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Album Review

 Male Tears By Male Tears

Written by: Gbanas92 & IndyAdvant

While this new self-titled release may technically be the third album under Male Tears’ belt, it does in many ways represent a debut. What originally began as a solo act — under which the albums Endless Tears and Artism reside — is now a duo as Mister Mellow joins up, and the sound of the group has shifted and changed to reflect this new formula. While Male Tears remains at its core a synthpop outfit, there is now a greater representation of sounds, of styles, and most importantly, of personality.

Right out of the gate, the opening track, “Chained Up” is able to evoke the greatest acts of the new wave. If that’s a genre or sound you’ve grown up on or just grown fond of, the influence is immediately apparent. But this is no mere copy. The music doesn’t exist merely to pay homage to that which came before. The tandem has something of its own to say. Between the many music videos that have been released for tracks off this album, as well as the artwork itself, there is a cohesive vision at play. While sonically things scream New Order, visually we are met with something a bit more malleable. Think more along the lines of the chameleonic nature that helped define the career of David Bowie and you’re in the ballpark. The album elicits a fiercely androgynous sex appeal that permeates every layer of the release. The masks of these two personae –lipstick, eye shadow, hairstyling- are no better represented than on the album cover, with a version for each member of the group. Even the instruments contribute to this, as the tones and choices made culminate to help you peer at the world through the lens of Male Tears.

After the opener, things get even more energetic, with the intriguing “Let’s Pretend,” an uncannily catchy tune that revels in hypotheticals. In a world still reeling from the ongoing pandemic, the idea of viewing love or romance as an idea to be solely indulged in hypothetically is an especially intriguing concept. After the opener, it’s the first real moment where the album “locks eyes” with the listener as well. While the gaze may grow ever intense as the release wears on, here it’s teasing, playful.

But as we dive deeper into the release, the darker side of things starts to show up. While the tunes maintain their airiness thanks in large part to tinkling synths, the subject matter gets more concerning. Even the track titles themselves start to paint this picture. Playing pretend was fun and all, but “Good in the Dark” starts to take these fleeting fantasies further. While on the surface, this is the best Pat Benatar track in decades, the manifestations of those casual glances are getting more intense. Things are heating up, but what happens when the dark gives way to light?



“Creep Distance” is the answer to that question, which carries a far less peppy melody. The drums cut that extra bit harder, the vocals croon more, and the fantasy seems to be over. The most frequently uttered line in the track is “don’t stand so close to me.” A divide in the earlier dreams has formed. This is further reaffirmed by the lyrics explicity, saying “now that we’ve grown far apart.” If that doesn’t spell things out enough, the next track, “Human Errorz,” unbelievably gets more sinister. While the lyrical content is more pensive and less dramatic, the synths in this one are downright sinister. And that’s to say nothing of the punctuating, downright propulsive percussion.

But things can’t all be grim, can they? Surely you’ve got to be able to turn a corner eventually, right? Well what if we just fast-forwarded right to that? That’s what “Future X” decides to do, jumping forward past the dour ruminations of the last couple emotional tracks. We have a more peppy beat again, the synthesized strings are back, and the lyrics talk about not wanting to “think about any time but the future,” before repeating “take me to the future” in the chorus. A future where things are looking up perhaps?



But not so fast. “Adult Film” hasn’t had its say just yet. Opening with a solo bass line that sounds handmade for a keytar, this track probably has the most dramatic vocals of the release. The rigors of singing are more evident than ever, with the emotional strain of the subject matter being most evident. Really, the whole track feels off the rails. The dizzying arpeggiated xylophones represent the nucleus of the tune running through basically the whole song. But this manic pace was never going to last.



“She Lives in the Pipes” tones things back down a bit, bringing the tempo to a calmer, more controlled level. While the subject matter on the surface might sound, well, strange, sonically, this is one of the standouts on the album. While it’s a little trickier to find a place for this in the “story” we’ve crafted here, it’s got maybe the best chorus on the whole album. So let’s think of it as a narrative interlude or the infectiously catchy commercial that interrupted your regularly scheduled programming.

The respite doesn’t last long though, as the penultimate track brings an incredibly important revelation both in the context of the album, and more broadly, in everyday life. “I Should Feel How I Feel” may attempt to tackle the ability — or inability — to accept oneself for who they are. The song appears to deal with some pretty troubling subject matter, almost as if not being accepted is deserved for someone being the way that they are, and trying to come to grips with that revelation. After all of the events that had come before, this track may represent some kind of resigned acceptance to one’s role or purpose in the world. But understanding and acknowledging that is an important step in being able to move beyond it. It’s pretty bleak stuff, so what comes next is rather surprising. 



