Celebrine — FRIENDS

Young man writes a letter
Let’s be friends forever

Superindieworld describes Celebrine as “goth opera” and the tag doesn’t mischaracterize this Moscow-based duo of electro aesthetes. Moody and preferring open-space atmospherics over sweaty electronica jam, with a notable exception of a rousing half-time to regular-time switch during the break section, Celebrine has landed with a fully-realized visual aesthetic.

They write their lyrics in EN, likely with the goal of reaching a Western audience, much in the same vein of contemporaries like globe-trotting popsters Pompeya. However, in this pursuit, their arty posturing (as evidenced by this well-directed video) dominates their tunes, which is a shame because this duo hints at a deep wellspring of new inspiration and a sense of invigoration that western electro/pop audiences could very well benefit from.

Keep an eye out.

RIYL: El Guincho — Bombay, intentional inscrutability

Plaj – GİT (live performance)

Güneş neden tepeden gitmiyor?     
Git git git                                            
Gitmez ki bu böyle                            

(Why doesn’t the sun descend?)
(Go, go, go)
(It doesn’t go this way)

Plaj means ‘beach’ in Turkish (and for some reason, musicians in Istanbul seem to have a strange preoccupation with the beach as a concept) but this group recalls December more than it does July. To be sure, this quartet is not quite on the level of similarly-minded globe-trotting acts within their community who also value the ethereal/cerebral over the physical/visceral. However, with Git, Plaj clearly signals that they’re prepared to get competitive on the global stage.

As a term and concept, “post-punk” died a long time ago (though musicians, critics and fans alike continue to kick the horse’s corpse) but many of its main indicators apply to these Istanbul-based arty DIY’ers. The group shares many of the same qualities that turned Fazerdaze into global indie-rock darlings and precisely none of their logistical advantages of geography and access to media outlets with enough clout to break them on a larger level.

Most shoegaze groups rely on the studio as an instrument unto itself, which is a difficulty for many Istanbul-based groups working in a place where studio time is expensive and salaries are low, not just for working artists, but for everyone. This is just a single entry in a long list of obstructions that DIY musicians working with Turkey and its diaspora face, in terms of breaking out into the great beyond (a goal for many of them, even if they don’t want to come out and say it). Perhaps as a result of these barriers, Plaj has constructed a sound that pummels within a genre that too often aspires to the delicate and the celestial at the cost of tangible physicality, which often results in wan, warmed-over pretension in the pursuit of mood and reverb-y toan. Plaj does not fall into this trap: this is a group that aims for the clouds but keeps its ears to the ground.

This woolly mammoth of a song bulldozes its way into the brain’s pleasure receptors, built upon lumbering drums+bass and controlled-anarchy guitars, all tightly thatched together with towering keyb lines. The icy vocal melody lands slowly but when it does, it burrows deep and stays there. This Istanbulite shoegaze act signals inevitability, fully confident in its approach and comfortable within its own skin.

Git builds the track brick-by-brick: a dreamy foundation atop a sturdy kick-snare beat and skittering drum fills for the rock-solid b-line to lock into, steady ground for the keyboard to create a foreboding atmosphere, all of which culminates in a fiery guitar-break at the track’s coda. Where most of the song aspires to ice-and-snow, this guitar workout huffs’n’puffs, it lunges and it sweats, allowing the group to strike a contrast and balance between the ethereal and the physical (a valuable contribution to the shoegaze genre, which, as previously mentioned, can too-often fetishize the other-worldly at the expense of the humanistic)

This arrangement and performance of the song grew out of an earlier-released demo tape that garnered the group critical notice within the burgeoning Turkish DIY community (the current drummer of this group may be the hardest-working man within a vibrant circle of working musicians, which includes similarly beach-friendly Palmiyeler, whirring enthusiasts Eskiz, and the insistently visceral Raws; not to mention breakout stars The Away Days and Jakuzi or the stalwart diaspora-tripping Baba Zula). Listeners are encouraged to note the differences between the original arrangement and this current performance. Where the former aspires to a kind of surf-twee sensibility, all bouncy guitars and cutesy, sunny male/female trade-off vocals, the latter dreams of death-by-snow avalanches.

Perhaps there was some kind of falling out between the vocalist and the original guitarist? In any case, an evolution has occurred from its earlier approach and we’re all better off for it. This band clearly exists now as a vehicle for the lead vocalist; however, to her great fortune, she has allied herself with a drummer, keyboardist, and guitarist (and good grief, can that guitarist rip) that have the ability to provide her tunes with instrumental muscle, aesthetic power and a stylistic panache that the previous incarnation lacked.

