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Alt Rock

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Kind Kid
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Heaven Can Wait
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Shallowhalo gets kaleidoscopic on new single "Crystal Ball"

photo by Kelli McGuire

MUSIC: Yellow Magic Orchestra covering Archie Bell & The Drells’ “Tighten Up, Pt. 1” on Soul Train in 1980. Ladytron covering Tweet's "Oops Oh My" on their Softcore Jukebox comp in 2004.
 Doris Wishman's Nude on the Moon. Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue.
Jaime Sommers' circuit-faced fembot adversaries on The Bionic Woman. Natalie Scatorccio's mullet-shagged emotional armor on Yellowjackets.

If any of the above are on your bingo card for “things that share a spiritual bond with the musical duo known as Shallowhalo according to some random guy who writes for the Deli magazine” then you’re in luck because the sounds and the imagery created by Allyson Camitta and Ezra Tenenbaum working together as Shallowhalo share a certain off-kilter something beautiful but a bit unsettling” quality with the aforementioned off-kilter cover versions, genre films, and misfit fashion plates as seen on TV…

…and if you wanna hear something beautiful but a bit unsettling may we recommend Shallowhalo's latest single “Crystal Ball” (Dinosaur City Records) which opens with a wash of shimmering synth, a machine-tooled Moroder-esque bass line and a pulsating 808 kick drum and already in the intro you've got the makings of a dreamy dark-hued dance-pop gem which "Crystal Ball" definitely is, but Ezra and Allyson mix things up almost immediately with the first verse switching lanes into a slinky, somewhat boppy/synthpoppy groove like something you'd expect to hear in a vintage Euro-pop or J-pop track along the lines of Kraftwerk, Mecano, or YMO...

…but then before long there's a short pre-chorus part that builds the tension up again with Allyson’s airy upper register hovering over a descending melody leading into the first chorus that brings back elements from the intro and introduces the titular hook (make the call / stare into your crystal ball / things you hide / and try to find / which way to go) and by the time it’s all over just over two minutes later you'll likely be fully mesmerized...

..all of which serves to underline the fleeting, elusive quality of “Crystal Ball” whose lyrics concern an irresolute, emotionally unavailable lover who “never know[s] which way to go” to the point of being seemingly “caught in a kaleidoscope,” a fractured perspective that rubs off on the narrator as well it seems with her “head and heart so far apart” the midst of an urban existence made up of “mirrored nights [and] diamond days” all enhanced by Ezra's use of vintage analogue synths which evoke a retro-futuristic sense of otherness in a digital world...

…and here’s where I’m reminded of Perfect Bluethe late-90s cinematic masterwork by Satoshi Kon, an animated film set in Tokyo full of recurring images of mirrors and other reflective surfaces—reflective surfaces gazed into repeatedly by the film’s protagonist, pop-idol-turned-aspiring-actress Mima Kirigoe—imagery clearly meant to mirror the blurring of any clear distinction between illusion and reality for the traumatized Mima as her psyche (and the film) shatters into a kaleidoscopic array of clashing perceptions and memories and dream logic imagery with the viewer left to figure out how the pieces fit together if they even fit at all…

…so when “Crystal Ball” starts off with the lines “paint the walls red / then brush them blue," well, surely it's a coincidence but who says coincidence is always coincidental cuz these two lines and the rest of the song are a perfect fit for a bloody anime about the fracturing of identity, plus the J-pop setting of Perfect Blue is highly apropos for a musical combo who mention the influence of “Yen Records-inspired synth pop” in their bio…

…with Yen Records being the imprint run by Yukihiro Takahashi and Haruomi Hosono, both of Yellow Magic Orchestra, between 1982 to 1985, and with Yukihiro Takahashi having passed away just last week—right around when “Crystal Ball” was released in fact—I’m sure Shallowhalo will be ok with me dedicating part of this piece to the drummer/vocalist/songwriter/producer who had such an outsized influence on electropop/EDM from its very beginnings not to mention other genres like hip hop

…and returning to that list that opened this whole article: no matter how head-scratching YMO’s cover of Archie Bell & The Drells “Tighten Up” may be there’s still something magical and subversive (especially for its time) about a Japanese electropop group (before “electropop” was even a thing) performing a mutated R&B classic to an all-Black audience (except for the Japanese businessman type dancing up a storm while holding a sign that simply says “Wow!”) on one of the most iconic African-American TV shows of all time and all involved having such a great time with it from the dancers to Don Cornelius to YMO themselves...