Whatever you were expecting next, it’s probably not a brilliant Rick Astley-esque tune, is it? Well with “Take My Picture”, that’s what we get. The drums carry the expected crisp gated reverb that defined much of ‘80s drumming — and don’t get us started on the synth tones! Given how bleak some of the past few minutes have felt, it’s perhaps encouraging that the album ends so optimistically. It affords us some hope for the future. And it’s a wonderful closer on an album that has us as optimistic as ever for the future of Male Tears. 

If you’re anxious to get your hands on the album you won’t need to wait long, as it will be dropping on Pacific Plaza Records Sunday, February 14th –yes, that’s Valentine’s Day- at 12PM PST.

 

gbanas92 Score: 4/5
Favorite Track: Good in the Dark

Indy Advant Score: 4/5
Favorite Track:
Chained Up

Male Tears

 

Album Review

Nyx by Zer0 れい

Written by: listencorp

A low level buzz heralds the start of NYX. A little glimpse of the general hue of warm feedback that follows pretty much throughout the release. There’s a sound like some unfathomably large freight train peeling out of a gnarled, gothic station; but as the atmosphere settles a similar sound emerges at a different pitch, clarifying that what we hear is a melodic sequence rather than a sound effect. The hybridization of fizzling static and muffled angelic pads was the cause of such a shocking and intense beginning, but the two aspects separate fairly swiftly. What proceeds from this point sounds something like footage from the rapture spewing from an old television set. Instead of sounding grand and palpable, the pad strings leak out of an unstable and non-grandiose set of speakers. It is almost like awakening from a dream, there was a fleeting moment that felt as though we were experiencing this strange celestial event first-hand. However as we come to understand what is being presented, we realize it claws over toward us from a tired old screen.

As if the old hardware has been on too long and found a way to connect with the spiritual plane. Needle-like euphoria pierces through the unpredictable waves of fuzz, at points the melodies even seem to push through like a hand of pure light desperately trying to permeate its shoddy, fizzling encasement. Throughout this, Zer0れい remains unafraid of leaving the listener in moments of silence. For some artists, music of this style would cause a nerve-racking pressure, where it might feel as thought the artist must always be presenting the atmosphere explicitly. This would cause an overexposure to the fascinating atmosphere. But with Zer0れい there are gaps peppered about, moments without the guiding light of the euphoric ambience, and also where the feedback ceases to spit out static as well. In these brief periods of silence, it almost feels as though your soul is recuperating after being set upon by a strange and entrancing experience.

These fleeting respites end with a reiteration of the desolate and decrepit aura that controls NYX. There is also something incredibly unique about the melodies Zer0れい utilizes. They are unrelenting tendrils that sneak past the grainy fugue; long drawling laments. When it feels as though a melodic episode has concluded, the artist finds another combination of notes to keep the sorrowful performance going. In this way the track limps at points, with breaks in feedback and melodic narrative. This serves to amplify the fragmented and heady nature of the music as a whole. At certain stages, it almost sounds like there are voices meshed into the slow-attack notes. Noises like bells can also be heard throughout, before the onslaught of melody is enveloped in waves of heavy distortion. Toward the end, a swirling pool of the euphoric ambience begins to build. The lashes of harsh feedback continue, but every time they hit they disappear, more swiftly than before, into the burgeoning sea of beautiful noise. The opening side to Zer0れい‘s NYX is truly haunting. The atmosphere submerges everything from the very start, everything happens through this heady, violent sludge. But even in such torrid audio conditions, Zer0れい sneaks in moments of pure beauty.

The narrative takes a darker turn still as we enter the second half. The same large sweeps of metallic viscera appear, but this time do not often relent in any meaningful way. Instead, gargantuan shrouds of noise crash into slowly descending whistles. The falling tones are unsettling, as if the music has buckled from the pressure and now hurtles downward like a faltering aeroplane. The feeling is one of overarching disorientation. At least the first half of NYX had a safe space in its sheepish melancholy. In this second part, the listener is completely on their own amidst screaming tunes and violent walls of muddy, metallic nothingness. Even when the melody gains a little bit more of a footing and certain notes are sent across the listener’s bow, they are completely bested and beaten down by the constant monotony of the void. Low notes begin to coo patiently against the tide, almost choral in their delivery.

