Æ: Aglet Eaters

Interactions in Installments: Mansions and Junipers Part 3

Posted in Discover by R on July 21, 2012

ZOMG so guess what I just worked out! (i.e. was told)

Those apparently random dots underneath the name in the Mansions and Junipers logo (look!) are, in fact, Braille!

Considering I know how to write two alphabets in Braille (which I’m assuming is more than most people) I’m feeling a bit stupid for not having realised that myself.

Oh well, I don’t think it comes as much of a surprise that I’m a bit of a tubelight.

So just a shoutout to their creative designer Evol before we get to the final segment of this III series. If Evol had a website, I’d link to it, but let’s see you do a google search for it and what luck you have.

Now – on to all matters EP-ian, before we moving on to the Really Important Things e.g. pets’ names, pet names etc.

Matthew:

GreeKneel

The EP: Plastic 57

As I mentioned, we’ve recorded an amazing amount of music in the last year. Because we have our own studio/s, we record perpetually. To be honest, when we started, we were kind of recording without any traditional intent. I really wanted us to take our time with the vibe — let things come together naturally. Most of the songs feature me and Salvatore Boyd (Sally) but the other members, Robert Vacarelli (drums) and Rich Bennett (synths), do appear on the EP’s and their styles and energy have become totally vital to the group’s developing sound. Nonetheless, Sally and I sort of laid the groundwork for the EP series.

Sally and I both grew up in Allenhurst, NJ, a tiny beach town just north of Asbury Park. It’s a unique little time capsule revolving around a quiet little beach club. Anyway, Sal is 9 years my junior, so we never had a chance to get to know each other until May 2011, but he was always on my radar as a brilliant young musician, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist. In short, Sally graduated last year and built out a really serious garage studio called Super Owl. I immediately seized the opportunity for us to finally work together.

Sally’s energy is anything but rigid. He takes risks… it’s simply in his DNA. He’s all feel. Even though he’s technically our bass player, he plays loads of drums, percussion, some guitar, and so forth on these EP’s. His energy made me really comfortable, especially with my singing. I’d be laying down vocals and he’d just be sitting there freaking out. It really pushed my performances 1000x past where I’d ever been before. We really embraced the spirit of the garage. It didn’t matter if we were recording tambourines or baby grand – it was always a group effort and we were always freaking out! It’s one of the first times I’ve been in the studio where the only priority was to capture moments of grandiose magic with little regard for accuracy. Our intent is to channel music – not make it or build it – it’s church.

The other funny and weird thing is that Sal’s studio is literally 3 feet away from my great aunt’s (who passed a few years ago) house. I have some wild memories of going there on holidays as a child. She was a very strong in every sense of the word – in family, religion, professionally at a time when women weren’t really accepted in the corporate order of things, and so forth. I remember walking though rows and rows of tall tomato plants in her garden, eating tomatoes right off the vine. And we were literally recording within steps her old house… childhood memories lingered like ghostly dreams the entire time. The feeling caused me to often re-write lyrics for entire songs on the spot. If you’re not taking your own ego too seriously, then it makes all the sense in the world to throw what previously felt like your masterpiece to the wayside in favor of capturing the overwhelming energy of the moment.

This is basically the kind of spirit-driven process that we needed to develop Mansions and Junipers from a project to a band with an identity and a focused social compass. I don’t think our recording approach will ever quite mirror that of 2011 / 2012 again, but I’m really excited that we were able to document the energy of this group in its infancy, and that we’ll be able to share these songs in themed collection format over the course of this year.

On Not-Music

Well, if we’re not working on the music, we’re basically making filthy jokes. We practice at Bob’s (drummer). He has a cockatiel named Birdog that flies around the house while we’re practicing. She likes to land on your shoulder while you’re singing. She also likes to ‘do her business’ on the floor tom. She’s actually quite the drummer in addition to being a fantastic singer, obviously! She also lays eggs that look like little white jellybeans.

I do lots of stuff on the side. I’ve done composing, producing, and sound design for TV, video games, online platforms, and such. It’s a lot of fun to occasionally get outside of myself and my own visions in order to create something with a specific pre-established aesthetic in mind. Sound design is challenging. Sometimes it’s more difficult to create a single sound for something like closing out an application than it is to compose an entire piece of music. Try being interesting, original, engaging, and relevant with one or two syllables!

