Thursday, March 15, 2018

All Around Sound Is Eight! Bonus: AlhhlA

photo by Jon Blair
By far one of my most favorite discoveries of the past year was Arizona based multi-instrumentalist Andrew Levi Hiller. Originally introduced to him while tracking down details about Yairms as the band's drummer, it didn't take much research for me to discover he made music of his own under the moniker AlhhlA. Though originally the only music from Hiller was two songs on part of a split with Yairms as well as a series of live loops featured on both Hiller's Youtube and Soundcloud, last year saw the release of an EP, the four song 8oNitsSidE, as well as the re-release of "Will the Soft Curse Plague On?", the debut full length from Hiller previous project The Wizards of Time. Right before the release of both, Hiller found his way to New York to visit as well as lay down tracks for a new Yairms record and I had the opportunity to meet him as well as experience his dynamic live show. Right after meeting him for the first time, as we talked about life, art, and music, I instantly knew I would ask Hiller to contribute to this year's blog birthday.

The main problem being that Hiller doesn't currently own a computer, I still felt compelled to ask though and Hiller, ever the good sport made me an offer I couldn't refuse: "Can I do a cover?".  It was a question no one had ever really posed to me before eschewing the normal mix making process to more personally celebrate their favorite music. I of course agreed and Hiller spent the next couple days teasing me with snippets of possible covers he was working on before ultimately emailing me his cover of Modern English's "I Melt With You". It's one of my favorites and one that's been covered a smattering of times from Bowling For Soup to Natalie Imbruglia to Laura Stevenson, and like all good covers, Hiller's folds the song into his particular style. When I asked why he sent that particular cover he responded: "It is the first cover I ever learned. It was one of those songs that I would hear when I was a kid that made me stop what I was doing to listen. It was released the year I was born.". Hiller's version is simple and rather straightforward but filled with little textural goodies and glancing harmonies alongside Hiller's trademark vocal wisp and almost percussive guitar playing. It's charmingly intimate, delivered in a whispered hush like a lovelorn confession or the sweet caress of softly uttered sweet nothings.

Thanks to AlhhlA for their contribution to this year's blog birthday and putting their own personal stamp on our yearly proceedings.

Friday, March 9, 2018

All Around Sound Is Turning Eight! - Will Stratton

This year All Around Sound will enter it's eight year of operation. While not quite the milestone moment as a year five or year ten, each year that this blog exists is treasured. Mostly by me. Most of the music blog that I came up admiring and working alongside have more or less faded into obscurity: either having grand closing ceremonies or quietly closing up shop with the unspoken hope that they're start up someday later down the line, All Around Sound still exists and at least tries to encapsulates the spirit of our shuttered favorites: namely that of enthusiastic music discovery. Last year was a banner year for the blog seeing impressive releases from a number of our proven favorites but also newer acts and if this year is anything like the year that proceeded it, it'll be as exciting a year musically as ever.

photo by Josh Goleman
As is now tradition, this year I asked some of my favorite artists to contribute a mix to help ring in the blog's new birth year.Today's is a contribution from a longtime favorite of mine Beacon based singer/songwriter/composer/arranger Will Stratton. Ever since I was introduced to Stratton around the 2012 release of his incredible Post-Empire via a music subscription service started by a mutual friend and music writer, I've been positively fiending for more from the fingerstyle virtuoso. Stratton represents an ideal in my love of folk: brilliant, understated songs filled with thoughtful lyricism and composed of elegant melodies and rich, complementary arrangements. Will and I have geeked about over our mutual love of classical music and folk while also sharing a number of recommendations of things we'd think the other might like in a multitude of other genres. And maybe that's why it's taken so long to extend the offer to Stratton. But thankfully, once I saw the error of my ways, Will was more than happy to oblige my offer.

Will on his particular mix:
This mix is composed of music I like to listen to when I’m at home, often when I’m cooking. I think music that conveys the comfort and reflection of being at home is often overlooked when talking about music, although of course for a lot of us it’s the most common type of music we listen to. Travel music and party music and workout music is all good, but as someone who often works from home, and writes and records at home, I usually listen to albums all the way through, but sometimes it’s nice to live in a varying space, and that’s what this is for. There are old favorites like Karen Dalton and Sandy Denny on here, and more recent ones like Lomelda and Jim Ghedi. That’s really the main thing I like about making mixes—listening to the past and the present commingle and converse. 

Thanks to Will for contributing/dealing with my constant requests for album updates. And thank you as always to the readers of this fine blog for checking us out on our little corner of the Internet. Whether you're a longtime or newer follower, frequent or sporadic visitor, you're very much appreciated. 