That being said, the overall mood of this song is difficult to pin down and a look at the lyric sheet sheds no light. They don’t seem to want to reveal anything about themselves beyond the self-assured quality with which they perform. On Git, they sound simultaneously triumphant and melancholy (though considering the political environment they’re working within, basically everyone within the art community has adopted a beaten-down type of post-apathy). Furthermore, this distant pose and implementation of aesthetic distance are all too common within the genre and Plaj would do well to work on finding an aesthetic that differentiates itself from this icy remove and something more human. If it doesn’t, oh well, these urban aesthetes have done its part for the burgeoning Istanbul indie circuit (and the genre, at large) by creating this towering triumph of a song. Maybe that’s enough.

Shoutout to Petri Kabi’s soundperson for doing a stellar job of mic’ing up this performance in a way that illuminates Plaj’s true power (except for that unforgivable fuck-up at 3:09-3:11)

RIYL: Big Black — Kerosene (but without the metallic overtones), Public Image Ltd (without the dub obsession and punk pretension), Swervedriver (without the macho glam aggression), UIX Design Seminars

Palmiyeler — PALMİYELER

Sahilde bekliyorum ben. (I’ll wait on the beach)

There’s hardly any surfing in ocean-less Turkey and next-to-none in Istanbul (though it’s not entirely bereft) but that’s not stopping these art-damaged ex-punks from riding along with a style that’s swept the globe since the early aughts.

To be sure, this track does not channel classic Ventures surf-rock riffage, nor is it the same kind of surf/punk amalgamation championed by Wavves or FIDLAR, instead the Istanbul-by-way-of-Izmir quartet pursues a decidedly neo-surf sound in the vein of Beach Fossils, mining this material deeply and with enthusiasm and a keen eye for authenticity, if not necessarily innovation.

What’s the value of innovation in a revivalist music though? Next-to-none. Recontextualizing old sounds to fit modern paradigms is the whole point and to that end, the group succeeds. They might not have access to the Pacific or the Atlantic but they do have the Bosphorus, and it sounds just as reverb-y and dream-y as any other group influenced by a large mass of seawater.

Palmiyeler rides a killer chorused guitar riff, such a crispy strat-into-a-twin tone that Mac Demarco would tip his cap, throughout the song, occasionally dropping out to share the spotlight with vocal turns. The rhythm section, a stripped-down bass+drums combo, plays inventive, agile lines to lay down an earworm-y foundation. The singer’s voice amply bolstered by the sunny instrumental attack adopts an affecting tone, which doesn’t cut through the mix so much as it floats above it.

Like their labelmates Eskiz, Palmiyeler also makes a brave choice in writing their lyrics in their own language, which will limit the appeal of their group, but keep their messaging true to their core audience. Finding a Western audience might be difficult for them but they refuse to beg for the attention, a move which should be applauded. That being said, don’t write this track off from finding mainstream acceptance, the music speaks the kind of language everybody knows.

Quick note: Palmiyeler translates to “Palm Trees”, a tree non-native to the area that occasionally flummoxes backpackers.

RIYL: Beach Fossils, Diiv, post-collegiate whateverism

Eskiz — AKIYORUZ (live performance)

There aren’t any garages to play in where they’re from in Istanbul. No matter, this trio bashes away with the same conviction that fueled their garage-rock predecessors, from the Yardbirds and early Kinks up to Ty Segall and Thee Oh Sees.

This group claims to be psychedelic, aspires to psychedelia, but suffers for the attempt within their recorded catalog within other tracks like Yaratık. Rather, this group shines in its live performance, where they stop trying to swirl and whir and instead just put their heads down and rock. The nimble guitar-bass-drums interplay, the get-out-and-push instrumental attack, and a keen falsetto hook during the chorus of this song appealingly reaches a hand out of the wax and smacks the listener upside the head.

In their best moments, Eskiz grooves like a young Black Sabbath filtered through the millennial lense of rock stalwarts Black Lips or Jay Reatard.

Eskiz, which translates to “rough sketch” in English is a fitting name for this three-piece, you can tell they don’t want to be pinned down into a clearly-defined genre (despite the fact that it’s clear thousands of hours of work and thought have been put into their visual design and overall aesthetic). Akıyoruz, on the other hand, has several definitions, alternately: “we are flowing/ we are leaking/ we are bleeding”, which all fit the mood of their fiery instrumental chutzpah.

Many musicians from non-EN-speaking countries opt to write their lyrics in English, likely in an attempt to widen their potential audience. Eskiz has chosen not to, instead keeping faith that it’s hammering hooks and blazing interplay will be enough to win over a global audience.