Social-wise, I like cooking, eating, and drinking, especially barbecuing. I’m a summer person through and through, and I grew up surfing pretty seriously. So, i’m into anything ocean and beach-related as long as it doesn’t involve an engine. I like gardening as well, but I really don’t know what I’m doing. I also drink my martinis dry, shaken, with 3 olives — and I like amaro after dinner. I’d also like to give a shout out to my cat, Fifi. [important information emphasised, as always – ed]

I’m also finishing my MS in Energy Technology and Management. Ive basically studied energy conservation, renewable energy technologies, sustainable practices and designs, green building, transportation planning, and so forth. Right now, I’m writing a thesis on high-speed rail and it’s influence on the compact development of sustainable communities, moderating consumption, and improving quality of life [PROTIP: use the “<snappy, subculturally relevant phrase><colon><excessively long explanation>” format for your thesis title – ed]. I’m really trying to look at it from the perspective of an industrial designer or a futurist like Jacque Fresco —- understanding the need to identify and practice a symbiosis between nature and design —- liberating humanity from the mundane by creative design that enables us to reach our potential as human beings.

And while I indulge, I supplement the bills by bartending in Fort Greene, Brooklyn a couple nights a week. [sic ‘im, chicks – ed] 

Bob, our drummer, is a hair designer and a tailor. Sal (bass) and Rich (keys) teach music.

Back to the Music

Mansions and Junipers have just released their first EP. You can pick up Plastic 57 anywhere. This here Soundcloud widget will let you try out all the songs, and keep two. Links to pick up or pull down the album are after the cover art.

PLASTIC 57

You know, I just realised I never asked about the name of the EP. Wonder if it’s any relation to Muffin 57? Anyhoo:

Plastic 57 on Bandcamp for ONLY 8,847.5 Colombian pesos!

Plastic 57 on iTunes for ONLY 466.84 Japanese yen!

AND

Plastic 57 on Amazon (under ‘psychedelic rock’, lol lol) for ONLY 526.68 Nepalese rupees!

FYI, these are all perfectly reasonable prices, so if you like it then you should put a ring on it.

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Interactions in Installments: Mansions and Junipers Part 2

Posted in Discover by R on July 19, 2012

Listening to Mansions and Junipers, I come to the unavoidable conclusion that you’d find them under ‘indie’ in your nearby music shop/record store, provided, of course, that you still frequent these places. In all fairness, though, I have not once seen a ‘shoegaze’ section.

have seen a ‘beer’ section though. Of course, this was in Australia:

beer in mind, this is Australia

Yes that CD reads ‘Beer, Blokes and BBQ’

If there was a parallel world where shoegaze sections exist, though, I wouldn’t expect to find Mansions and Junipers there. There is definitely an aesthetic reminiscent of the scenes, new and old, in there, but it’s not the dominating feature. There are clear vocal harmonies, the instrumentation is distinct and individualistic, and, most tellingly, I can comprehend every word.

In this section of the interview, Matthew sheds some light on the story behind Mansions and Junipers’ sound. I also find myself quite intrigued by the name so decided to ask about that as well. In the process I seem to have revealed that I am not as well read as I appear to be. This is also the place to marvel at M’s Subhead Skills.

Matthew:

The Name

In May of 2010, I was deep into the writing and recording of what was to become Mansion Beach, the first MaJ LP. I had taken a lot of time away from writing, as I had devoted so much energy into playing other people’s music, and I was grabbing at every bit of inspiration I could for lyrics, themes, and so forth. At the time, I was getting really into John Barth, an American postmodernist novelist. I was reading his first novel, The Floating Opera, which he wrote when he was 24 years old (1955). While reading, I would write down all sorts of phrases, words, sentences, or inspired ideas. In fact, I was constantly taking notes on everything during this time — I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted this band to be, but I was really really open and everything around me appeared to have a ‘creative sheen’. Anyhow, Mansions and Junipers was derived from the following passage:

 “The sheer oppositeness of his enthusiasm from anything I myself could conceivably have been enthusiastic about at that time — though I had been interested enough in social reform not too long before — drew me to him, and, as I learned later, he was attracted by my “transcendent rejection” (his term) of the thing that meant life to him. In short, we were soon friends, and walked blindly to my rooms at dawn for more drink, singing the Internationale in French through the mansioned and junipered roads of Guilford.”