…and while Shallowhalo may not have invented any new genres (yet!) they do seem to have a knack for taking old sounds and doing something new with them, often distilling them down to a fine minimalist point, kinda like Yellow Magic Orchestra did with "Tighten Up, Pt. 1" on Soul Train back in 1980which isn't to say SH don't have more relatively modern influences too ranging from Ladytron to Justice and Glass Candy to the Dare—plus the various Spanish-language pop Allyson’s Guatemalan mom played for her growing up—so check out Shallowhalo's 2022 LP No Fun if you wanna judge for yourself or just enjoy some off-kilter synthpop songs about haunted porcelain dolls and edible jewelry and Internet celebrities and that's just the first two songs…

..and at last I'd be remiss not to mention the Kelli McGuire-directed video for “Crystal Ball” that's cool ’n’ strange in its own right plus it’s the reason why I cited Doris Wishman and the fembots above given the video's lovingly handmade aesthetic that manages to be woozy and vivid and lurid and suffused with wide-eyed innocence all at the same time (see: Doris Wishman) not to mention the hyper-saturated colors and spritzes of glitter and dry ice and tarot cards and double-vision-to-the-N'th-degree and yes even an actual crystal ball and then lastly (but not leastly!) there's the Madame-Zara-meets-Fifth-Element-meets-electrode-sporting-fembot-on-the-moon fashion sense...

...but enough of my yakkin', it's only right for Allyson Camitta to have the last word with some BTS insights on the "Crystal Ball" music video: "I was introduced to Kelli Mcguire through our mutual musician friend Pynkie and was instantly drawn to her aesthetic. It's bright and lush while also feeling creepy and unsettling. We wanted to work together on a Ghost in the Shell sci-fi meets 80's horror boudoir shoot, which my friend Caroline Mills also helped on prosthetics for. Kelli happened to shoot some BTS footage on her camera and it naturally evolved into a video concept…The video helps to reinforce that kaleidoscopic feeling of being lost in your own head about something, when the answer is right in front of you." (Jason Lee)



Record Roundup '22: Chapter Two (pictured: Venus Twins)

And here it is: the long-promised/threatened second installment of the 2022 record roundup (read installment one here) cuz as far as we’re concerned 2023 won’t truly start until February at least…


Pretty Sick’s debut full-length Makes Me Sick Makes Me Smile is all about “teetering on the precipice” and being “tether[ed] to one’s own self-destruction” so in other words Tuesday, plus all those other thing that “still keep me up at night” this according to Pretty Sick’s singer-songwriter-bassist Sabrina Fuentes and MMS/MMS’s vacillation between states of queasy ecstasy and exquisite agony will most likely keep you up late as well should you choose to listen…

…an ideal soundtrack to confront your demons by during a dark night of the soul but equally ideal for freeing your demons to dance with the Devil in the pale moonlight (speaking of dark knights!) with Pretty Sick’s triple-threat musical attack—a tempestuous troika rounded out by guitarist Orazio Argentero and drummer Ava Kaufman—throwing off sparks like a downed power line at a fireworks factory…

…and for a native New York City-bred, Gen-Z digital native raised in a city where kids roam the streets like feral cats decked out in digital fur who started a rock band at age 13 and a modeling career not too long after before getting so jaded by the city, the hedonism, and the industry that they packed it in and relocated to London after being accepted to Goldsmith’s Contemporary Music Program but who now splits time between NYC and London I’d have to say that Sabrina’s songs are surprising relatable…

…casting her lot with the maladjusted and the maladroit no matter where they live and who can’t relate to a song like “Human Condition” that’s about how even in a world full of enablers and exploiters the biggest enemy of all is still found within (sorry, Whitney!) whether due to addiction, ambition, or whatever (at least that’s what we think it’s about) and the music video (dir: Frank Lebon) takes this message to the next level with its literally-mind-blowing parable of the psychosis of living in a hermetically-sealed screen culture not to mention the coolest car-crash aftermath sequence this side of “Allen Street”

…and, finally, since you asked Makes Me Sick Makes Me Smile was produced by Paul Q. Kolderie who’s known for his work on career-making records by the likes of Radiohead, Pixies, Dinosaur Jr., and Hole and speaking of Hole most coverage of Pretty Sick is all like blah blah blah Hole and blah blah blah Smashing Pumpkins and sure “The Grunge is strong in this One”

but on MMSMMS there’s also strong echoes of T. Rex meets Suzi Quatro in full-on junk-shop glam mode on the song “Bound” and of Cheap Trick’s ‘70s-era power pop perfection on the song “Heaven” and of the sparkling alt-rock melodicism of Tanya Donnelly’s Belly on the song “Dirty” so give it a spin and draw your own conclusions before tipping over the precipice and into the chasm of your own imminent self-destruction…



