inclination—it's all clanging notes and vehement proselytizing. But as much as the music aims to confront your senses (and conscience), the band never falls back on bland societal platitudes to make their point. This is all viciously serrated sentiment and accusatory awareness, though they aren't fixated on one particular group of people; their sights are set on a broader and more incisive emotional idealism.
On their self-titled debut EP, Tucker and Tividad blast out 16 minutes of unfiltered ferocity and social commentary that feels necessary and passionate in its delivery. Their fuzz-punk sound rebounds off your eardrums and rips open your heart. These songs deal with how women are portrayed in online environments, slut shaming and a wide range of ingrained psychological provocations. This fairly heady selection of zealous ideas is set against a buoyant collection of bass-happy rhythms and reflexive guitar riffs. These songs pour out from your speakers in cathartic waves of anger and unapologetic denunciation. The music is spirited and aims for change, and if this EP is any indication, it looks like they just might succeed.
Joshua Pickard covers local and national music, film and other aspects of pop culture. You can contact him on Facebook, Twitter or by email. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.
Updated @ 1:43 p.m. on 11/18/14 to correct a factual error: Harmony's last name is Tividad, not Dividad, as originally reported.