The image struck me — the language, the phrasing, the pace gives this feeling that the mansions and junipers lining the streets are just these hazy, peripheral accessories, or these distant bystanders or onlookers. Barth gives conveys this comforting feeling of being alone in company. It just felt so basically and profoundly human.

The Style and Development of the Sound:

This is always a difficult thing to explain. When I was conceiving of the group in 2010, I had no conscious compass for what type of band I wanted us to be. In brief, I just kept writing and recording, we tried out different potential members, played shows, took lots of risks etc. and now an identity is emerging. In my experience, this isn’t something you can force. We all start by referencing our influences, but until you’re able to really locate your voice, it’s difficult to stand out as something unique. I think it just comes from time and repetition and being together. That being said, I think our most relevant influences right now are Depeche Mode, Pixies, Bowie, Scott Walker, OMD, Siouxsie… as for contemporary bands, I’m really digging Deerhunter and Atlas Sound, A Place To Bury Strangers, Crystal Stilts, and  Chairlift‘s new LP is fantastic.

As a songwriter, one of the most difficult things I come up against is trying to convey more with less. I think we’re getting much better at writing meaningful parts for each instrument rather than just to make things dense or harmonizing just because that’s something we generally do. It’s very difficult to be objective about your own music. Subsequently, it’s very easy to bury your hooks and themes under density, simply just because you might not even know what your hook is! But I think that lack of clarity is most often a symptom of trying too hard to be something. At this point with MaJ, I feel strongly that we’ve found our thing… it’s become super easy. The creative choices that once seemed so daunting simply make themselves now. I think that social elegance is often conveyed through simplicity, or more accurately, the appearance of simplicity. The goal is to simplify everything that we do — from the way we write to the way we rehearse to the way we perform to the way we record — so that we might continue to eliminate any boundaries that might exist between us and potential listeners. We have a ways to go, but that’s the point… it’s an infinite process that’s extremely gratifying.

Emphasis added.

Interactions in Installments: Mansions and Junipers Part 1

Posted in Discover by R on July 16, 2012

Hey, remember this?

That’s the first song by Mahogany I ever heard and to this day it remains my favourite. Light, lilting, liberating, it’s a baby bird measuring the distance between branch and earth before its first, overwhelmingly successful, leap.

Tesselation is the reason why the only word I saw in the first email Matthew ofMansions and Juniperssent me was ‘Mahogany’. I am so uncivil that Matthew had to give me a gentle prod a couple of emails later to remind me that he was writing to tell me about M & J (and presumably not to hear me ramble on about Mahogany as… I am doing here).

As anyone can tell, this was a PERFECT OPPORTUNITY for another round of…

*thunderous drumroll*

Interactions! In! Installments!

*gong*

Before I get started, I’d just like to say that this is probably the most organised III I’ve had till date. You can tell Matthew is or has been a university student because of how he neatly sorts responses under appropriate subheads making my job about 10,000 times easier.

And before Matthew gets started, it’s probably best he introduce us to the other constituent of the the M & J compound – Monocle (because god knows I’ve done enough for Mahogany):

Before I get into Mansions and Junipers, I can point you towards Monocle. Monocle is the brainchild of my close friend Rich Bennett. He was the primary songwriter on the debut EP, Lounge Act, and the LP, Outer Sunset (I composed two tracks on OS and play guitar on everything). We’ve put that band on hold for several years now, but Rich is finishing up a new Monocle LP which I am not involved with. You can check out Monocle here: http://music.hiddenshoal.com/artists/monocle/

And you should. OK on to business:

Matthew Filler:

Mansions and Junipers is me (Vocals, guitar, all songwriting), Rich Bennett (keyboards), Salvatore Boyd (Bass), and Robert Vaccarrelli (Drums).