I like to daydream. I'm like Ferdinand the Bull. My teachers would always get angry because I would just stare out the window all day, completely shutting them out, and I didn't even realize I was doing it.” — Charlotte Rose Benjamin

If Makes Me Sick Makes Me Smile is a record about losing sleep then Dreamtina is about taking refuge in dreams—Dreamtina being the coming out long-player by Charlotte Rose Benjamin—dreams about, for instance, feeling truly alive on a perfect New Year’s Eve (“Heatstroke Summer”) or going to the Mall of America and never coming home again (“Deep Cut”) or posing for a scandalous Internet pictorial in a convenience store parking lot (“Cumbie’s Parking Lot”) or simply spending the day making up stories in your head (“Slot Machine”)...

…all of which Mick Jagger understood inherently and so did Devo too, namely, how modern love and economics and politics are driven by a culture-wide, pervasive sense of dissatisfaction amongst its lovers/suitors and consumers and citizens alike—it’s life the lifeblood of society in other words—meaning that any singer-songwriter worth their salt in societal relevance is always going to preface the word “satisfaction” with the phrase “I can’t get no”

…and Charlotte is plenty salty on Dreamtina or as she puts it on her TikTok-endorsed hit “Slot Machine,” “I like martinis dirty and tequila dry / I’ve been unsatisfied since junior high” and it’s telling that even her song called “Satisfied” is actually about just the opposite with the Notorious C.R.B. tongue-in-cheekilly wishing a world-be paramour the “satisfaction” of seeing her rock out with her band at a house party, winning the deep admiration of all in attendance thus causing the would-be paramour to realize the error of his ways in passing up such a talented hottie but instead she gets flustered by this dud-of-a-dude being at the party and plays “Cumbie’s Parking Lot” in the wrong key…

…it’s a story as old as time itself and therein lies the charm of Dreamtina or one of its charms anyway in introducing a strong songwriting voice that goes all in with stark immediacy/vulnerability but with a leavening sense of bratty humor or “irreverent/insouciant wit” if you prefer, a balancing act that’s reflected in the music itself—equal parts folksy rock and frothy pop…

and even if Charlotte Rose Benjamin is far from a Southerner (which also applies to a certain country-turned-pop-singer-songwriter who’s name starts off the same as Taylor Dayne’s) it’s still surprising that Nashville hasn’t come calling (yet?) for CRB cuz who else is writing relatable but clever, hook-laden, acoustic-guitar-based folkish-countryish-but-still-rock-n-roll story songs on this level who can also pull off pink cowboy hats and fringed western wear fashions quite so convincingly so seriously you best get to it Music Row and in the meantime let’s hope this Sweet Charlotte never feels the need to hush hush…



And speaking of people who can’t be silenced, percussionist/improvisor/sound sculptor Matt Evans definitely falls under this category which I would not have known if not for the hardest-working woman in show-booking-business Laura Regan (Footlight Presents) who presented a bill featuring M. Evans at Ridgewood, Queens’s long-time anchor-of-the-community bar The Windjammer (est. 1982, and where else can you still find a $5 beer & whiskey combo in this city and not just at happy hours) alongside Issei Herr and WSABI which as the fates would have it ended up being co-presented by the Deli and how damn cool is that…

…which turned out to be fortuitous cuz not only were WSABI and Issei Herr awesome but the show culminated in one of those magic moments that even at the time you know you’ll never experience again in the same way and it started when Matt Evans was getting set up to play his headlining set celebrating the release of his new LP Soft Science but his sampler (crucial to the new material) chose that moment to crap out which would no doubt freak out your average human being with a roomful of people waiting to hear them play…

…but not Matt whose gentle smile and demeanor never wavered as he explained the situation and his intention to instead play an improvised set starting with solo explorations on synth-and-trigger-pad-assisted drums followed some group explorations with the guitarist, bassist and the flautist there to help him realize the Soft Science numbers (or not!) and with that he launched into his first “drum solo”…

…which was a long way from Peter Criss sweating under his stage makeup pounding out variations on the Bo Diddley beat (all due respect to the Catman!) with Mr. Evans instead taking the audience on a subtle yet sublime sonic journey jumping from tension to release, from introspection to exorcism, like a pirouetting ballet dancer performing an off-the-cuff-but-all-the-more-magical-for-it-tour-de-force

