Reviews: Holy Ghost, Sheer Mag, Daughter

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Holy Ghost’s Crime Cutz

by Austin Reed

If there’s one lesson to mine from Holy Ghost’s 2013 LP Dynamics, it’s that musical versatility only works if the focus is both established and omnipresent. Unfortunately, the Brooklyn duo learned that lesson the hard way; despite the purest of intent and a handful of solid dance cuts, Dynamics was spread way too thin, attempting to cover the meaty, melodic four-on-the-floor propensities of Holy Ghost-past while navigating the disenfranchised mentality of Holy Ghost-future. In retrospect, calling Dynamics an emotional turning point seems legit, but at the time, Holy Ghost seemed confused by the conflict between the party euphoria and the psychological warfare that ensued the next morning. What emerged from the disarray was a choppy, convoluted identity crisis of an album that garnered tons of confused looks and criticism to the effect of, “We see what you were trying to do. Nice try.”

It was a massive disappointment, because not two years prior, debut LP Holy Ghost completely averted that very same affliction with little-to-no effort. It was strong—unbent by trend or label influence—because it’s aim was never split. It was a dance record for audiences confused by the concept of dance music, because it seamlessly blended this truly innovative vision for what club music could be with the proven chemical structure of DFA’s dance-punk catalog.

It’s a relief, then, to discover that Crime Cutz, Holy Ghost’s newest EP, is a return to the do-more-think-less approach that made the debut LP such an incontrovertible hit. Here, tracks run longer and do more—vocalist Alex Frankel returns to the cutting, minimalist delivery that propelled tracks like “Hold On,” “Wait & See,” and “Hold My Breath,” into the stratosphere.

It’s all a matter of confidence, I think. Dynamics fell short because neither Frankel nor bandmate Nick Millhiser seemed 100% convinced that what they were doing made any sense. But on tracks like “Crime Cutz”, and EP highlight “Compassion Points”, that confidence sounds fully restored and more galvanized than ever—Frankel’s opening line on “Compassion Points” illustrates this confidence en force, abandoning the melody completely for a spectral a capella declaration of intent.

In fact, that declaration—“Hail Mary, long shot/I’m hoping that we don’t get caught”—might as well be the EP’s mission statement. On Dynamics, Frankel and Millhiser made an unnatural-yet-understandable misstep, but on Crime Cutz, they’re hoping to regain their footing and play off their awkward slip by reverting back to what worked for them in the first place. It’s fun hearing it work for them again. B

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Sheer Mag’s III

by Grant Rindner

III is an early contender for the most enjoyable record of the year. Spanning just four tracks, Sheer Mag’s latest is a prolonged roller coaster peak that's all exhilaration and zero comedown. Despite trafficking in lo-fi, which can often muddle tunes into a pleasing, but indistinguishable, sludge, the guitar work of Kyle Seely is absolutely mesmerizing, from the gleeful eruption of “Can’t Stop Fighting”, to the steady chug of “Nobody’s Baby”. Singer Christina Halladay’s voice is smothered in about as much distortion as Seely’s guitar, but her endearing snarl and attitude are impossible to disguise. Even on tracks like “Worth the Tears” that delve into more emotional territory, the band never loses that frenetic energy. The reemergence of 1970s influence has been a welcome treat in this era of more restrained rock, and Sheer Mag belongs in the conversation with the likes of Twin Peaks and Night Moves as the most exciting throwback band around. B PLUS

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Daughter’s Not to Disappear

by Luke Fowler

The chorus of Not To Disappear’s final track “Made of Stone” centers on the lyric “I should be feeling more”, which lead vocalist Elena Tonra sings in a breathy murmur somewhere between Lorde and ‘90s Björk. I hate to go for the easy targets like this, but I had the same words in the back of my mind the entire album. Daughter’s “dream pop meets post-rock meets mainstream indie rock melancholia” formula is potentially workable, but as it stands, Not To Disappear is an intermittently pretty affair with painfully little substance, an album that spends so much time wallowing in its own self-indulgent loneliness that it fails to offer up anything listeners can actually relate to. For every promising track like the Beach House-esque “New Ways” (which creates an effective soundscape before breaking down into a blissfully hazy guitar solo), the album offers up a depressive slog like “Alone/With You”, a song that sets a new standard for aimless self-pity with its bleak, intentionally repetitive lyrics. A few tracks have prominent redeeming factors (the post-rock swell in the middle of “Fossa” stands out, for instance), but the majority convey the message that they’re desperately trying to appeal to empathy by sounding as sad as possible. It’s a fundamentally misguided approach. Sadness is an effective musical tool, but not when it’s this monotonous. C