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Chastity Belt

Chastity Belt is a rock band consisting of four friends - guitarists Julia Shapiro and Lydia Lund, bassist Annie Truscott, and drummer Gretchen Grimm. They met in a tiny college town in Eastern Washington, but their story begins for real in Seattle, that celebrated home of Macklemore and the Twelfth Man. Following a post-grad summer apart, a handful of shows and enthusiastic responses from the city’s DIY community led them, as it has countless others, into a cramped practice space. They emerged with a debut album, No Regerts, sold it out faster than anyone involved thought possible, and toured America, a country that embraced them with open-ish arms. Now they’re back and the tab is settled, the lights are out, the birds are making noise even though the sun isn’t really up yet: it’s Time to Go Home, their second long-player and first for Hardly Art.
In the outside world, they realized something crucial: they didn’t have to play party songs now that their audience didn’t consist exclusively of inebriated 18-22 year olds, as it did in that college town. Though still built on a foundation of post-post-punk energy, jagged rhythms, and instrumental moves that couldn’t be anyone else’s, the songs they grew into in the months that followed are equal parts street-level takedown and gray-skied melancholy. They embody the sensation of being caught in the center of a moment while floating directly above it; Shapiro’s world spins around her on “On The Floor,” grounded by Grimm and Truscott’s most commanding playing committed to tape. They pay tribute to writer Sheila Heti on “Drone” and John Carpenter with “The Thing,” and deliver a parallel-universe stoner anthem influenced by Electrelane with “Joke.”
Recorded by José Díaz Rohena at the Unknown, a deconsecrated church and former sail factory in Anacortes, and mixed with a cathedral’s worth of reverb by Matthew Simms (guitarist for legendary British post-punks and one-time tourmates Wire), Time to Go Home sees Chastity Belt take the nights out and bad parties of their past to their stretching points, watch the world around them break apart in anticipatory haze, and rebuild it in their own image with stunning clarity before anyone gets hungover.

Speedy Ortiz

Attention came swiftly following Speedy Ortiz's 2012 Sports EP on the Boston-centric label Exploding In Sound, and with good reason. Massachusetts-based songwriter/guitarist Sadie Dupuis' knotty, lyrically dense songs were fully realized by her bandmates, with intricate guitar lines crisscrossing over Darl Ferm's fluid bass and Mike Falcone's precisely executed drumming in a way that was simultaneously catchy and jarring. After the success of its 2013 Best New Music-honored debut full-length Major Arcana, the band formalized its assault through a year and a half of relentless touring with bands in whose brainy-slash-brawny legacies it followed—among them Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks, Ex Hex, and The Breeders. In 2014, the band added guitarist Devin McKnight of the Boston-based post-punk group Grass Is Green, whose guitar parts both match and challenge Dupuis'.

Speedy Ortiz's second proper album—Foil Deer, recorded at Rare Book Room in Brooklyn when the band wasn't pushing forward on its hectic 2014 tour schedule—comes out on April 21, 2015. The songs represent a leap forward, possessing a lightness that mirrors Dupuis's post-grad school outlook; they also have a deliberate nature to them, one that emanates from extra studio time and more experimentation with the band's essential form. (Ferm contributes a few unexpected guitar parts; Falcone's vocal harmonies zing in with more force.) Speedy Ortiz possesses big-tent rock swagger and punk's restless yet intimate spirit in a way that makes the impulses seem identical; while the quartet can still command crowds at festivals like Primavera Sound and Pitchfork Music Festival, they also relish playing Boston's teeming basements alongside the city's next generation of bands. That willingness to push not just forward, but in all directions, makes Speedy Ortiz one of rock's most exciting outfits.

Fake Palms

Fake Palms are a Toronto-based band signed to Buzz Records. First conceived as a collection of bedroom demos recorded with a broken drum machine by Michael le Riche in 2011, the project coalesced into a band in early 2015 when le Riche recruited several long-time contributors to Toronto’s music scene, including members of Hooded Fang and Slim Twig’s backing band.

In keeping with Fake Palms’ stripped back bedroom origins, the group value simplicity and directness. For le Riche this approach is almost an ideological dictate, “our intention is to do the most we can with the limitations we put on ourselves,” he says, “no backing tracks, no samples etc. We want to make music that is an honest representation of the four of us in a room at that time.” The band’s first single, “Sun Drips,” released in the early spring of 2015, showcased what Stereogum called “the band’s expert infusion of post-punk textures with pop sensibilities,” and married a hard-driving rhythm section and an interest in sonic experimentation to le Riche’s well-crafted songs, drawing comparisons to Echo & The Bunnymen, This Heat and Fake Palm’s fellow Canadians Viet Cong. "Sun Drips," along with their newest single "Sparkle," will appear on Fake Palm’s self-titled debut LP which will be released on August 28th.

