by Jackson Abatemarco
The Brooklyn/Downstate NY/Hudson Valley college circuit has been producing some impressively tempered and capable bands as of late. These bands have fostered their own unique and authentic sound, as well as a dedicated community of people surrounding them. At the heart of this burgeoning scene are bands like Turnip King who, with their upcoming release Laika, have beautifully demonstrated their capability for transcendent songwriting. Laika simultaneously harkens to its classic psych forbearers while establishing a completely new and fresh sound unique to the time and place it came out of: New York in 2016.
Laika opens gradually with "The Ho_Se," a track that starts off with a soothing sonic texture and a single jangly riff vaguely reminiscent of a more classic rock sound, before evolving into a washed out, multi-layered sonic composition. The track playfully bounces from the jangly verse to a more effected and layered chorus, with singer/guitarist Lucia Arias’ crystalline vocals guiding the listener through a reverb laced dream land. This leads naturally into the next track "Carsong," a dreamy early morning drive through the psyche. Arias’ vocals sound as if they are reaching across a valley into the inside of your mind, while the instrumentation is almost reminiscent of Mac DeMarco-wave chill rock. However, the synth-driven choruses establish a fuzzed out phantasm more commonly associated with shoegaze -- although to pin this band to that label would be a gross oversimplification.
On "Surprise Party" vocalist/guitarist Cal Fish, from across a chasm of effects, yells an imitation of the impending wave of fuzz. The subsequent deluge of guitar texture that washes over the listener naturally returns to a verse of “all of your fears are super guarded, let your false fears fly away, ever since the summer started, all of my days have flown away.” There is something of a rain-dance like quality to these tracks, like a cleansing rain that washes over the listless New York of summertime. Again, Turnip King builds a layered composition out of guitar and synth textures that envelop the listener. "Metonymy" continues the daze of tastefully employed psych motifs, allowing the listener to slowly drift into the sensation of nothing, while speaking samples are felt on the similar edge of psyche that Arias' vocals reside. There are moments when listening to Laika feels like sunbathing in sound, the warmth of texture washing over your internal structure. The distant hum of distortion moving up and down feels as natural as the breeze blowing through your hair on a bright spring day. As the song fades away, it hangs at the back of your consciousness making you realize that that was the ephemeral glue that held the dream together in the first place.
"Dead Flowers" is opened by another distant, dreamy melody that leaves space for the rhythm to softly start, before surprising with a sudden increased volume and rhythmic drive. The vocals balance on top of each other perfectly, becoming a single, but dually expressed, voice. Turnip King use dissonance to their advantage; "Dead Flowers" stands as one of the more driven tracks. The tsunami of melodic sound that occurs at about 4 minutes into the song blasts the listener out of the calm phantasmagoric waters they’ve been swimming in into the burning light of day. "Rosy’s On Safari" follows the same oscillating sonic build that much of the album seems to rely on. This song in particular features incredibly well timed “bends” of the guitar texture, created from what I assume is skilled use of a whammy bar in combination with certain effects. Fans of My Bloody Valentine will appreciate "Rosy’s On Safari" in particular (although I’m guessing they’d appreciate most everything about Turnip King). This track also features what sounds like Arias reading a poem about a dog, as jangly melodies stand on top of more ebbing, flowing, and crashing guitar textures. Fish continues the spoken word dream sequence as etheric guitars allow the listener to be taken to another dimension. At this point it’s impossible to hear the story Fish and Arias (or potentially others) are telling. The bass line is a vehicle of soothing warmth, and the drumming displays the right amount of constraint while hitting hard at the perfect moments.
Laika closes with “Redo”, a mystic dirge that opens with Arias calmly mewling: “Well I can make it if I have to, Time makes it feel forever, I only lie cause it cost me, a fucking year of whatever”. Again, there is a beautiful bending off the highly affected cords, that in combination with Fish and Arias’ angelic vocal pairing creates a warm feeling of drifting. And yet again, a buildup of sensation boils over into distortion at three minutes and forty seconds. By four minutes and thirty seconds the song is repeating: “Well I could make it if I have to, won’t make you feel better, no summer in the somewhere, I should’ve sent that letter” over muted but driving instrumentation. This triggers another explosion of fuzz and sound, and again the cycle is repeated. Laika feels like an album that goes through cycles in the way that reality goes in cycles: naturally, like the ebb and flow of the tide crashing against the shore. Just as you think it’s all winding down, with only 48 seconds left in the song, there comes another explosion of distortion and cacophony over Arias’ siren-like “oooohs” before it abruptly ends.
All things considered Laika is an inter-dimensional listening experience that not only displays a considerable talent for weaving and crafting sonic composition, but also captures the hazy contemporary Brooklyn psych scene. I distinctly remember receiving their paint splattered demo in a smoke filled basement of New Paltz, NY after seeing them live for the first time; I would not be surprised if this album is similarly remembered as a cornerstone marking the time and place it was produced.