This reads as a brave artistic choice. Eskiz is not concerned with pandering to the attention of those who don’t take the time to meet them halfway. (On the other hand, their lyrical attack would still likely be inscrutable, even if google could translate their words accurately)

Eskiz

In the 21st century, no one has time for Keroac, but no one can deny that Beat Poetry sounds a lot better when plugged into a Sunn Model T. This is their intention –they have written their lyrics in a poetic mode of Turkish as opposed to the common usage of the language. This may strike some discerning local listeners as pretentious, but with hooks as solid as theirs, played with such spiky bombast, no one ought to care.

Unbeknownst to most outside of its self-contained geography, Turkey boasts a long history of vibrant rock and roll music, much of it leaning heavily on the psychedelic. Eskiz actively seeks to contribute to this continuum. In their latest album, their meandering overdubs and stretched-to-the-peak grooves, might be an attempt at finding common ground with the biggest underground Istanbul act, the ethereal and swirl-heavy Jakuzi, who have started to win accolades globally with their hazy, spacy keyboard aesthetic. Eskiz, however, shines just as brightly as their globetrotting rivals when they focus on bringing the heat on stage, where their fastball can’t be touched.

RIYL: Early Sabbath, Jon Spencer Blues Explosions, Thee Oh Sees, falsetto harmonies, smokers-who-scoff-at-other-smokers-who-don’t-roll-their-own-cigarettes

 

Messed Up — BIRTHDAY PARTY

Which wave of riot grrl are we up to now? 4th? 5th? No matter, these gen-z punkers bulldoze their way into the punk rock catalog with chugging riffage, sturdy songcraft, and a drummer with a keen ear for dynamics. Frequently venturing out from their native Belarus to neighboring Poland and Lithuania, Messed Up display the kind of punk chutzpah that will likely endear them to the worldwide DIY community.

A charming dichotomy can be observed between the juxtaposition of their roaring instrumental attack/sneering vocals and the earnest, fun-loving characteristics they choose to display off-stage. This is a group that knows that r&r is most effective when it’s fun. As the maxim goes, if you can’t dance to it, no one wants to be part of the revolution.

Like any punk band worth its salt, they want to write Songs That Matter. This is a dangerous artistic goal, in the sense that any attempt at writing seriously about any sort of sociopolitical content can very easily devolve into warmed-over platitudes and windmill-tilting naysaying (e.g Anti-Flag, Rise Against and the rest of their lukewarm ilk). To this end, Messed Up refuse to tread carefully, instead opting to bulldoze their way through heady topics regarding their local culture and social norms at large. Fortunately, they never lose sight of the values that make punk rock stimulating: effective, efficient songcraft, hooky riffage, catchy sung/shouted vocals and drum/bass dynamics that alternate between the fluid and the rigid.

On their bandcamp, they very helpfully provide EN translations but they opt to write in their native language. A brave choice, to narrow the parameters of their audience and insist upon writing about the environment that inspires them (An efficiently-written report on the Belarus DIY community can be found here)

When writing about MU, it’s tempting to reference any number of all-girl rock bands, from Sleater-Kinney to Babes In Toyland, this roughshod Belarus quartet most resembles, with their earnest grit and barely post-adolescent enthusiasm, are these one-time DIY’ers who would go on to become major-label, world-conquering megastars. Will the same happen to Messed Up? Unlikely, as their little community is too far removed from mainstream channels towards mass acceptance and their material too willfully regional. The potential’s still there though. Who knows? Even if it doesn’t, this kind of rock is necessary.

RIYLElastica, Sløtface, Emma Goldman, fuzz pedal feedback

Secondhand Underpants — AUTOPLEASURES

My autopleasures cannot be extracted 
My autopleasures cannot be denied” 

Istanbul, Turkey.

Last summer, a teetotaling mob burst through the doors of local record shop, Velvet Indieground, to bloody the faces of some innocent beer-sipping listeners. Later that summer, during International Women’s Day, a horde of similarly-minded thugs hopped the fences of a local university to brawl with people marching in support of gender rights. Just a few months ago, Orouba Barakat, a human-rights activist, and her daughter, Halla, a budding journalist, were stabbed to death in the home they shared.

This is the environment that Istanbul punk trio, Secondhand Underpants, draws inspiration from and the audience that it delivers its material to. Istanbul is a large city with a population well over a million and a half, where the tension among traditionalists and modernists, the government and the governed, the socially-mobile elite and the locked-in-place masses have polarized along a multitude of difficult-to-parse lines  (not to mention, an impossibly large and annoying group of tourists and backpackers) The dimensions of social polarization within the city are built around any number of culture-war issues: secularism, democracy, getting-rejected-by-the-EU, etc, etc ad infinitum.

Despite the heaviness of their environment, S.U is committed to having a good time. They do not acquiesce to the self-serious pomposity of an endless number of socially-minded musicians. To this end, they more closely fall into step with the party-ready Sløtface or Martha than they seem akin to grad students outlining the syllabus for a course in 4th wave feminism.

