Mariesena: existential Ukrainian screamo
There’s a video on YouTube where Mariesena, a screamo band from Ukraine, plays a cover of Orchid’s “…And The Cat Turned To Smoke” live in their hometown Odessa, on the Black Sea. The song is a classic that fans know, but the reaction of the crowd is not what an American or European screamo lover would expect: the audience sang, cried, desperately held their heads, and comforted each other while falling on their knees.
It’s not a parody nor a meme, but one way to show dedication to a genre that has developed quite a cult following in some ex-USSR countries. While foreign bands are rather worshiped here, the local scenes in Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia are alive and well, delivering several interesting emo and screamo bands every year. Mariesena is one of them, and a great starting point for those who want to dig in these unexplored territories. Unlike many of the other bands they share the stage with, their lyrics are in English, exploring romantic and existentialist poetics in a personal style, especially on their full-length Ruth. The music is raw, violent and passionate, with reckless conjunctions between emoviolence chaos and staid moments of lo-fi clean arpeggios and abrupt screams.
The band, which broke up in 2014, has played a reunion show just last week in Odessa, with 200 people sweating and screaming all of their lyrics, but its members have also released a good quantity of material with other bands in the past couple of years. Yotsuya Kaidan, for example, are releasing these days what is one of the most poignant screamo EPs to ever come from Ukraine.
Modern Love: Early Hives Meets Iceage Meets Norwegian Lyrics
Possibly due to its dark and cold winters and the lukewarm midnight sun of its short summers, Scandinavia is a land of harsh and juicy oppositions when it comes to music. The most famous artists that come out of here are either writing some of the catchiest melodies ever composed – think of Abba and A-ha – or playing the darkest and most terrific metal in the world, with a large portion of them playing black metal.
While often being included in a scene that prefers heavy and fast music, Modern Love from Oslo clearly belongs to the first category. They play a sort of peppy and distorted punk inspired by ’80s patterns, yet the real secret of the band, active since 2012, lays in their ability to write captivating melodies capable of surmounting the language barrier – their lyrics are in Norwegian, yet they sound almost intelligible to any English speaker for the enthusiastic nerve they hold.
Their geographic provenance can actually be heard quite clearly on their last album Tross Alt. Not just because of the lyrics, but also because the sonic references on the record definitely points towards the Northern countries of Europe: there’s the charisma of The Hives from Sweden, but also the primeval punk energy of Iceage from Denmark.
And like The Hives, Modern Love are at their best during their live performances. The singer wriggles on the stage, making eye contact with the crowd at every word he sputters with a ’77 punk vibe. Unlike the first wave of punk, though, he spreads only positivity in between the songs, turning his band’s show into a spate of “free hugs” and motivational words; to fight indifference and offer an example of what a real (modern) love should actually look like.
RAKTA: experimental all-female post-punk from Sao Paulo
For those who are familiar with the new waves of raw post-punk, RAKTA shouldn’t be a surprise. For those who aren’t, they could be a good starting point. As a matter of fact, it’s hard to define whether this all-female band from São Paulo in Brazil really belongs to any actual current wave, but categorizing them is certainly not a priority anyway. Like they claimed on an interview with CVLT Nation, “we are not attached to any [genre], and this is what we are trying to advocate.”
One of the most impressive features about RAKTA is the primitive nonchalance with which they go from horror soundtrack sounding synths and mystical intertwined vocals that repeat echoed hex mantras to walls of oppressive percussion that stand in obdurate opposition to the seductiveness of the most popular rhythms coming from their homeland. Their music belongs to a dark ritualism that isn’t traceable to any genre-related framework, and that often flows into a devilish and fascinating tableau resounding with noise, drone, and even electronic music.
Even when their experimental fury shatters common post-punk structures, though, there’s always a certain hypnotic feeling that allows the listener to remain focused and attracted to their sound. Over the course of a six-year long career, the band improved their formula with each release – most of them being cohesive EPs with powerful and defined aesthetics – and reached their peak with III. On the album, released by Iron Lung Records in the States, five long songs create a sonic universe that is truly unique in today’s music world and which perfectly represents what RAKTA are about.
Tapestry: Singapore Emo and a Back-to-Basics Raw Sound
When listening to Tapestry, a glorious and heartbreaking band from Singapore, time stops. Take “A Set Distance”, for example, the sixth track off their latest full length I Hope You Never Find Me. “The joy of living is gone,” dramatically sings Syed, the band’s vocalist and guitarist as the song starts, while the band weaves a delicate post-rock motif. Not long after, the song erupts in a furious explosion that preserves the same drama. Assisting the main vocals, passionate screams percolate through the rhythm: they sound raw, woolly and ultimately reminiscent of the unpretentious screamo of fifteen years ago.
These screams are a spark in the work of Tapestry, that surely owes a lot to Midwest emo. Bands like American Football or Penfold ongly helped the band define their sound, giving them a point of reference. But Tapestry takes emo very seriously, not as something they copied from the States, but as something to live for. The constancy of their releases is a proof of that. Since their first 2012 EP, the trio has worked hard to perfect their formula, refusing to adhere to new trends and sounds.
Their last songs, released on a split with Michigan-based Coma Regalia, are a further evidence of such enviable coherence. “Strings & Azimuth”, in particular, is one of the best tracks the band has ever released. There, Syed talks about spending two years away from home due to the compulsory military service in Singapore. Even if the song is centered around a very specific theme, there’s a certain universality within it. And also the revelation that at the moment it’s “unconventional places” such as Singapore that offer some of the most interesting emo bands in the world, possibly due to the fact that the issues they cover are more transferable to the defining poignant traits of the genre–while being rather distant from the Western imagery.