"Sparkles" encapsulates the conflict at the heart of the Fake Palm's sound, employing bursts of noise, caustic, almost atonal guitar work, and unusual time signature shifts in the service of an immediate and engaging pop song. Despite the complexities of its construction the track came together easily for band, perhaps because of the simplicity and honesty of their approach.

“'Sparkles' was the song from the record that came together in the least amount of time." says le Riche, "I was inbetween apartments, renting a place for a few weeks, and just had a duffel bag of clothes, my laptop, and a guitar. The progression from initial idea to completed song took about two hours. It was an experiment to see how off centre we could get musically, counter balanced with classic pop melodies. We change time signatures, the guitars are abrasive, the drums and bass are big and distorted, but at the end of the day we’re trying to make music that you can hum along to.”

Twist was first conceived in late 2013 as a collaborative project between Hermiston and Brian Borcherdt of Holy Fuck. The pair met as Hermiston's earlier band was dissolving and Borcherdt was in a gap between releases with his other projects, and began with Borcherdt working as a producer on a handful of Hermiston's songs until, owing to their mutual enthusiasm for the early results, their creative relationship deepened into something more like a partnership. Working primarily out of Borcherdt's apartment the pair recorded and released a series of singles in late 2014 that garnered praise from VICE, Spin, Nylon, and Brooklyn Vegan. Though touring briefly as a two guitar and drum machine driven duo, this early attention prompted a transition from a two-piece set up into a full live band, with Borcherdt resuming a more behind-the-scenes role as the band hit the road more frequently, playing dates with TOPS, Crocodiles, Chasitiy Belt and Peach Kelli Pop.
In early 2016 Twist announced their signing to Toronto's Buzz Records, who will release their debut full length on August 26th.

The album is the culmination of a multi-faceted recording process that has spanned much of the band's existence. Beginning with the initial sessions in Borcherdt's living room, on which Hermiston and Borcherdt are the sole performers, and progressing into more formal studio sessions featuring an ever expanding network of collaborators including Twist's live band, Crocodiles’ Charles Rowell, Jenny Vee (Lana Del Rey, Courtney Love) and even Hermiston's father, a former session musician and television composer, who plays bass on "Bleached."

For Borcherdt, it was Hermiston's songwriting that first drew him to the project, and his approach to working with her was informed by a desire to amplify the impact of her songs without distracting from what initially excited him about them.
"When Laura first played me her songs my gut instinct was to set up a mic right then and there, which is pretty much what I did," says Borcherdt. "Within a couple days we had basic versions of the songs completed - first takes, simple harmonies, minimal overdubs, and though we added multiple instruments on each song, the basis of those first sessions were essentially recorded live. I didn't want to rush the process, but the songs were strong as they were: catchy, concise and moving. That's Laura's rare gift, and it's my hope that I've helped to spread that light a little further. I want others to hear these songs as I first did, and I want them to share my process of discovery, of these moments where anything can happen next."

The production is finely-calibrated throughout Spectral, with Borcherdt and Hermiston fostering a sense of cohesion while still reflecting the diversity of arrangements and sounds inherent to the disparate recording process. Hinting occasionally at the former's experimental background while remaining anchored by Hermiston's assured sensibilities and penchant for subtly captivating melodic turns, the album assumes an array of sonic guises -- ranging from the stripped-down simplicity of "Where to Lie," to the MBV-esque swirl of "Calendar Girls," to the expansive pop grandeur-cum-noise experimentation of "Can't Wait" -- capturing a vast constellation of influences into a controlled orbit with Hermiston's singular voice at its center.

For Hermiston the record is a reflection of her own growth over the 18 month period it took to complete it, and as a result is, in some sense, an album about the strains and uncertainties of growing up.
"There are almost two years worth of experiences that went into writing Spectral" she says. "but ultimately, I think it encapsulates what it's like to be young and experience growing pains. I matured a lot over the course of making this album, and I can hear that reflected in my voice when I compare the oldest to the newest track. I feel like I became more aware of what I should be doing with my life and with Twist as the project grew from just me with help from Brian, to having a full band and bringing various collaborators on board, and that's, in part, why I decided to call the album Spectral -- it presents a spectrum of personal and musical experience."