…and this is even before Matt had the entire audience close their eyes and launched into a percussion-assisted story from the point-of-view of a caterpillar or was it an earthworm (can’t remember for sure) burrowing up the surface of Earth for the first time encountering a series of strange and potentially injurious if not outright fatal occurrences having left its familiar warn, brown bosom with every moment of the adventure brilliantly acted out in sound on the drumset and synth as Matt described the scene, for instance, a giant foot nearly crushing the caterpillar etc…

…and then once the aforementioned musicians joined Matt—likewise playing their instruments in a very non-rock manner—the bar was raised yet again as hinted at in the video above (nothing stands in for being there tho’) and even if you’re not hearing any of it here you should still go check out Soft Science which is it’s own delightful journey from the skittering beats and wobbly synths of “Saprotrophia” to the crystalline dreamscape of “Alocasia” and I’m just now realizing that this album’s basically like a plant-based version of the caterpillar story, i.e., all about the “inner life of plants” and here’s what Matt has to say about it on his Bandcamp page…

…“Soft Science” is like reading through a biology textbook as if it were a collection of poetry and watching the letters slowly re-arrange until it reads more like science fiction. The album is a “mostly-not-chill” collection of brightly-hued maximalist miniatures, combining squiggly free drumming and alien synthesizers. The album sews together equal parts millennial iconography (mushrooms / house plants / anime) and retro-futurist sci-fi (Sam Delaney, THX 1138, Ursula Le Guin) in an expression of waning utopic yearning. The sound varies widely, from the breathing synth intro of ‘Saprotrophia’ to the lush breezes of 'Alocasia' and crunchy chaos of ‘Scump’ featuring (respectively) like-minded off-world sonic travelers David Lackner and Ka Baird...



...which at last brings us to the record that’s so hardcore we had to save it for last and that’s RAXIS, the debut mosh-pit-filling full-length by Venus Twins who unlike the Cocteau Twins or the Thompson Twins are made up of an actual pair of twins—identical twins at that and no one else—who may actually be from Venus which is believable cuz their blistering music sounds like it’s from the hottest and brightest planet in the solar system even if these days they split their time between Denton, Texas and Brooklyn, New York…

…both locales being well-known hot spots for undocumented Venusians like Matt Derting who has a bassline game as unrelenting and powerful as Serena Williams while being vocally aggressive too while Jake Derting draws on speed, grace, and an expansive wingspan to serve up a volley of ferocious strokes much like Venus Williams so you can see why they’re called “Venus Twins”…

I am going to crack open your skull and scoop out the brains and eat a bowl of Fruit Loops out of it like I’m freakin’ Euronymous from Norwegian black metal legends Mayhem and then I’ll take your skull to that weirdly fancy blowing alley in the basement of the Port Authority Bus Terminal where maybe a few other human skulls have been deposited before over the years and use it to bowl a perfect game full of back-to-back Turkeys


…or something roughly along those lines and by the time this song Cuisinarts your eardrums you won’t even mind because the Venus Twins fed your grey matter to their cats seeing as Jake and Matt are strict vegans and would never even remotely consider eating brains even the brains of a primitive Earthling…


..and what makes these ten tracks all the more brain-scraping is having them delivered by a dynamic duo who look like they could’ve pretty recently got work as body doubles for Danny Bonaduce on the classic ABC ‘70s sitcom The Partridge Family if you zapped them back in time to the show’s hardcore 1970s shag-carpeted set plus it’s amazing to think about the twins giving David Cassidy and Susan Day a heart attack when they started pounding out the Zappa-meets-Slipknot demented majesty of “Don’t Take Fix (You Are A Skelton)” or the Melvins/Mudhoney/Tad-adjacent demented majesty of “Angry Sludge Infinite” that is until it turns into a Brian Eno track near its end

…and as someone who grew up in North Dallas (near Denton!)m and who lives in Brooklyn now I can verify for a fact that Venus Twins are the most Denton-meets-Brooklyn-Zen-diagram-of-aweso me-weirdness ever--a DNA double helix formed from one strand UNT-spawned avant-garde jazzbo, proggy avant-rock experimentalism and one strand straight-up Brooklyn-spawned down ’n’ dirty, gritty ’n’ grungy, garage-y noise-punk like if the Cramps invited the Residents and Bad Brains to a tea party and I can’t think of a better way to end this column… (Jason Lee)

Alt Rock

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Gold Sounds
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Indie Rock

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Blanket Approval
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Mercury Lounge

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