interview – mister lies

– featured image courtesy of brian vu –

despite – or perhaps in spite of – a string of well-received releases in the first half of the decade, nick zanca hit the pause button on his mister lies project around the end of 2014. after five years in the wilderness, zanca returns to the moniker this week with a self-titled, self-released album.

mister lies is a fairly brief endeavor; its ten songs clock in at around a half-hour and are best digested all at once, preferably without interruption. anchoring the release is “the commuter,” a track whose titular subject would be the ideal consumer of this body of work: perhaps not someone inbound, about to start their day, but someone outbound, retreating to solitude and stillness.

we caught up with zanca in the weeks leading up to his return to discuss his new album, how his collaborative work with quiet friend has influenced his solo output, and the quest to search for influences outside of the realm of music. check out the transcript, lightly edited for clarity, below.

it’s been nearly five years since you released the last mister lies album. what caused you to step away from the project, and what led you back?

stepping away was necessary. i was halfway through my freshman year of college when i put out the first EP on bandcamp and at that age insecurities were still deep and blind spots were still wide. i had learned ableton by looking over friends’ shoulders and stumbled upon my sound almost by accident.

the response to that early material was overwhelming. in a matter of weeks, opportunities presented themselves that usually take years for artists to reach – nearly every weekend in the coming semesters were spent flying out to play shows. as excited and grateful as i was, it was as if i had acquired an audience before a sense of self. 

eventually i would drop out of school to tour after my sophomore year, usually with other young producers who had experienced the same kind of rapid rise in that same strange internet microcosm of “chill”-adjacent electronic music. the absurdity of our individual situations and the privilege of sharing music with strangers was a source of solidarity, but the performance anxiety always persisted. i was quietly struggling to embrace being queer and neurodivergent in a scene that thrives on hedonist aesthetics, male gaze imagery and smartphone solipsism. it was often a musical neverland – unless an audience is on your side, it refuses to grow up. there were a lot of personal and professional endings. i rode the wave as far as i could, but i began to feel like i was wearing a mask. it took effort to take it off, deflate the ego and let life happen.

giving myself room to be human was probably a good start – i finished my degree, fell in love, got closer to family – but developing a intense relationship to listening outside the context of product was what got me back on my feet creatively. starting quiet friend and shifting focus to something rooted in a group effort rewired my brain. it was something i didn’t know how to do for a while. i’ve also worked as a music supervisor for hospitality venues for a few years now, and the site-specificity of sound has become something i engage with daily.

shortly after the quiet friend record came out and we were playing shows around new york, i was sifting through old hard drives and was blown away by the amount of sketches i was sitting on. i started there and recorded alone at home with what free time i had on the weekends. at first it felt like putting on an old shirt that no longer fit, but eventually the fabric stretched out, i followed the ideas that came, and a year later i had a record. 

in the interim, you’ve kept busy with quiet friend. how does your compositional approach differ (if at all) when working independently as opposed to collaboratively?

the two ways of working seem to inform and complement each other, especially now that i’ve found a balance of both. in a group context, you’re mostly letting the ideas of others in, and i was really hungry for that at the time. i tend to internalize a lot when working alone, but with others i found what i eventually recognized to be personal strengths to reinforce themselves and echo – thick textures, bricolage, a sense of place. it’s a great way to get your writers block unstuck and i’d recommend it to anyone struggling with a solo practice – you discover what it actually is you bring to the table and then are able to take that home with you and truly utilize it.

this record i made on my own couldn’t have happened without that experience. steven and i are just getting started, but i’m proud of that record we made and the strange extended family we’ve developed in the process of getting the band off the ground. i’m excited for that music to reach more ears. 

this new album has a fair amount of found sounds and electroacoustic elements – it’s very soundscape-y, for lack of a better term. who or what were some touchstones when you were writing these songs?

i have a tendency to get wrapped up in musical influence, and this time around i did my best to avoid relying on that in favor of inspiration pulled from other disciplines. in general though, i think one of the major differences between then and now is that my taste has started to embrace the longform and lean toward slowness and meditative commitment.