The Daydream Fit: The Dutch outfit stays close to its ’90s emo roots but have expanded its sound
Is there anything more bittersweet than a band going on hiatus or breaking up after releasing their best work? It isn’t rare, though; at times, the effort of releasing something outstanding is draining, it damages the personal relationships inside a band, or it makes its members realize they don’t have so much time to put on their musical project anymore.
When it comes to The Daydream Fit, a criminally underrated band based between Enschede and Utrecht, in the Netherlands, it’s unsure what the cause of their hiatus was. What we know is that their last self-titled EP is a rare gem in the contemporary emo scene, a mind blowing work that would have deserved a lot more attention.
The Daydream Fit is the second record by the Dutch outfit – the first was a three-songs EP resembling bands such as End Of A Year and characterized by a contagious freshness. Their last work is longer, with six songs graced by a masterful production that brings out the band’s ability to write songs that are seemingly simple but are written with a passionate attention to detail. The record is rich with references to the ’90s. On the second track “Stick To Yr Lies” it’s easy to hear the youthful urgency of Moss Icon, while on “New York City Tonight” there’s even a collaboration with Sonic Youth guitar player Lee Ranaldo.
But most importantly, it feels like it’s the approach of The Daydream Fit that comes from a different era, untouched by the contradictions of today or by the pressures of appearing a certain way. The band focuses on their music in the most genuine way possible: not only they play precisely what they want to play, but they also have the means to do it, and the result is truly poignant and brilliant.
Sir Croissant: for fans of Big Thief, Daughter, and Bon Iver
There is beauty in youth, beauty in talent, and when the two overlap the result is often grandiose, unexpectedly fulfilling. This is pretty much what must have been going through the heads of those who attended the first ever show of Sir Croissant in Žiža, an alternative cafe in Banja Luka, the capital of the Serbian entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina. A venue that is usually chatty and noisy in the evenings – even when there’s a show. That night, though, when the local songwriter took the stage, everyone went abruptly silent, captured by his vocals from the very first few seconds.
One impressive thing here is that Igor Božanić alias Sir Croissant, who chose the name after a live album by Sia, is only 16-years-old, and has already released two EPs. The first one, Let Me Sleep, was recorded in his room with a webcam microphone, giving a lo-fi vibe that however doesn’t hide the most recognizable stylistic traits of his work. There’s the placidity of Lisa Hannigan in his vocals, but also the emotional tension of indie bands like Daughter and Big Thief, as his guitar picking masterfully matches the feelings he wants to evoke.
These qualities emerge much more vividly on his new EP, if i was a fish i would cry, also thanks to the synths of Milica Pendić, supplying the music with resounding nuances of holy. But it’s his songwriting and his storytelling skills that improved the most in just one year: songs like “johnson and johnson” and “doglady” are beautiful examples of how variegated his music can get, other than displaying his overflowing and empathic narrative made of romanticizing simple gestures and childhood memories. What he can achieve in the future is not calculable: what’s sure is that there’s something truly precious and important here.
PAST: Warsaw post-punk meets ’80s goth
You don’t need to speak Polish to understand the attitude and aesthetics of PAST, a post-punk band from Warsaw that started playing in 2011. Sure, their lyrics are a fundamental part of their work, focusing mostly on the current state of the world with a certain disillusionment – but with an ever present glimpse of hope. But all of this information can already be grasped by carefully listening to the powerful voice of Gosia, the band’s lead singer.
There’s something in her beautiful vocals that manages to bear the band’s spirit and captures the listener. Her strong harmonies stand above the ravenous and dystopian sound of their new record, Czarno/Biela (Black/White), while fitting perfectly in it at the same time.
On their Bandcamp page, PAST assert they play music “so that they can run away from norms and mediocrity.” Mediocrity in particular, or rather refusing it and fighting it, is central to their work, and that is not something to be underrated. While clearly fond of cold post-punk, the band renovates the the dark ’80s sound and modernizes it in a sparkling way.
Cutting synths often fill the space, invigorating the album with an unusually wide range of colors, while an omnipresent bass and blossoming guitars add a precious depth to the band’s compositions, pushing the band towards a roaring punk urgency with the help of fast-paced and never monotonous drums.
All of these elements turn Czarno/Biela into an exciting and epic ride, one that creates an atmosphere that owes a lot to the German post-punk of thirty years ago. It’s post-apocalyptic, but with a sizable dose of emotions and curiosity for all the possibilities that this type of music can offer.
Molly: for fans of Jawbreaker, Beach Slang, and Dinosaur Jr.
The music video teasing Stay Above, the new album by Molly, is simple and irritatingly hilarious. It shows a phone reproducing their new song “All About” inside of an empty Tuborg glass, the track sounding muffled and distant, interrupted halfway by an abrupt phone call. Towards the end, though, the sound gets rid of the natural distortion and acquires its true powerful nature. At the same time, we see the band standing in front of some burning brushwood, creepily staring into the void.
A video like this already says a lot about Molly, a furious rock band from Copenhagen. It shows that they don’t take themselves too seriously, that they can have fun with their own music, but more than anything it shows how good their songwriting is, even when the music can be barely heard. The Danish trio is clearly influenced by Dinosaur Jr., Husker Du and Jawbreaker, but rework these influences in a personal way, assisted by some effective Social Distortion sounding vocals.
Reworking, though, does not mean modernizing, and Stay Above is obstinately anchored to the 90s sound. It is Molly’s third record, but it seems like it’s the one that can allow them to be noticed by many more people than before, also thanks to the hype of bands like Beach Slang, which turned punk-informed 90s rock into something more recognizable and accessible even to younger kids today. This way, Stay Above has all the potential to become one of the most loved albums of the year.