In April 2010, I started writing a recording the debut LP, Mansion Beach. This was before I had nailed down a band. I recorded and performed most of this record myself, with some help from Sean Marquand (producer/songwriter of Phenomenal Handclap Band), and drummer Andrew Frawley. It was finished in September of 2010 and self-released. I subsequently put together a temporary band. We performed the Mansion Beach songs until I started writing prolifically again in the spring of 2011. Although I am very proud of Mansion Beach, it doesn’t really reflect what we do now.

In June 2011, I hooked up with Salvatore Boyd. Sal is an absolutely brilliant young musician from Allenhurst, NJ, my home town (although I’ve lived in Brooklyn for 12 years). The Boyds are old family friends. They’re a musical family, unlike mine. I used to jam at their house when I was 17, the middle bro Sam was 14, and Sal was 8 [crivens! – ed]. The age difference is such that Sal and I were never friends growing up. But he graduated from Berkeley School of Music last spring as a brilliant composer and multi-instrumentalist and I immediately wanted to get him in the fold. He had just built a beautiful suburban garage studio (Super Owl)… a real legit one, and I was ready to work with him. We spent all of last summer laying down tracks every week, early mornings, late nites, drinking beer, and recording a ridiculous amount of music… he matched my energy and productivity and then some. We recorded about 30+ tracks – Sal on drums, me on bass, both of us playing guitars, recording various percussion, playing Nashville tuned guitars, experimenting with contact mics inside the baby grand, putting guitar amps outside – basically trying everything. I was really trying to rid myself of the regimented recording process I had done so much of for so long in small confined studios on tight budgets in areas of Brooklyn. We were trying to capture real unbridled performance, whether it was a tambourine or a grand piano. (also Bob and Rich did play on these recording later after I and Sal had really established our process).

During this time, the core of the band was developing. Rich Bennett, my perpetual music partner (we met in college at NYU and initially had a band together called Friendly Bears), and Robert Vaccarelli (who’s also a childhood friend whom I started playing music with when I was 14 but lost touch with for several years) were added to the fold. We immediately began to gel, as we all had deep histories and connections with one another. A post-punk energy started to develop within all of the psych detail and Scott Walker abstractions…

y so grumps

In late 2011 and 2012, we’ve done live shows with Laetetia Sadier (Stereolab), and friends like Religious To Damn, The Stargazer Lillies (Soundpool) [zomg!! – ed], and Apollo Heights… although, shoegaze is really on the periphery of what we do…

During this time entire, I’ve been perpetually overdubbing and mixing in my studio in Brooklyn, Pralaya Records and Productions. The plan is to break down this material into a series of EP’s. The first is the Plastic 57 EP, to be released June 5th. The others will follow in 2-3 month intervals… each EP will have 6 songs, so there will be plenty of leftover b-sides. June will also see our debut video by Eric Bintner, producer / animator / designer…

Since it’s well past June in all hemispheres, meet Mansions and Junipers first video:

More soon…

Incoming: Mansions and Junipers

Posted in Discover by R on July 7, 2012

Not long now till I get started on sharing witchu the chat I had with Matthew Filler of Mansions and Junipers. Who are Mansions and Junipers, you ask? That name sounds familiar, you say? All will be revealed… once I finish this one irritating paper I have been sitting on for FAR LONGER than is necessary. If only I had the excuse that it’s on a subject I’m uninterested in. If only…

Anyway, when I return, I will return with Mansions and Junipers.

That sentence sounds lovely, I must say. More people should make band names like this so I can make sentences like that.

D’accord, attendez…

St. Marie Records Rampage: Drowner

Posted in Feature by R on July 3, 2012

The last of the Rampages! The Grand Finahlay as you non-francophones might call it.

However, I’ll have you know Anna Bouchard of Drowner IS a francophone. Something I discovered quite unexpectedly on twitter while I was subjecting my poor, unsuspecting followers to a barrage of pidgin French transmissions in the interest of ‘practice’. Sometimes I wonder how many twitterers are dejectedly shaking their heads at me and my simplistic French phrases. I don’t think Anna is one of them. In fact, she helped me settle on ‘tous les jours’ instead of ‘toujours’ for ‘everyday’ and then even understood the questions I asked her immediately after.

