Album Roundup

Music by Davey Jones
Issue 34 • December 2015

Featured in this roundup:
Awon & Phoniks • Knowledge Of Self
Shy, Low • Hiraeth
The Snuggalos • Hocus Opus
Zebra Castle • Prick
Zooanzoo • Custody

Awon & Phoniks
Knowledge Of Self

Newport News • October 26, 2015

Awon dropped his first album in 2012 on Japanese label Goon Trax. Since then, he’s steadily improved through collaborations. In 2014, Awon began swapping rhymes with Hampton’s Dephlow and hooked up with Phoniks, a beatmaker from Portland, Maine. The resulting album, Dephacation, was a revelation for hip hop from Hampton Roads. Dephlow spurred vocal competition while Phoniks pounded out sounds bigger and brassier than anything Awon employed on his debut. Refusing to slow down, Awon tapped Phoniks again to produce his second solo album over the next six months. Packed with jazz, funk, and soul samples, Matte Black Soul was a return to slower tempo, but maintained Awon’s new lyrical trajectory.

Knowledge of Self feels like the perfect culmination of the Awon story. Phoniks steers the ship between peaks of braggadocio, as on “Certain Presence” and “Problem Solver,” to subdued lagoons like the reggae-infused “Mysteries of Life,” or piano-laced “Concrete Confessions.” The impressive guest appearances include ADaD’s Chicago flows, Heeni’s standout R&B vocals, and, of course, Dephlow. Awon adapts to every curve with grace and power using his voice as an instrument to capture the stride of pride, create the tension of frustration, or react with gentle gratitude.

Shy, Low
Hiraeth

Richmond • November 13, 2015

Steeped in the tradition of Virginia post-rock bands like Gifts from Enola and Long Division, Hiraeth by Shy, Low scoops up the torch without missing a step. The initial salvo of “Nostos,” reprised as a theme after meditative interludes, hooks you with clean solos raked over distorted rhythm guitar. “Saudade” atmospherically impersonates a choir over military drum rolls and “Anomic” lopes along like a country song until the guitars overtake them both like a pack of wild horses. “Algos” swells like a climactic Clint Mansell score and “Times Gone By” plays over the end credits with an evocative wistfulness.

The Snuggalos
Hocus Opus

Fredericksburg • October 18, 2015

Affecting a pleasantly cheesy Sixties vibe, The Snuggalos refer to themselves as sci-fi lo-fi and it’s easy to hear why. Psychedelic surf, Caribbean percussion, theremin, and organ flourishes haunt the sound from beginning to end. “You Don’t Spook Me” slinks around like a Bond girl auditioning for Scooby Doo. “Bathroom Buddies” has a drunk-Mod-meets-early-Beatles charm. “The Stone Age” does a pretty convincing impression of The Mamas and The Papas. Most of Hocus Opus sounds like Yo La Tengo recorded a Halloween album in California -- it’s warm and comforting enough to help you make it through the winter.

Zebra Castle
Prick

Alexandria • November 19, 2015

Written and recorded all within the last month, Zebra Castle is a curious blend of grooviness with splashes of excess. “Latrodectism” is spacy but interrupted by distortion, representative of the spider bite. “Pumpkin Eater” is spoken word with a chorus of “she won’t be there” crooned around it. “Therapy” flirts with emo during its denouement of grungy bleating. “Premature Ejaculation” plays like an acoustic Animal Collective song, then “Purple Curtains” plugs back in. Bryan is an empathetic figure starting to realize that he is actually “Bryan’s Ghost.” My favorite track, “A Toothless Attack,” is a series of vulgar nightmares.

Zooanzoo
Custody

Harrisonburg • November 8, 2015

Like many quintessential trip-hop groups, Zooanzoo remains unconcerned with the comfort or discomfort of the listener. “Language” and “Give It The Go” could be passed off on pop radio, but squeezed between them is “The Ninth Hand” with all the subtlety of a serial killer’s theme song. “What They Say” and “Frame By Frame” remind me of the carnival bits on Cursive’s The Ugly Organ. “Plague Horn” finds a middle ground between the macabre experimentation and Kelly Carlin’s soothing voice. “Homesick” is a lullabye by comparison, but “Dive” usurps it with a return to dancy absurdism.

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