A punk band growing up is always a perilous proposition. A dicey gambit to be sure, but your Talking Heads, your Wires, your Sonic Youths and your Deerhunters were all scrappy young kids making sizeable rackets once upon a time. It was only after they decided to make poignantly observant, unexpectedly epochal rackets that they challenged and transcended the idea of what a punk band could be. This is precisely where we find Greys at the outset of their sophomore album, Outer Heaven.

The ten-song, 39-minute long player delivers on the promises the Toronto quartet made on 2015’s Repulsion EP, placing the band in more spacious environments and letting them build upon their noise rock foundation by incorporating new textures and dynamics to temper their trademark onslaught of discordance, which was already perfected on their debut record, 2014’s If Anything. Where their formative material saw them paying homage to their heroes, the new album sees Greys making a concentrated effort to realize their own sound. Whether that means employing tape drones, drum machines and synthesizers as noise-making tools on “Sorcerer,” or breaking into a three-part harmony adorned with sleigh bells in the middle of the hardcore intensity found on “In For A Penny,” these four young men prove that they are more than up for a challenge.

In a very literal way, singer/guitarist Shehzaad Jiwani has made it clear on this record that he wants his voice to be heard. Each song contains a sweet-and-sour earworm that brings his characteristically self-aware, often satirical lyrics to the forefront, and his serrated shout is almost entirely swapped for a more tuneful approach. Almost. Lyrically, his focus has sharpened, moving from inward to outward. This is best evident on first single “No Star,” wherein Jiwani addresses the aftermath of the shootings at Bataclan in Paris by declaring, “Don’t shoot/I’m not the enemy.”

“It’s difficult to feel like you have a voice in these situations when you’ve grown up in a predominantly white community and don’t identify with either side,” explains Jiwani. “On the one hand, some people are attacking anyone who looks remotely like you, but on the other hand, the people who are trying to defend you are also speaking on your behalf, taking away your voice. It’s like I had nowhere to turn because no one was listening to me, like I wasn’t able to speak for myself.”

Each song filters its subject matter through Jiwani’s wryly incisive perception of those topics, from a news story about a group of teens barbarically murdering their classmate on album opener “Cruelty,” to the advent of technological singularity on closer “My Life As A Cloud.” Elsewhere, on “Blown Out,” the frontman confronts his own mental health by painting it in the context of a relationship with a partner who doesn’t fully understand the unrelenting complexities of depression. The climax of the song sees him wailing, “I want you to see/There’s something wrong with me,” which would be a harrowing moment if it wasn’t the single catchiest song Greys have ever written.

With their intense live show documented admirably on their previous releases - and honed alongside bands like Death From Above 1979, Viet Cong, Speedy Ortiz, Cloud Nothings, Perfect Pussy and their Buzz Records brethren Dilly Dally - the four piece sought to explore their more atmospheric tendencies on Outer Heaven. Produced by longtime collaborator Mike Rocha at the hallowed Hotel 2 Tango studio in Montreal (Arcade Fire, Godspeed You! Black Emperor), the record displays unprecedented depth and range for Greys, calling to mind groups as disparate as Sonic Youth, Swell Maps and The Swirlies without ever losing sight of what defines the band - a distinct mixture of melody and dissonance, order and chaos, volume and substance.

Vallens

Robyn Phillips spent her early years in Toronto playing lead guitar in several bands. With an experience of performing and writing in various genres, Robyn began working on material for her first solo project as VALLENS in the summer of 2014. Taking cues from everything from Rowland S Howard to Portishead, the project began to take shape with a concept of “Vallens” as an alter-ego of Phillips. Soon after, Vallens began recording a full length record with friend Jeff Berner of Psychic TV at his now defunct studio Galuminum Foil in Brooklyn, followed by several months recording songs at Candle Recording with Josh Korody (Beliefs, Wish).
The project debuted live in December of 2015 and quickly captured the attention of music critics, promoters, and the local music scene. Vallens has since been Invited to perform at NXNE, POP Montreal, M for Montreal, and CMJ, in addition to sharing the stage with Frankie Cosmos, Freak Heat Waves, Porches, MOURN, Ringo Deathstarr, U.S Girls, A Place to Bury Strangers, and La Luz.

