Tag Archives: Lo-Fi Friday

Lo-Fi Friday #5: Smith Westerns transcript

One of my favourite new bands in this sort of milieu (and I do listen to things other than rap music, but it’s just tended to be 10+ years old recently) is Smith Westerns. Their narrative on a meta level is pretty familiar: their first album sounded lo-fi, they decided they didn’t want to be lo-fi any more once they could afford it, and they made a second album that’s much clearer. They still have a lot of tropes of that sort of music and I think it’s fair to put even that second album (Dye It Blonde) on the fringes of lo-fi beside (and slightly closer to the centre than) Surfer Blood. But where the Surfy Bloods reconstitute Generation X-era MTV rock, Smith Westerns funnel T-Rex and even Mott The Hoople through that recognisable disruption of clarity. I sent them these questions for AU, but they weren’t back in time to be used for the piece.

Smith Westerns – Still New

So you have an almost decadent kind of sound at times, but it comes through that dreamy reverb kinda lo-fi filter. Was that a decision you made, to mix those aesthetics?

I don’t think it’s really lo-fi at all. The rest of the band and I feel that Dye It Blonde is very high gloss both in comparison to our debut record and to many records from various other new bands. I think the guitars, back up vocals, and layered synths as well as other instruments make the sound very indulgent and the reverb adds a depth of dreaminess that prevents the songs from sounding too aggressive.

What do you think about being talked about in glam terms because of the guitar riffs or whatever – do you think having the word ‘glam’ written about you might misdirect people a little?

I mean, at this point, I prefer glam used over garage; but both terms I think miss the mark when describing our sound. I think that at certain points in songs some glam influence is revealed but then just as quickly a different influence rears its head. Kinda like the way in the song Only One sounds part Cosmic Dancer [by T-Rex] and part Come As You Are [by Nirvana].

Are you part of a nostalgia movement? You’ve played with people like Girls and even Nobunny who might be considered part of one.

I don’t think I’ve lived life long enough to be nostalgic about anything. The thing I feel most nostalgic about is touring last year with GIRLS and MGMT. Oh, and recording the record. We’ve played with a lot of bands. GIRLS are our really good friends and I respect them on multiple levels and fit musically together on a bunch of different levels but we’re not really nostalgic. We don’t want to be a revivalist band or be labeled as that.

What’s the main difference with coming from Chicago and doing what you do rather than Brooklyn or California or wherever?

I think for us it was the isolation of having no real musical theme coming from Chicago. I think a lot of other cities have a certain aesthetic or sound that kinda permeates all the bands but in Chicago we were left to develop our own thing. Also being underage in Chicago prevented us from mingling with other Chicago bands other than maybe playing an instore or house party together with them.

You’re less young compared to other bands than you were when people started talking about you. Is it a relief that that’s not The Thing to talk about any more?

Yeah, I think that people are starting to get over our age but it’s still brought up in a lot of interviews, reviews, and features. So it really hasn’t disappeared. We’re still younger than most bands we’re compared to or play with but yeah it’s nice not having to hear “they’re good for their age” as much.

What’s something about your music that people don’t notice enough?

I think the layering and the lyrics.

Do you actually still like Oasis, and if so are you Team Noel or Team Liam?

What do you mean? Of course I still like Oasis, never really stopped. I’m still a huge fan and would never pick sides. United we stand, Divided we fall.

What was your favourite Nobunny song to play?

That was a long time ago, back in 2008/2009. Can’t really remember.

When are you coming to play Ireland?

I hope soon, Cameron and I are half Irish actually so all the more incentive.


Lo-Fi Friday #4: Two Dublin Lo-Fi Things.

This is an easy one.

Ginnels album came out last week. Ginnels is Mark Chester, bassist in No Monster Club and guitarist in grand Pocket Orchestra. His album’s very good. A Ginnel is another term for a snicket or a flutester, according to Urban Dictionary.

New Squarehead single’s coming out on Richter Collective. Here it is. It’s called Midnight Enchilada. Squarehead’s called Squarehead because Roy’s uncle used to call him that. He later found out it’s also a term of mild abuse for German people.