clarice lispector’s writing and chantal akerman’s films encourage those who consume them to have patience for a slower and fluid pace, borderline glacial, and the end result is something so human that accentuates the everyday. my record is the durational opposite – it’s over and done in thirty minutes – but it aims to capture the present and recreate the surrounding world in the same way. 

of course, i am easily impacted by what i hear and can’t ignore that. field recordings and found sounds have been an important part of my practice from the beginning, but i think this record is the first time that they are being treated as the central focus – the environments have become the soloists.  luc ferrarialvin curran and hiroshi yoshimura are all composers in touch with their respective atmospheres and that aspect of their work has had a profound effect on me.

people have always described what i do as “cinematic”. i guess i went into this one with that in mind. 

this album is self-titled; how much of a conscious decision was that?

totally intentional. it feels like the closest thing to pressing the project’s reset button. i see this work as a summation of everything i’ve explored sonically for far, so self-titling simply felt like the move.

listening to mister lies from start to finish in one sitting is optimal, but you’ve decided to share “the commuter” ahead of its release as a preview of things to come. what does that particular song represent to you, and how does it fit into the album overall?

“the commuter” was the first of the batch to feel complete and was also the first indication of the record’s site-specific direction. it’s less of a single and more of an excerpt i was itching to share. of all the tracks on the record, i think it feels the most similar in spirit to the music i made when I was younger, but also works as an introduction to the sonic territory i’ve been interested in occupying lately.

when making records in the past, i would close myself off somewhere and create situations for myself that were unhealthily hermetic – i would let nothing else in but the music. the results produced intense work but the process was not always productive.

this time around, i’ve introduced more balance to my life. anything that i treated as a distraction before – be it the daily routine or the world outside my window – has become a compositional device and fuel for the record. in this case, it’s the introspection and claustrophobia on my way to and from work. 

mister lies is out this friday, august 2nd. read an essay zanca wrote about his album, alongside a full stream, over at talkhouse.

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maria usbeck – “amor anciano”

– featured image courtesy of holland brown –

in the three years since her excellent debut full-length amparo, maria usbeck experienced and ruminated on the prospect of aging, weaving those observations into a complex, more challenging sophomore effort, the aptly-titled envejeciendo.

the album’s lead single, “amor anciano,” bridges the gap between its predecessor’s sunnier affect and the preoccupation and introspection that heavily populates envejeciendo. delivered in spanish and retaining usbeck’s signature sheen, “amor anciano” grapples with long-lost love, the subtle, aching nostalgia becoming explicit as field recordings bubble to the surface.

envejeciendo arrives august 16th via cascine. listen to “amor anciano” below.

premiere – caicos

– featured image courtesy of the artist –

last summer, alex frenkel released promised lands, his first effort under his caicos moniker, a vibrant debut that fused electronic soundscapes with frenkel’s signature guitar playing and vocals. it appears he had more left in the tank; a five-song extended play, dream machines, is due out this spring.

on “genesis,” the EP‘s opening number and lead-off single, palm-muted motifs skitter off of compressed electronic backbeats and acoustic guitar chord progressions, an organic foundation warmed by frenkel’s conversational baritone.

his lead vocal sits comfortably in the foreground, gradually enveloped by the accompanying arrangement until the very final moments, when most timbres exit stage left and frenkel remains with a surprisingly tender sentiment to deliver. an initial glimpse into a project that shows the measured progression of an incredibly assured songwriter, “genesis” is a placid cut, particularly well-suited for chilly days that require a bit extra aural warmth.

dream machine is out may 31st via very jazzed. listen to “genesis,” premiering right here on the dimestore, below.

jo schornikow – “incomplete”

– featured image courtesy of david torch –

after years of lending her keyboard talents to the likes of the national and phosphorescent – and touring with the latter – the australian songwriter jo schornikow is poised to release secret weapon, a lush nine-song collection influenced primarily by her experiences in motherhood.

on the album’s lead single, “incomplete,” schornikow’s aqueous aesthetic slots perfectly with director ben chace’s accompanying slow-motion visuals, an amalgam of muted electronic percussion and underwater synth pads percolating beneath the warmth of electric piano chords and schornikow’s arresting lead vocal. it’s an unforgettable performance and perfect introduction to an artist inclined to have a stand-out year.

