In Rotation: Makeup & Vanity Set, C418, Secret Pyramid, Dungen & American Football (Review)

Ominous synth music, playful electronica, beautiful dark ambient, Swedish psych-rock instrumentals, and elegant emo.
Makeup & Vanity Set

In Rotation is a regular Opus feature where I post short reviews of noteworthy music, both new and old, that I’ve been listening to lately.

Makeup & Vanity Set

2016 has been a busy year for Matthew Pusti, aka Makeup & Vanity Set. Back in April, he released the excellent Wavehymnal EP, which further polished and dance-ified his synthwave sound. Following Wavehymnal, he released two soundtracks. The first was for Hit TV, an ’80s-tastic short film directed by Saman Kesh that’s about a seedy underground assassination game show. The second was Brigador, Vol. I, the first installment of Pusti’s soundtrack for the acclaimed indie mecha combat videogame.

However, one of the most interesting MAVS projects is this short video and exclusive track recorded for Meris, a company that manufactures audio processing equipment. The track’s an ominous, slowburning piece in the finest MAVS tradition and the Joey Ciccoline-directed video is simple yet effective. (And though I’m no gearhead, Pusti’s set-up looks pretty slick, too.)

2 Years of Failure by C418

2 Years of Failure - C418

If you’ve played Minecraft, then you’re familiar with the music of Daniel Rosenfeld. Recording under the C418 moniker, Rosenfeld composed the game’s lovely, playful-yet-melancholy soundtracks (Volume Alpha, Volume Beta). In addition to creating music for Minecraft, he’s released numerous albums of atmospheric electronic music. Which brings us to 2 Years of Failure.

Described as “a collection of failures, unpublished works, rescued broken song files and things that I simply cannot sell,” 2 Years of Failure is a collection of odds and ends that explore different facets of the C418 sound. All self-deprecation aside, 2 Years of Failure is a nice, even delightful collection of tracks. Considering the album’s origins, it’s not too surprising that it skips around a bit, from anthemic techno (“90s_tripverse”) to video game action themes (“90s_management”) to soft ambient soundscapes (“house_loneliness”). There’s even an orchestral “remix” of the Akira soundtrack (“kaneda”) and a nice take on the Stranger Things theme (“stranger_think”), to boot.

The random, scrapbook-ish nature of 2 Years of Failure does make for a hit-or-miss listen, but even Rosenfeld’s weaker pieces have something enjoyable about them, be it clever melodies or a spritely, impish tone.

Distant Works II by Secret Pyramid

Distant Works II - Secret Pyramid

Earlier this year, Secret Pyramid (Amir Abbey’s solo ambient project) released Distant Works II, which Abbey describes as “equal parts alien and serene.” That’s a very apt description for Secret Pyramid’s oeuvre, which consists of ambient soundscapes that are as haunting and beautiful as they are eerie and ominous.

That becomes immediately apparent with “IV,” one of the Distant Works II preview tracks. Playing what I imagine to be a church organ in some long-lost cathedral in the middle of a darkened, forgotten forest, Abbey creates an atmosphere full of grandeur and majesty shadowed by melancholy. Although “IV” initially seems largely static, patient listeners will be rewarded by subtle sonic shifts that seem to have epic consequences.

“VII” continues this mood, though Abbey’s somber synth-scapes are roughened by tape fuzz and field recordings which cast the song in an even stranger light. All in all, more excellent twilit ambience by one of my new favorites in the genre; highly recommended if you’re a fan of Labradford and Deaf Center.

Jakten Genom Skogen” by Dungen

Häxan - Dungen

Swedish psych-rock outfit Dungen recently announced their next album, Häxan. Billed as their first all-instrumental album, Häxan was inspired by Dungen’s work on composing an original score for The Adventures of Prince Achmed, the world’s oldest surviving animated feature film. As the press release puts it: “Moody, evocative, stormy, and brimming with life, Häxan provides both a tacit summation of the Dungen journey up to today, and gives the beloved group a chance to stretch out like never before.”

Make of those lofty words what you will. I just know this: if first single “Jakten Genom Skogen” is any indication, then Häxan is going to be something special. The song’s certainly one of the prettiest things I’ve ever heard from Gustav Ejstes at al.: dreamy strings drift lazily above acoustic guitar and jazzy drumming, and everything exudes a sense of warmth and wide-eyed wonder for the song’s duration.

Häxan will be released by Mexican Summer on November 25.

American Football

American Football 2016

In 1999, American Football released their self-titled full-length debut, and its plaintive vocals, off-kilter rhythms, and intricate guitar melodies effectively bridged the gap between emo, math-rock, and Steve Reich-esque minimalism. Time has done very little to diminish the debut’s loveliness; songs like “Never Meant” and “Honestly?” still sound just as fresh, and more importantly, still pack just as much of an emotional wallop as they did so long ago.

So what does the group do for their long-awaited sophomore release? The fact that it, too, is titled American Football should give you a clue. The first two singles — “I’ve Been So Lost For So Long” and “Give Me The Gun” — pick up right where the last album left off, as if the last seventeen years never happened at all. Mike Kinsella’s voice is just as emotive as ever and the band’s music is still lovely and effortless. Consider, for example, the gorgeous little bridge that appears half-way through “Give Me The Gun” and adds a whole nother layer of emotional resonance to the song.

American Football will be released by Polyvinyl on October 21.

As an added bonus, watch American Football perform “Never Meant” at the 2015 Reading Festival.

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