Lo-Fi Friday #3: Two Chord Songs

A big part of the mythology of punk music is that you only need three chords to start a band and make good songs. Dm7? F9? F#m7sus4? Who do you think you are, dude, Steve Vai? However, by the logic that songs with three chords are better than, for example, songs with twenty chords, songs with two chords are proportionally better again.

Half Japanese – 1,000,000 Kisses

This entire post is basically an excuse to post this Half Japanese song that I really like. I’d heard of them before, but it was the serendipitous ‘two unexpected mentions in a week’ that actually motivated me to go through the stress and strain of googling, clicking, waiting 60 seconds, clicking again and un-RARing an album. One was on the Facebook page for the YXIMALLOO gig (which I didn’t go to), in the form of a comparison. “A Japanese Half Japanese”. I thought that was funny. The second was on Cinnamon Songs, a ‘song a day’ type Irish blog I really like, clicking tags arbitrarily.

Anyway, this song has two chords. They are G and Am, as far as I can tell. They repeat in the same rhythm for the entire song. It is still a really, really good song. The opening lines are some of my favourite from any song: “It didn’t work out as I had planned it/But it did work better than I thought it would.” There’s just something really telling in the delivery.

Velvet Underground – Heroin

This song also has two chords. They are C# and F#, I think. It is by little known Lower East Side art rock band the Velvet Underground. It’s a good example of how a song can be based on basically nothing, the most common and simple chord change in pop music, and still end up sounding like a huge long journey.

Moldy Peaches – Anyone Else But You

This is another little known Lower East Side art rock band, probably. I don’t think the song has been in any movies. It’s really nice. The chords, by my reckoning, are G and Cmaj7.

Galaxie 500 – Snowstorm

Dean Wareham from this band is playing in the Workman’s Club tonight with no support, starting at 8.15pm. This song has two chords. They are G(maj7) and D. It is amongst the saddest songs ever written.

None of these songs are fuzzy, but so what. Doing some subtle canon-building here.

Lo-Fi Friday #2: Cloud Nothings, Sea Pinks, Girls Names

Cloud Nothings – Understand At All

Here is the first song from what is technically the first album by Dylan Baldi, if you don’t count the “collection” type stuff that came out this year. Call him a triumph of the bedroom thing, because you can’t read an interview or bio without getting a couple of sentences devoted to the fact that he started recording this stuff in his Ohio bedroom. Not California, though that little pre-chorus is pretty Pet Sounds. Like, a specific Pet Sounds song, not just “this music with any falsetto or harmonies sounds like Brian Wilson.”

He was interviewed by Sophie Elizabeth Smith in TN2 a while ago, where he took the opportunity to start a very mild lo-fi beef with Girls, saying “If I grew up in a cult I would probably just want a pizza too, or if I was an orphan or whatever he was”. What’s wrong with pizza dude? And he’s pretty militant about claiming to be “pop”. But pin him halfway between that respectful, nostalgia glazed pop that Girls make and a janglier version of the beat-rushing Wavves ‘hits’. You could call the stomping on the heels of the beat poor musicianship, or you could more romantically claim that it’s down to excitement about all the melodies and energy in the rest of the song and the inability to stay calm while the prospect of playing it is dangled. I choose the latter.

Sea Pinks – Japanese Knotweed

Here’s Sea Pinks, which is the side project of Girls Names’ Neil Peel. They’re from Belfast, if you didn’t know that, and they’re signed to Captured Tracks, who’ve put out stuff by Blank Dogs, Woods, Thee Oh Sees, Beach Fossils, Dum Dum Girls, Ganglians, Christmas Island and Wavves. So, pedigree. Sea Pinks is presumably also from Belfast (deductive skills going wild there) and he wrote this incredible song, which is made up of three of what would constitute choruses for the average band. Here it is on a couch, along with another song.

If you don’t know about Music Hall, this is probably a good time to explain about Music Hall. It’s the house of Bobby Aherne, whose most famous exploit is the time he did a guest post here in 2008, but who also does No Monster Club and plays sweeper in Grand Pocket Orchestra. And also Daniel Martin lives there too, and others. They film stuff in their house. Episode 1 was Big Monster Love. Episode 2 was Grand Pocket Orchestra themselves. Episode 3 was [redacted]. Suck it up, Episode 3, the world wants to see you. Episode 4 is Sea Pinks. A common theme with these is that people tend to be pretty drunk when they get convinced to do it.