secret weapon is out march 29th via the ever-reliable austin label keeled scales. watch the music video for “incomplete” below.

premiere – muldue

– featured image courtesy of zac bowen –

max ramsden makes music that sounds like exploring a forest at twilight. as muldue, ramsden has spent the past handful of years recording loosely ambient music, pulling liberally from other genres while honing a rather hypnotic aesthetic.

on march 1st, muldue will release a place both foreign and familiar, his debut effort with the seattle-based label hush hush records and his third overall; the extended play’s five tracks together are sprawling, traversing the haunted terrain of ramsden’s inner mechanisms while bathing his voice in a distant sea of reverb.

a wide tremolo pulsates across the stereo fields of the EP‘s lead single, “i tried,” a five-minute meditation deserving of its status as centerpiece. coupled with an eerie, dissonant ostinato and anchored by a hushed but confident lead vocal, “i tried” is an enticing glimpse of things to come for muldue, comfort food for the dead of winter.

“i tried” premieres here today on the dimestore. listen in below.

teen daze – “spring”

– featured image courtesy of the artist –

jamison isaak has spent the past decade recording music, sometimes under the moniker teen daze, sometimes not. his various releases have in turn been dance-oriented, drone-based, or pop-leaning, but the common thread has been the inherent introspectiveness each album or extended play elicits as a whole.

isaak released material under his own name for the first time just last year, turning in a pair of meditative EPs grounded in piano and pedal steel treatments before returning his attention to teen daze with “hidden worlds” in the waning hours of 2018.

with the release of “spring” late last week, the latest incarnation of isaak’s flagship project has come into sharper focus; a worn-in, descending guitar loop is parked in the foreground as complementary elements develop methodically around it, its vernal bloom a snapshot of the purposefulness long woven through teen daze’s output.

“spring” is out now ahead of bioluminescence, due april 26th via isaak’s own label, FLORA. take a listen below.

true blossom – heater

– featured image courtesy of rob lambert –

true blossom is an uncannily accurate moniker for a young band with a debut this polished, this confident. the atlanta-based quintet formed around the collaborative spark of vocalist sophia cox and guitarist chandler kelley in the humid early summer of 2017, accumulating its final three members and writing many of the songs that appear on its first full-length, heater, throughout the rest of the year. across ten tracks, true blossom turns in a vibrant portfolio of pristine synth-pop, one that pays astute homage to its studio-focused forebears while still keying in on diy aesthetics.

after the irresistible lead-off single “baby” and a triumphant bloom of synthesizers on its companion piece, “me & u,” heater hits its stride on “flu punks,” the core aural tenets of true blossom coalescing in a tidy package; prominent, elastic bass lines, brassy synth leads, and crisp guitar bell-tones weave a tapestry atop a robust percussive foundation, a rich template that informs many of the album’s subsequent tracks.

on heater’s title track, cox and synthesist jamison murphy engage in an abstract conversation, a droning synth response coming in reply to cox’s admonition of “i hear you buzzing / don’t want to hear any more of your talking,” along with a more measured, melodic counter to her parting shot of “you think it’s cool / it’s never as cool as you’re thinking.” this fracturing is an excellent precursor to the album’s final trio of songs, a triptych of loss and longing that leans on true blossom’s glossy affect as both the perfect foil to and embellisher of its more melancholic moments.

true blossom’s first nine original songs (the album’s tenth, its functional interlude, is a gorgeous, glassy cover of mount eerie’s “grave robbers”) are formidable in their cohesiveness, their assured demeanor an excellent foundation upon which to construct future works. heater is out now via citrus city records. stream the album in full below.

premiere – shelf nunny

– featured image courtesy of the artist – 

the seattle producer christian gunning has blossomed into one of the pacific northwest’s most reliable architects of evocative electronic soundscapes.  under his shelf nunny moniker, gunning will release his third extended play, different light, on november 16th via his longtime label home, hush hush records.  different light deftly flexes shelf nunny’s growing sonic muscles over just a handful of tracks, showcasing his ability to make meaningful textural contributions from the backseat while vocal collaborators take center stage.