Monday, March 5, 2018

Listen/Watch: Softcore untd. - "Sjansespill"

When Softcore untd.'s name started popping up in the periphery of my musical consciousness earlier this year, I made a mental note to remember the name and investigate later as I had a strange sense of familiarity before I'd ever gotten around to press play. Chalking it up due just to the fact that the Bergen music scene isn't particular ginormous, it turns out that the reason for the familiar was due to the core duo behind Norwegian rock outfit Verdensrommet  Andreas Høvset and Vetle Junker make up the newly minted quartet consisting of Emir Hindic aka Onge Sushimane of Bergen hip hop duo Sushi x Kobe, Oslo based producer Mathias Humlen aka FAKETHIAS, as well as Høvset and Junker.
Considering their past two collaborations with Hindic "Aldri idjen" and "Du vet det kan gå feil", their team up with Hindic and Humlen isn't too much of a stretch. But while Hindic's contribution were folded into the membrane of what Verdensrommet, Softcore untd is an entirely different beast: an strange and wonderful fusion of influences and sounds into something that really never quite falls into any of those categories. Softcore untd. finds the foursome's various backgrounds converging at a delicate nexus point. Humlen's atmospheric tapestries and penchant for beats meets Hindic's melodic flow and both Høvset and Lunker's instrumental capabilities, with Høvset's vocal ability and Lunker's dazzling production talents. 

The most thrilling thing about "Sjansespill", the third in a series of tracks released by the foursome, is that you don't really need to understand Norwegian to regard it as an amazing song. Roughly translated as "game of chance", "Sjansespill" is both a piece of absolutely skilled production and emotive songcraft. Though lyrically, the song recalls the sometimes precarious nature of first impressions with Hindic and Høvset trading vocal duties to describe their influences, that's not really required to have an emotional reaction to the song. The deliveries of their individual verses as well as the growled choruses capture both restlessness and helplessness that the song seesaws between. Despite the fatalism of Hindic and Høvset's vocals "Sjansespill" exists in a place both hopeful and resigned. Everything's a game of chance, the right sequence of words, the right sense of timing, there's not really much to control besides making yourself available to those chances. Without the lyrics as a guide, the song impressively illustrates that sort of emotional tug-of-war. The instrumentals consist of bright flashes of guitar and warm electronics, pulsing percussion, sense of ease and fluidity of composition that's largely unimpeded by the rougher, more raw vocals from Hindic and Høvset. They contrast but in a complementary way like boulders in a stream.  

With it's propulsive forward momentum and effortlessly stacked layering "Sjansespill" is remarkably different than their foursome's previous efforts and demonstrates a ridiculous learning curve. "Skolebenken" and "Fjern" were slower tempo affairs where the stitches of the quartet's Frankenstein assortment of skills showed a bit but "Sjansespill", with it's range of cultivated sounds from hip hop to dream pop, rock and dance music, streamlines them into a feat of production and idea synthesis that hints at more fruitful collaborations. Here's hoping there's more in store but considering both the distance involved in the Bergen/Oslo artist collaboration as well as what's sure to be a busy year for each of the artist's individual projects that might take awhile. But considering Softcore untd. was essentially started when the four all converged on the Norwegian music festival circuit anything is possible and any song as great as "Sjansespill" is well worth the wait.


"Sjansespill" is available as a digital single in the US on Cascine and worldwide via Norway's Eget Selskap.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Sur Back - Kitsch II EP (2018)

Following lead singles "Valentino" and "Anyone Else", Kitsch II, the second release from newly Brooklyn based singer/songwriter/producer Caroline Sans aka Sur Back arrives to further fill in Sans' pastel colored musical tapestries. Sans' new record essentially picks up right from where the last one left off as "Kitsch" with its cherry red flush, sultry coo, and stately strings conjure the same bold colorings as the incendiary album opener "Valentino".

"Valentino" marks a welcome departure from the softer, gentler sounds of Kitsch's "Trophy Daughter" and "Pastel". While Sans' use of orchestral accompaniment have largely been subtler and more ornamental in previous ventures, on "Valentino" Sans makes them an inseparable part of the song's framework. Beginning with a horn swell and pizzicato strings before the entrance of glitchy, clattering drum beats, "Valentino" sees Sans' more effortlessly blurring the lines between orchestral and electronic while still allowing room for her feather-light vocals and angular guitar to perform serpentine formations and craning sighs. Perhaps more so than any other of her works, "Valentino" is a feat of daring requiring such flawlessly executed production to pull off. Unsurprisingly, Sans' is exceptionally familiar at writing/producing for herself and employs an impressive balance between the track's various moving parts.