At a certain point, a deep bass sound begins to enmesh itself in with the dissonance, allowing for melody to inch its way into focus without being hindered by the relentless din. Here we find a little ballast upon which to try and weather the storm; we hear muffled ghosts of notes pulse through a thick fog. After throbbing feedback, all sounds begin to falter. Only certain crackles and flickers have a volatile feel to them, the rest of what we were hearing seems to have hurtled far away from us now. This is one of the only times it seems we are able to hide away from the atmosphere Zer0れい has created. But it is in no way comforting, it feels as if we are mere yards away from this strange ghostly tower in which the noisy struggle rages on. A heavenly chorus emerges through the grayscale rage of sound, its tune bending and screeching. The conclusion to NYX is not the rapturous recalibration of light and dark that we may have hoped for. Rather the two sounds slowly simmer down and stop, the pause is so sudden that it almost feels as if it could just be another swift intermission before the roaring shrieks back in. It fills the listener with dark wonderings about the sounds, which harbored so much power and rage that they could easily burn on forever past the project’s runtime.

Zer0れい assembles defunct sounds and feedback, pitting them against each other and occasionally fusing them together. This is a fairly basic methodology. But, in NYX the artist instills an incredibly harrowing atmosphere, an incapacitating journey through a volatile and alien landscape viewed through rusted old machinery. In the first part, one might imagine a lone TV set, spewing sick light into a living room and entrancing an unaware subject with visions of angelic beauty. The second part sounds like what would be playing when the police break down the subject’s door a few weeks later, finding the apartment’s contents vaporized and the owner driven to madness by the indescribable dark energy enshrined within what was playing.

Check out the album on Aquablanca 音楽レーベル Feb. 13th: 
https://aquablanca.bandcamp.com/album/nyx

Game Review

Self-Checkout Unlimited

Written by: C A S I N O  

It is hard to say whether or not walking simulators should be considered games. After all, there is no such thing as losing or winning in these sorts of games and most of your time will be spent holding down the W key on your keyboard to move forward. As such, they need to make up for their lack of actual gameplay with striking visuals, a proper mood-setting soundtrack, and an engaging story that has the player coming back for more. The question is, does Argent Games’ “Self-Checkout Unlimited” tick off all the right boxes?

The game starts off with your faceless and silent protagonist waking up in an empty, mid-90’s indoor mall with no obvious way of getting out. It is up to you to explore this strange embodiment of American consumer culture and to find your way out, though the game makes it very clear that not all is as it seems with posters telling you “Rapture is giving up the need to control” and reminding you  “Nothing that you see here was, is, or ever will be real.”  Directed by the friendly voices coming from intercoms above head, you go on a journey of self-discovery and self-reflection to find out who you really are and exactly what it is you are supposed to be doing in this big scary world of ours.

If it sounds deep, that is because it is, but also it is not. It is like looking down into the depths of a giant pool that seems to have no bottom… only to jump in and discover that what you thought was an endless abyss was actually only about two feet deep and now your legs are broken. Throughout the game you go to various stores, each with its own purpose in helping you discover your true self, but the game never seems to get to any kind of point. It tosses around a lot of deep sounding words and phrases, but at no point did I feel like they had any kind of meaning to them.

Furthermore, there is very little interactivity in the game. There are a couple of very minor puzzles, but most of the time your tasks involve walking from point A to point B and occasionally placing object C into spot D, and the above is only done in the context of progressing the game forward. It seems like such a waste to have an entire (albeit rather small) mall at your disposal and for there to be so little to do. There are only five outlet stores which are open to you in this place which exist solely for the purpose of progressing the story forward. The others are closed off and kept in darkness so you cannot even go inside to have a look around.

What the game does get right, though, are the visuals and sound design. Clean and polished tile floors reflect the lights that shine overhead, the constant babbling of the grand fountain in the middle of the shopping center, the barely audible Muzak that plays from unseen speakers. The soundtrack is completely original to the game and was produced by Mr. Zunino, along with beloved vaporwave producer desert sand feels warm at night, who provided the music for the more abstract parts of the game. The Stores and small size aside, this place feels like the proper abandoned mall that fans of 猫 シ Corp. keep dreaming about. Furthermore, as you go along your quest you will be transported to other settings that are staples of the vaporwave genre such as an indoor swimming pool and a seemingly endless parking lot.

 

 

 

 

 

All in all, “Self-Checkout Unlimited” really nails the aesthetics, but with a price tag of eight bucks and a shallow experience that only lasts for around an hour, it is a damn shame that the developers could not do more with it.

Score: 2/5

Our Grading System

Argent Games

Game: https://store.steampowered.com/app/1221320/SelfCheckout_Unlimited/
Soundtrack: https://store.steampowered.com/app/1423510/SelfCheckout_Unlimited_Soundtrack/

Website: https://argentgames.co/

 

Written by:

 

Written by:

Gbanas92

 

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