It’s called Music Hall because the apartment block is called Music Hall, not for some pretentious reason. Because fuck pretentiousness obviously.

Girls Names – Falling (Twin Peaks Theme)

Here’s Girls Names themselves covering the theme from Twin Peaks by Angelo Badalamenti. Is it compulsory to be into David Lynch if you put that much reverb and store in woozy nostalgia into your music? I’m gonna guess Lo-Fi Friday #1 would say yes. This is good though. RCRDLBL mentioned the “queasy reverence here which throws them in with a Rest Of World lo-fi lot in thrall to David Lynch’s masterpiece series.” Maybe they’re right. I like the idea of an America-Rest Of World dualism in lo-fi as well, as if David Lynch and all the music Irish lo-fi listens to outside its own scene wasn’t American in the first place.

Lo-Fi Friday #1: Porn On Vinyl

This is the first post in a new series, imaginatively titled Lo-Fi Friday. It has a companion series, Hip Hop Monday. This is for the most part original thought, reflecting the way my mind organises the music I listen to, rather than a claim to empirical truth (which doesn’t exist, yo). Watch it get unwieldy immediately.

Porn On Vinyl – The Bonfire And Her Husband

At the centre of the spiralling outwards, at some sort of core, what lo-fi is to me is diary music. Not in the sense of painfully earnest lyrics, though they can feature. In the sense that, by the very virtue of the fact that technology leaves no resistance whatsoever between the songwriter, the recording apparatus and the distribution, what you get from a ‘bedroom’ album is as close to a screenprint of someone’s brain as you can get, as they try to express something specific but maybe not entirely verbal. Daniel Johnston was the archetype, or maybe Emily Dickinson or a caveman wall painter who was sadly estranged from his clan, if you want to be anal. What makes it so endearing and intriguing is the fact that, as far as we can make this judgment without getting into all manner of traffic with ‘artistic intentions’ and ‘sincerity’ (both of which I may can back to at some point), one of these albums is the personal rendered public. It’s just the sound, it’s hard to explain.

This song is Porn On Vinyl. Aidan Wall, who does it, does Hipster Youth too. I like Hipster Youth, but I’ve always preferred Porn On Vinyl, maybe because I’m prejudiced towards the sound of a guitar, even an old nylon-string one, in my introspective-sounding music. It’s got complexity and elegance to counter any of the inevitable ‘just lazy’ accusations, but it still sounds like it was recorded inside a box. Maybe that’s a symbolic way of expressing shyness, or maybe (probably) it’s aesthetic. It wouldn’t have half as much personality if it was done with, say, the mics and engineers that did Joanna Newsom’s last album, even though Porn On Vinyl has the intricacy and the vocal ability to survive that where other bedroom songwriters wouldn’t (not that that detracts from what they do now).

The song’s a story, about going to a bonfire at a crazy old man’s house. It’s a childhood recollection – “Everyone knew the house was haunted, but everyone wanted to see the bonfire” – and it follows the sweet-stuffed Halloween “we” as the man’s house burns down. He’s cavalier and philosophical at first (“he said all things must die and all fires burn out”) but then seems to panic and runs in to the house to rescue portraits. He cries “these are my family, these are my friends.” And then everyone passes out and he’s gone.

It’s a simple story on the surface, but questions pop up. The portraits are of “the women and children, who didn’t relate” – does the man know them? Are they estranged family, or just strangers in pictures? Even arriving at the old man’s house, it’s noted that “his bonfire has long burned out but our bonfire hasn’t even started yet.” Did he just give up on the world, his passion for life ending before the kids are even old enough to be aware of theirs? Or, less likely, did the kids set fire to the house? It’s intricate enough to bear that kind of analysis, and definitely obscure enough, especially if you didn’t have the lyrics handy.

Aidan says:

The song is based off a really vague memory I have of going to a bonfire as a child, in the back garden of this now deceased [?] eccentric old man. I asked my sister and parents about it and they have no recollection of it, but it’s probably my most vivid memory of halloween. The man died I think, and they knocked down his beautiful house and replaced it with an awful quasi-modern house. Though the song is basically about my grandmother.

Porn On Vinyl’s second album Old Folks Home is on Bandcamp and will come out on physical format soon on Long Lost Records. Here is an interview from last summer.