The track itself? Give it a spin and fans of early-90s riot grrl will not be disappointed. The vocalist outlines the thesis of the track over shuffling half-time drum rolls, quickly segueing into a double-time groove and ultimately culminating with a highly chant-able verse/chorus. The trio builds a solid groove upon a foundation of classic bar chords, root fifths and kick-snare rolls which all serve to disguise the half-sung, half-yelped melodic hooks.

Significantly, S.U doesn’t run from its roots like so many other non-American musical entities who endeavor to play American music are wont to do. In the same vein as their ideological cousins, Pussy Riot, they have absorbed the language of their influences and utilize it to speak to their own audience, addressing their own issues and airing their own grievances. Many musical acts, especially within the world of punk rock, lack the confidence to limit their subject matter and audience as this group has elected to do. Punk rock is a visual medium as much as it a sonic one and, with Ege Okal, the band has crafted a video and a track which very neatly encapsulates the audience that it speaks to and comes from.

To be sure, this is neo-riot grrl, a contribution to the revivalism of a sub-genre within a sub-genre and the group clearly views itself carrying on the legacy of classic riot grrl punk rock. However, they must contend with more than few obstacles, both ones that afflicted the classic American RG’s of yesteryear as well ones that are unique to the band’s own spatial/temporal geography. S.U does not have the luxury of having had Bratmobile and Heavens To Betsy criss-crossing around the country, playing in the back of pizza kitchens and rented VFW Halls, as an example to take direct inspiration from. Rather, it must blaze the trail on their own.

Let’s hope that they do.

RIYL: Ida Maria, Bikini Kill cover bands, 90s revivalism

Martha — PRECARIOUS (SUPERMARKET SONG)

You stood beside my till
I said, “Retail is the pits.”
And then, I scanned your anxiety pills

“We trace our punk lineage back to Crass (as opposed to The Clash), but even Crass was selling thousands of records in their day.” This a telling distinction on how Martha views itself when the spectrum of rock & roll. To punk true-believers, the distinction between Crass and The Clash couldn’t be more clear, the latter traded in ears-to-the-street awareness and balls-in-your-face aggression for lame, boomer rock-star glitz, an opinion that carries on to this day. (R&R icons like Iggy Pop made similiar criticisms of the group but for entirely opposite reasons than Martha)

This is, of course, nonsense. The songwriting panache of Strummer, Jones, Simonon, Topper was bound for superstardom subject matter regardless. Ultimately, punk rock was, has been, and continues to be aesthetic above all -no matter if it’s six months into the future or ten (or twenty or thirty) years into the past- despite the constant, consistent debate over its validity as a perspective, movement, lifestyle or otherwise. However, these DIY lifers intend on jamming econo, documenting the process along the way and doing with a style and panache all their own.

Like their American counterparts, Sheer Mag, these DIY lifers sublimate their concerns about life during late-stage capitalism with buoyant melodies and uptempo rhythms. And, boy, they sure are concerned with a lot. Martha talks a big game about their values and is intent on showing that they’re keen on walking the walk. Their mission statement? Defying a “top-down model of culture”, an achievable goal, if one that will likely land them in mountains of debt. They ought to be applauded for the effort though.

Another important distinction to make: Martha is a punk band that writes pop songs. Not a pop-punk group. This is most clear in the charming, raw, uncompressed production which favors natural acoustic dynamics over digital hyper-compression favored by today’s pop-punkers. Their music, and the collaborative method of how they produce it, most resembles mid-90s indie sweethearts Superchunk.

Precarious (Supermarket Song) is a prime nugget and entry-point into their already impressive back catalog. Drums and bass lock into a solid groove, allowing the guitars to adopt a bouncing, jaunty riff in between change-off mixed vocals. The melody is sturdy enough to ground the occasional rhythmic shift. However, the lyric booklet is where Martha shows its elite skill, the one that separates them from the legions of punk bands with strong pop sensibilities. From one perspective, it’s a clear send-up of the everyday doldrums of working an all-consuming retail job. From another, it’s about finally asking out that cutie at the shop. Martha positions clear, direct storytelling with a strong eye for narrative detail alongside its heady sociopolitical commentary. Somehow, they get through this weighty material without calling attention to itself, this song could very well be enjoyed for the melody alone. Their gift is turning the intimate into the anthemic, of making the personal cinematic, all without sagging into generic platitudes or, worse, judgemental value scolding.

When will the tide turn against Martha? They’re on an upswing now and hopefully, they gain enough momentum to break through to the next level. Naysayers shouldn’t hold it against(!) them when they do

Sidenote: Did they name their band after the community/secondhand clothes shop they dance in front of in this video?

RIYL: Prime-era Superchunk, Archers Of Loaf, killing-time-at-your-dead-end-job