While "Valentino" and "Kitsch" make extensive use of strings and brass, "Anyone Else" sees Sans full-on embracing her composer ambitions. The first of a multi-movement work split between it and its following "Providence",  "Anyone Else" is a much subtler blend of strings and synths than Kitsch II cuts "Valentino" or "Jane Eyre", despite it's dramatic sweeps, it sees Sans at her gentlest and most tender as she sings of the purity of her love with both beguilingly reverent preciousness and a sense of fervor.

"Providence", a continuation of "Anyone Else", sees Sans' embracing a looser narrative form than "Anyone Else". "Providence" begins with a dramatic languorous opening that has Sans' cooing "Though honey we were just having fun" with a syrupy drawl that previews the track's later chorus. Pulsing synths and brass segue to the piece's first major section that continues Sans' honeyed delivery "A kiss before you go, it's the blaring red of brake lights fading ever fast as we shift back into drive" Sans sings with a luxuriating affect. Far more than its partner "Anyone Else", "Providence" is more compositionally complex as Sans seamlessly shifts between the song's various contrasting sections before eventually melding them all together at the song's climax. 

Album ender "Jane Eyre", Sans' first official single under the Sur Back moniker, finds new life on Kitsch II as it's bolder stylistic choices are more in line with this batch of songs than those of her previous EP. With its stuttering melodies and slightly off-kilter rhythm, "Jane Eyre" finds Sans' operating at peak at the very beginning of her career. Sans' blends synth, guitar, brass and drum samples, all in asymmetrical meter along with flowing, smooth as silk vocals to form a pristinely plotted dark pop gem.

Kitsch II marks an ambitious next step for Sans after an already strong debut in Kitsch. Featuring some of  Sans' earliest musical sketches flushed out and pursued to their fullest potential, Kitsch II further establishes Sans as a gifted producer capable of making deeply arresting musical documents that effortlessly evade the very notion of genre. Time has served her exceptionally well, heightening not only her production talents but her artistic sensibilities as she creates an absolutely immersive record positively overflowing with winsome moments of pitch perfect songcraft. With the release of her new EP, there's no telling when we'll next hear from Sans but when we do, it's sure to be with as flawlessly executed a work as Kitsch II.

Sur Back's sophomore EP Kitsch II is out February 23rd.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Pitstop: Great News

Considering that such a sizable chunk of my favorite music discoveries come from artists/bands whose music I already love, I should hardly have been surprised to stumble upon yet another and yet, my introduction to Bergen "daze pop" trio Great News indirectly through the heartfelt congratulations on the release of their debut album Wonderfault from fellow Norwegian rockers Young Dreams still came as a bit of one.

Listening to the band's singles "Wonderfault", "Never Get My Love" and definite album standout "Told", it's easy to see why they would appear to Young Dreams as well as most fans of good music. With bright, vibrant melodies and just the right amount of fuzz, Great News combine elements of traditional pop and psychedelic rock into a infectious blend. Despite the trio's pretty standard guitar-bass-drum set up, the band manage to pretty impressively convey an unmistakable 80s synth pop influence among their host of others in classic and psych rock not unlike bands The War On Drugs, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, or early Tame Impala. With Ole Einarsen's locked in bass grooves, Even Kjelby's angular guitar and vocals melodies, the subtlest hint of synthy effects, and fullness in sound, it's hard to imagine that the band's debut was recorded and produced by the trio themselves but that's very much the case. But the album is deceptively polished despite the band's DIY aesthetic and their wealth of influences doesn't betray the band's own sense of originally and growth from their early singles. Wonderfault is a strong debut from a band very comfortable in their own skin and ardently pursuing the sounds the want. 

Great News' debut full length album Wonderfault is out now on Norwegian label Eget Selskap. But you can nab it from all the standard digital music retailers. Stream the album below:

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Listen/Watch: Makeness - "Stepping Out of Sync"

photo by Dexter Lander
When Scottish multi-instrumentalist/producer Makeness released "Loud Patterns", the first single from what would eventually be announced as his debut full length, I remarked that the harsher elements of it signaled a change-up of sorts from the dance-pop fair that defined a lot of his earlier releases. While Makeness' Kyle Molleson has always embraced a more experimental approach to electronic dance music, "Loud Patterns" leaned further into less electronic approach through its more prominent incorporation of live instrumentation and angular rock vibes. It was a delicate balancing act of electronic rock and more typical dance pop and "Loud Patterns" succeeded in its effortless tightrope walk between the two. 