Casper Skulls burst forth from the Toronto exurbs in 2015. Described by MTV as a collection of “confrontational art rock that bleeds with sincerity,” and drawing comparisons to luminaries like Television, The Fall (The Toronto Star), Pavement, and Sonic Youth (Noisey), their debut EP, Lips & Skulls (Buzz) attracted immediate attention from audiences in Toronto and up and down the Eastern seaboard. Riding the wave of rising excitement, the band hit the road, hard, touring extensively and sharing stages with acts like Cloud Nothings, Thurston Moore, Suuns, Weaves, The Julie Ruin, Solids, Greys, and Chastity Belt.

Following the reverberating shout that was the band’s first EP, Casper Skulls debut full length, Mercy Works, (out now on Buzz) is a startlingly ambitious statement of intent. The album was recorded in early 2017 with co-producer/engineer Josh Korody (Fucked Up, Dilly Dally), and mixed by Alex Newport (At The Drive-In, Death Cab For Cutie). While the rough and ready post-punk and lo-fi early '90s indie influences present on the band’s first recordings still provide the foundation, there is a sense of scale on display in their swelling guitar figures and sweeping string arrangements (provided by Toronto musician Paul Erlichman). Each of the album’s 11 songs are densely arranged, intricately written and performed with an uncommon earnestness.

Dual songwriters and vocalists Melanie St. Pierre and Neil Bednis seek to represent lived experience in immense detail, engaging with a diverse palette of references, both musical and lyrical. Whether drawing on the poetry of William Blake (“What’s That Good For”), the dystopian sci-fi of Philip K. Dick (“Colour of the Outside”), or ruminating on mortality and evolving personal/cultural legacies through Elvis Presley and Paul Simon's trips to Graceland (“You Can Call Me Allocator”), St. Pierre and Bednis collect pieces of the world around them and imbue them with new meaning as they attempt to understand their place in it.

Swirling standout “I Stared at ‘Moses and the Burning Bush’” deals with the role of religion in experiences of grief, cleverly wrapped in a reference to a '80s pop artist Keith Haring. “I like the idea of exploring biblical imagery without necessarily picking sides,” says Bednis. “It’s rationed throughout the songs what my stance is, if I even have a stance. I find that religion can be therapeutic when people in your life die....(It) doesn’t necessarily need to be a sacred thing.”

Despite how swiftly they seemed to have reached songwriting maturity, Casper Skulls still see themselves as being at the beginning of their journey - an enticing prospect given the self-assuredness that underpins their debut.

“We’re really only at the start of being a band,” says St-Pierre agrees. “Our records don’t have to move mountains as long as we’re being true to our own ideas. We want to be a slow burning candle.”

PONY began in 2014 as an idea hatched by singer/guitarist Sam Bielanski and a friend in her Toronto bedroom. "We were both dating dudes in the same shitty band at the time" she says, "and they were really shitty dudes, so we started writing songs about how our boyfriends sucked and eventually that turned into us starting band." As the pair wrote more songs they began recruiting additional members to round out the line up and after a few early changes settled on a four piece arrangement of Bielanski, bass player Eva Link, drummer Matt Sandrin and guitarist Stephen Giroux.

The band recorded an EP and started playing shows in Toronto, rapidly attracting attention as they refined their sound - a strain of punk-inflected guitar pop that sits in a lineage with 80s UK acts like Talulah Gosh and the Dolly Mixture, 90s groups like The Breeders and Veruca Salt, and their Canadian powerpop forebears Cub - and began appearing on bills with their eventual Buzz Records labelmates Casper Skulls and Greys, as well as acts like Colleen Green, the Coathangers, Chastity Belt and Nicole Dollanganger in 2016. In the fall of that year the band returned to the studio to record the singles, "DIY" and "Alone Tonight," that will make up their first release on Buzz records, a 7 inch due out in the spring.

PONY are currently plotting a trip to SXSW, preparing for upcoming winter and spring tours, and working on their debut EP for Buzz, which they expect to release in the fall of 2017. For her part Bielanski is excited about what the future holds for her and her bandmates, and despite the band's almost accidental origins, has a clear vision of what PONY means to her.

"I wanna see the world with my three best friends, but that’s not all of it," she says. "A few times younger girls have come up to me at our shows and said “that was really cool, what you did, I’ve always wanted to do something like that” and it’s just like then go, go and do it! Pick up a guitar and make some noise and scream about your feelings, and just do it. That’s the goal of the band to me, to show people, primarily women who maybe haven’t been exposed to enough other women playing music, that it’s not easy by any means but its definitely attainable. If it's something that you want to do then you can fucking do it and you don’t have to give a shit about if you’re cool or if dudes are going to be condescending or whatever, you can just make some noise with your friends."

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