the extended play’s centerpiece, “time to waste,” finds shelf nunny linking up with hush hush alum lostodyssey; the eugene, oregon, vocalist’s work might be familiar to some of those reading this article, and his featured presence is the perfect compliment to shelf nunny’s polychromatic textures.  “time to waste” is methodical in its development, syncopations gradually slipping in as the narrative takes shape around its airy contours, lostodyssey’s central, pleading refrain of “it’s not too late / there’s time to waste” grounding the track in an alternate pop music universe.

“time to waste” is premiering today, right here on the dimestore.  check it out below.

mr twin sister – salt

– featured image courtesy of karen sofia colon –

the new york quartet mr twin sister has, in a relatively quiet manner, released one of this year’s finest albums.  salt, the band’s first full-length in four years, is incredibly measured and rich, its nine tracks pulsating with a singular blend of jazz-inflected electronic pop, mood music for tumultuous times.

grounded in andrea estella’s fluid contralto timbre and featuring the titular marionette on its cover, salt is striking, both aurally and visually.  opening number “keep on mixing” is very much in the foreground, its commanding heartbeat throbbing as estella’s lead vocal contorts itself around a bleak lyrical outlook, elastic in its exploration of syllables and contour as it unearths fleeting silver linings.

elsewhere, mr twin sister let themes of consumerism soak into successive tracks; most prominent throughout the slinking “buy to return,” material lust is also on the periphery of the soothing electric piano soundscape of “koh-i-noor” and dovetails with admissions of insecurity on “tops and bottoms.”

if estella’s vocals are the album’s focal point, it’s only because the support structure settles so effortlessly into place.  gauzy keyboard textures and syncopated percussion (the latter often courtesy of pablo eluchans) are standard fare; the aqueous and complex landscapes that populate “deseo” and “set me free” are particularly memorable.  augmenting that electronic foundation is eric cardona’s saxophone work, the defining timbre of “alien fm” and the cool eventual conqueror of the stuttering, brassy “taste in movies.”

with ambitious and honest thematic explorations slotted alongside exquisite instrumentation and musicianship, the latest from mr twin sister is a rewarding experience, a fitting sonic nightcap for an exhausting year.  salt is out now via twin group.  stream mr twin sister’s excellent new full-length in its entirety below.

interview – majetic

– featured image courtesy of chris cox –

justin majetich shed his full band and the last letter of his surname in pursuit of his newest album.  club dread features a streamlined palette and a renewed ambition, becoming a vessel to explore the fractured intricacies of life through a dissonant, electronic lens.

after the acerbic, audio-visual one-two punch of “horseback” and “bloodbrunch,” majetic returns today with “tender ums,” the album’s reflective penultimate cut, its subterranean pulses and acoustic piano motif swirling together towards something bigger, more grandiose.  in its final moments, “tender ums” reaches that summit, all of its components coalescing into a perfect representation of majetic’s raw, soulful interior so often shrouded in stabs of angular synths.

we recently touched base with majetic via e-mail for an intimate glimpse inside the creation of club dread, its transcontinental roots, and the sequential significance of its third and newest single.  check out the transcript, along with the premiere of “tender ums,” below.

club dread is club adjacent.  is this a headspace you’ve occupied for some time or one you specifically found yourself in while writing the songs on this record?

when i moved to new york city in 2015, i suddenly had access to a whole range of underground parties — stuff i’d dreamt of in the midwest but that didn’t really exist for me there.  i’d caught traces of it from friends in detroit, but overall, it was totally new and exciting.  i moved to new york for a musical community i’d expected to find in the live venues, but i guess it was on the dance floor that i first felt a sense of belonging in this city.

so yes, for a while my headspace was club-adjacent – preoccupied with its magic, saturated with the music.  by the time i was writing club dread in 2017, i wasn’t going out as much, but i was absolutely referencing that headspace as i wrote.  i was dipping back into those experiences and re-imagining them for the album world.  i still catch a party now and then and have some really great friends who i met through that community.

