Welcome to the latest installment of our recurring feature, Sound Off, in which Jason P. Woodbury is joined by a different guest to listen to and discuss three tracks from local Phoenix artists. If you would like your songs to be considered for future Sound Off columns, please email email@example.com.
Dominic Federico owns Man in Decline Records (and we've reviewed Seas Will Rise and Federico's band Come On Die Young in previous Sound Off columns), and has done time as a promoter, music journalist, and active member of the Salt Lake City hardcore scene before moving to Phoenix to pursue a PhD in Counseling Psychology.
We discussed indie rock from Knesset, hip-hop from D. Russ, and atmospheric black metal from A Cloud Forest.
Knesset is an indie-rock band from Phoenix. The band is signed to & Records in Japan, where they are label mates with Her Space Holiday, Lymbyc System, David Bazan, and dozens of other awesome, notable bands. Check out their Tumblr for more info.
Dominic Federico : Very polished. I like the shoegaze and the pop elements. It sounds like it has some '90s influence to me, which I'm a big fan of.
Up on the Sun: Any specific bands it reminds you of?
You know, I thinking about that, and I wasn't able to really nail any. Some of the reference points I tried to tie it to don't really fit.
I heard some shoegazey elements, like Ride, with a big pop element but still out there. It's pop but atmospheric and driving.
It's a darker sound, too. I want to say it has some goth elements, but I don't think it fits that definition. But I was thinking, "Does it sound like Slowdive?" It doesn't really fit. I think Ride is a good comparison.
And that's just kind of. That's a good thing, but you say about a band, "It's kind of like this," but it doesn't fit exactly. I think a band would want that.
Reference versus derivative. Good musicianship, obviously very good live. I could see Jimmy Eat World taking them out...and that's a big endorsement from me.
You mentioned that the potentially faux-British accent might be a little bit of a deal-breaker?
I get that. I'm guilty of loving bands that do that, but it can be a little weird.
You never know, it might be a Brit. I've got this friend who plays in the band Suedehead in California, and he's a legit Brit. They sound like Elvis Costello, and he's from England. But I think it happens all the time, people think he's putting it on [laughs].D. Russ is a Tempe-via-Chicago rapper. His mixtape,
Wrinkle Free,can be heard on Soundcloud.
Up on the Sun: Do you listen to much hip-hop? Dominic Primé: I listen to a fair amount. Not as much lately, but I grew up listening to some. I lean in that direction when I listen to hip-hop.
It's got vibes of Del the Funkee Homosapien, some early Mos Def, but that super minimalist beat is awesome. It's really removed from the club rap stuff that's huge right now.
No vocal hook in the middle.
Straight rhyme, bouncy bass, a cool clap beat and that's it. It's awesome when you can listen to two guys just go back and forth.
Swollen Members, even some early Hi-Tek, Talib, Black Star kind of a stuff. He said something about his backpack in the second line tips his hat as far as what kind of a rap it is. [Laughs]
Yeah - you don't want to say you're a backpack rapper anymore, even if you are, because it's become a negative term, with unfair connotations. And here we are two white dudes talking about it. But I love "backpack rap," a lot of the stuff that gets labeled that way.
[Laughs] Definitely. There's substance there...I don't mind the bravado in rap, but sometimes I feels like too much. They were lacking that. I noticed the song was called "'80s Baby," and I heard them saying things about popular culture.
Master Splinter, Mr. Miyagi. It's a lot of fun, and totally cool.
A Cloud Forest is a Phoenix-based black metal project. This is the first track from October's Overture, which can be heard in its entirety at BandCamp.
Up on the Sun: We talked a lot during the song, but you're into the beginning, right? Dominic Primé: Yeah, like you said, it kind of sounds like The Cure or old 4AD bands, so that I can get into. But when it goes into King Diamond territory it loses me. I sat thinking, "What exactly don't I like," and I think it's the vocals, but also the uni-dimensional, one tempo, one rhythm.
I like the intro a lot, and I'm a big fan of some of the stuff we talked about, the stuff between black metal and shoegaze, like Wolves in the Throne, Deafheaven...who was it you mentioned?
Yeah yeah. There's good stuff that's blending the two things. It's like Cocteau Twins or something, and then it moves into this really oppressive, claustrophobic sound. And I'm not really opposed to that. I like the sonic elements of black metal. This didn't' quite grab me - the vocals are right up and high pitched.
The vocals sit very on top of the music.
And I can get into the lack of dynamic - music that rides out one theme doesn't bother me. I can get into it sometimes, depending on what it is. When they added in the other guitar I was more engaged. But it was a little sloppy.
Simple is the word I would use.
I was excited, because one of the things I like about The Cure is the constant layering, like "Just Like Heaven," introducing all these elements, drums, bass, acoustic guitar, electric, and build it up. This thing could have benefited from some structuring. It's also pretty unfair - this is the opening track, and we're judging something that's clearly part of a whole.
Yeah, it felt like an intro once you mentioned that to me. I got in an inkling of where it's going.
Black metal is not the kind of thing where one song is going to express the whole thing. It's unfair for us to take the one element, but I was curious about your thoughts on the gothy thing.
I'm very much a proponent of your first song making people want to listen to the rest of your record. I'm a vinyl guy, so you last song on the first side needs to make people want to flip it. I guess this just didn't seem that intriguing, but they've got a lot of interesting ideas...
There's a real embrace of this kind of stuff right among indie fans, and I think it's because the lo-fi singer songwriter guy and the black metal kid are sort of the same kind of person. They record in their room by themselves.
Kind of a dorks.
And you don't bring a drummer into your bedroom, because your mom will complain. And I love that.
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Yeah, me too. [Laughs]
It's outsider music. No one is going to flip on the radio and hear this and say, "What is this vibrant new sound?" It's music for weirdos. And I like weirdo music.
Me too. Absolutely.