And yet, previous Loud Patterns single "Day Old Death" and his latest one "Stepping Out of Sync", find Makeness essentially seesawing towards the familiar. "Stepping Out of Sync" is Makeness at his most unabashedly dance-y. Although it doesn't necessarily start out that way. Molleson takes his time building an impressive track. Beginning with just out-of-focus guitar, the track gradually introduces instrument after instrument and Molleson's vocals before quickly establishing its groove. Molleson's experimental edge is on the subtler side: consisting mostly on his use of effects and production techniques as the track casual slides in and out of view without losing any of its swaggering confidence despite the track title. 

The music video, directed Felix Silvestris and Josha Eiffel, essentially a bit of light on the seeming misnomer as it follows a duo's adventures through a night in London. The two essentially exist in a world all their own turning their city's streets into a dance club while Eiffel and Silvestris' camera gives the sense of an altered reality. The two exist in a world of their own, laughing and going over dance moves before the video's climax which sees the twosome fully realizing the choreography they've been steadily learning over the course of the video and it's a wonderful encapsulation of just how disconnected from the rest of the world; how time can slip away from you when you're in the right company.

Loud Patterns, the debut full length from Makeness is out April 6th on Secretly Canadian. Pre-order is available now.

Listen/Watch: Typhoon - "Rorschach

photo by Jeremy Hernandez
With the release of a solo album What Will Destroy You from Typhoon frontman Kyle Morton in the autumn of 2016, I thought it might be some time until we saw a release from the band in earnest. Which is not to say that a four year gap between records isn't a sizable one - rather, the fact that many of its members leaned into the post-album hiatus after 2013's White Lighter and Morton, the band's chief songwriter released a full length solo debut, I figured it might be some time before Morton cobbled up as complete a set of songs as was necessary to constitute a full length Typhoon record. So imagine my surprise when not only was it announced that the band was working on/recording a follow up last year but that when unveiled it would turn out to be the band's most ambitious.

Offerings, the fourth full length record from Portland, Oregon collective Typhoon is a 14 song concept album split in four parts. The band announced the album with a stream of the album's first movement Floodplains and it showed off both the album's concept: a man losing his memory and thereby himself while also offering up the band's incredible sense of songcraft. Morton's songwriting is as visceral as ever and the band's arrangements as vital. It's been my go-to since its premiere and I was happy to discover that one of my favorite songs in the initial batch "Rorschach" would receive a music video.

While album opener "Wake" functions much less like "Prelude" from White Lighter and much more like "Artificial Light" or "Poor Bastard" from Morton's solo debut in terms of establishing the album's would-be core themes, "Rorschach" introduces the album's conflict in that of the unnamed man's actual response to his memory loss. "Wake" functions as a sort of Greek chorus like introduction before the man's entrance. "Rorschach" finds the man having a much more alarmed reaction to his memory loss as he copes with far less acceptance than his "Wake" counterpart. The reason for this may be time. Morton's songcraft is mostly narrative as he focuses on the disorienting sense that something is missing that haunts the album's protagonist. The song begins with an almost casual utterance of a theme that's plagued many a songwriter: "Eyes on the screen, we have all this information now but what does it mean?"

Bands like Radiohead and Arcade Fire have made whole albums devoted to how we as modern people deal with life in the digital age and how the excessive access to information might be dulling not only how we regard that information but our own humanity. Morton instead opts to focus on the latter: namely what's the use of limitless information if it can't help you preserve who you are? Morton leaves little clues here and there about why the protagonist ended up in this scenario but the why is also treated (as least in the case of "Rorschach") as largely irrelevant. Instead "Rorschach" focuses, like all compelling mysteries, on the "what now?" aspect.

The accompanying music video, directed by Neighborhood Films' Matthew Thomas Ross, leans further into that mystery and that particular sense of loss as the unnamed man (played by Morton) undergoes some sort of psychological evaluation/interrogation hybrid meant to either restore the lost memories or discern if they're really gone to begin with. Plagued by fragments of memories with no  of what they mean. The "Rorschach" video is essentially a mystery inside of a mystery as the viewer is put in the same position as the unnamed man of figuring out just what it all means. It's slickly and captivating shot and is one of those rare music videos that provide new added context to the song it's accompanying. Hardly surprising considering Typhoon and their longtime collaborator put considerable thought into the concepts but the "Rorschach" video levels up their partnership as the band zeroes in on ensuring the viewer/listener takes away a feeling.

Typhoon's fourth full length album Offerings is out now on Roll Call Records. You can order it now. The band are also on tour, you can check out tour dates here.