I interviewed Darren and Anna almost exactly a year ago. At the time I was introduced to the band as a two-piece consisting of Darren and Anna. When I spoke to Anna about this feature she spilled the beans (were they not meant to be spilled?) and revealed that six people constituted Drowner. I visit their tumblr and the number there stands at three. The Twitter bio says four. Since the only number between two and six that hasn’t shown up is  five, I’m going to assume that is how big Drowner really is.

At the time of the interview I also made the observation that Drowner sound a lot bigger than you expect them to considering they’re just two people. If there ARE, in fact, five (or six), then I’d like to amend that statement to say they actually sound a lot lighter than the cacophony that I’d re-conditioned myself to expect. I don’t know why I thought that more people would mean more noise. And sure, there is noise, but it’s understated and Anna’s voice usually winds up on top – it’s like a blade it just cuts through the sounds beneath it. It’s not the cloudy voice – the kind so suited for sparkly music. And it’s (obviously) not a baritone, the likes of which would blend with the bassline on a rigid post-punk inspired track. It’s confident and sits solidly, visible on the sonic cushion beneath it.

The EP they released last year is now a full-length with the same name, the same art, but two fewer letter (E and P). You can listen to it on Bandcamp.

And with that, I’m going to wrap up the SMR Rampage. You know, if I was a normal person I would have wrapped this up in a week (7 posts, innit?), instead of two months.

St. Marie Records Rampage: The Patience

Posted in Feature by R on July 2, 2012

I hadn’t listened to The Patience before I spoke to Wyatt aka St. Marie Records about the bands I should include in this feature. Now I have and I’m wondering why no one apart from SMR had pushed me in their direction sooner.

It could be because they don’t have a steady sound. I’m working here on the basis of the two EPs they put out within six months of each other – separately but together – The Sun Is Always Pt. I and The Sun Is Always Pt. II. I wish I had had the chance to ask why they didn’t just wait a bit and put out the one especially since there’s no sign of a physical release to make it a collectible. It could be that they’re realists who are aware of how easily distracted internet listeners are. It’s wiser to put out a few small releases a year (less commitment on the part of the listener + less chance of falling out of an audience’s collective memory) than one or two biggies (longer download/stream time, more commitment required from the listener + greater odds that a lot of them will go ‘who?’).

‘Space Farewell’ – the first song on the first EP couldn’t have a more apt name. It’s about five different styles of song in one and fiercely reminiscent of the Nineties.  Just what part of the Nineties it is reminiscent of, I can’t place, but I can tell you that it’s not the shoegaze bits. The song isn’t exactly what you’d call simple in structure – its pop base is interrupted by sounds from outer-space whose alienness is only heightened by the patient voice with HALlike  intonation talking down to you.

‘I’m Going’, the track that follows, is barely anything like its predecessor. This is your standard Slowdive-tinted shoegaze – but the later one – the one that uses pauses, false percussion, loops and echoes. It’s Pygmalion all over the place – some sounds from ‘Rutti’, some from ‘Crazy for Love’ and some from ‘Miranda’. The rest of the album might be in there as well. The title track that closes the EP, nicks a guitar line from The Who (or it could be I’ve been watching too much CSI), a mild vocal hook from A Storm in Heaven and glues it all together with percussion that throbs so violently it makes the track feel like a remix.

The opener on Part II is another runner. Can’t tell if that percussion is real or engineered but if ‘Moving Through The Echoes’ had feet, the drums are the sneakers pounding. ‘In Vain’ is a bonkers track compared to the others, with the possible exception of ‘Space Farewell’. If ‘Space Farewell’ is Dissociative Identity Disorder, ‘In Vain’ is Mania. Not bipolar disorder but all out mania. It’s energetic, overactive, and can’t stop talking at (AT!) you about itself until it tires itself out. Finalement, you’ve got ‘Solar Fields’ – the song to sleep to. Soft, drawn out vocals, endless pauses between beats, small little beepyboops, and your standard shimmery. sparkly, ethereal, <insert shoegazeadjective> waves of sound to cushion it all.

If all this sounds convincing, you know where you have to go to try and buy. Both albums are available on SMR’s Bandcamp for less that $3 apiece.

Voici: The Sun Is Always Part I.

Voilà: The Sun Is Always Part II.

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