both oakland and queens factor into your biography – disparate locations geographically, but perhaps ones with some things in common musically.  are you drawn more to the contrasts or the constants of these two cities?  how did working on the album far from where it was initially conceived affect its direction and outcome?

place heavily informs the work i make.  not only does it shape the album’s atmosphere but it is also personified in the work, almost as a character.  NYC was the place-character in my last record, LUV IN THE RUINS, and i wanted something different this time around.  i was spending a lot of time in oakland with my brother and sister, and naturally, it followed to set the record there.

there’s such a complex spirit to the bay area.  so much tension between the awe-inspiring natural beauty and the extreme human disparity, the promise of progress and the dystopian realities…  all the while, there’s this catastrophic fault-line brooding underfoot and the pacific chewing at the coast, violent and massive, an insatiable conduit of dread.  incorporating the bay as a setting seemed like a powerful way to illustrate both the ecstasy and grief the characters of club dread experience in and around a club stricken with tragedy.

that being said — and i realize i haven’t directly addressed your question — there are traces of NYC in the album.  a lot of the experiences i’m filtering into the record took place here, and it’s where i was living when i wrote most of the lyrics.  still, i don’t think being back in NYC for a bulk of the writing process hindered my ability to access my sense of the bay in any significant way.  i’d taken extensive notes, and honestly, i think place can sometimes be better comprehended from a distance.  or at least, better comprehended for the purpose of art-making – the finite, fallible substance of memory naturally lending a tint of mythology to the thing remembered.

as for the the contrasts and/or constants between oakland and NYC, i mostly think about the former.  to me, they’re sort of inverse of one another: one vast, one claustrophobic; one idealistic, one realistic; one circuitous, one direct.  these sort of things require a more nuanced explanation, but that’s the jist.  as for musical contrasts, i feel like there’s a lot more concern with coolness and cleverness in NYC versus a lot of play and theater in the bay.  but if i’ve learned anything over the years, it’s that any scene is mostly what you make of it.

much of your album is centered around an electronic soundscape, but “tender ums,” which we’re premiering today, counts an acoustic piano among its focal points.  can you speak to the genesis of this track and how it fits into club dread overall?

i was visiting my parents in ohio, where my dad pastors a church.  after service, everyone will head to the fellowship hall and catch up over snacks.  on this given sunday, i slipped back into the sanctuary to play the piano while i waited for my parents to wrap up. that’s where i wrote the theme that plays during the song’s first interlude and also lends shape to the vocal melody.  it felt like something you could loop endlessly.  it was soft and small but carried an emotional weight.  i’m actually just realizing it now, but this sanctuary setting in which the song began is preserved in the “airport chapel” of the song’s opening verse.

anyway, i tucked those four measures away for a few weeks, and then one day tried growing them into a song, along with a phrase i’d pulled from my notes: “the body wasn’t made for this sort of placelessness.”  thirty-six hours later, i had “tender ums,” which is a speed unheard of for me.  it just flowed with uncharacteristic ease.  it was the last song i wrote for club dread, and it felt like recompense for an otherwise meticulous process.

though it’s the penultimate track, i see “tender ums” as the album’s final chapter.  the actual closer, “club dread,” looks back over the record in a way, encompassing the events, characters, and themes – a spiritual conclusion.  but “tender ums” sees the speaker at the chronological end, as they make their departure from the bay (airplane imagery a bookend with similar imagery in the first lines of album-opener “chewing tabs”).

it’s perhaps the record’s most vulnerable moment, but still i find a quiet triumph in the song.  take the line, “waking to a kinder sadness….”  those who’ve experienced grief subside might relate to a moment when one first feels the heaviness shift.  it’s the tiniest movement but, nevertheless, a notion of a world beyond grief.  you understand that life can recover, even if you don’t understand how.  that’s the moment from which the song is sung, and i believe it’s a crucial expression of hope in an album frequently given to despair.

club dread arrives november 2nd via winspear.  take a listen to its third single, “tender ums,” out now on spotify and premiering below on the dimestore.