Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Watch: Sondre Lerche - "Legends"

If you haven't already I strongly recommend giving a listen to Norwegian singer/songwriter Sondre Lerche's seventh full length studio album Please which began streaming on NPR's First Listen earlier this week ahead of its release date next week. If you have, I strongly recommend listening again. And again. And then again after that.

The video for album standout "Legends" directed by Evan Savitt, functions as a sequel (or even a prequel) to the earlier released "Bad Law" video. Where Lerche played a gradually spiraling party guest there, "Legends" sees Lerche removed from the judgement of others but not from his fiesty dance moves. Facing the sobering light of morning (which had little to no effect before), Lerche rubs the sleep/sleepiness from his eyes before continuing his dancefloor gospel. While bits of the "Bad Law" video featured glimpses of the morning after and park jaunt - the "Legends" video doesn't have the same relationship with perspective. The focus is unflinching on the present. Or in a version of the present where Lerche has a quartet of uniformed backup dancers to share in his post-debauchery celebratory dance party. What starts out as a potential dream sequence becomes somewhat unclear as the dancers interact, aid, and enable Lerche in his continued (possibly still inebriated) dance-fueled rampage.

Watch Sondre Lerche's video for "Legends" directed by "Bad Law" director Evan Savitt:

Sondre Lerche's upcoming seventh album Please is out September 23rd on Mona Records. Preorder available now on digital and CD/LP.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Listen: yMusic - "Music in Circles (Excerpt)"

While New York City based chamber group yMusic certainly earned their stripes with the release of their debut album Beautiful Mechanical back in 2011, the excitement I felt upon the announcement of their follow up Balance Problems was undoubtably leveled up when it was revealed that had Son Lux signed on to produce it. While yMusic certainly toed the line of indie classical and something wholly other on their debut, Ryan Lott's involvement behind the scenes seemed to portend an additional desire for the sextet to continue to sidestep genre labels. 

While on Beautiful Mechanical, yMusic teamed up with several notable indie artists/composers, Balance Problems goes a more traditional route of having yMusic align less with band fronters/artists that happen to be competent composers and more with those notable for doing just that. That's not to say a couple crossovers aren't present a la Sufjan Stevens. Through taking to commonplace definition, yMusic's core concept is illuminated further - by tackling the pre-established norms in classical music, yMusic set out to ultimately transcend them.

The first single from the new record, "Music in Circles" is an excerpt from a two part piece written by Andrew Norman. The most notable part of Music in Circles" or rather, the excerpt yMusic offer as a taster - is just how long it takes for clear melody to formulate. Beginning with far more percussive leaning strings paired fragmented glancing blows in the winds, Norman offers up merely hints at melody that builds - the spiccato strokes and ricochet go from merely functioning as a percussive effect to forming a part of harmonic vertebra. "Music in Circles" is built from the ground up not from the layering of melody and harmony but from the incorporation of each instruments' own advanced techniques. The most pleasant surprise is how easily everything coagulates into beautiful harmonic moments. "Music in Circles" resembles at its most simple a modal work where each instruments' part ingeniously syncs up. However Norman and yMusic by extension make you work for those moments - much of the piece spends its time gently layering towards the sync only to either snatch it away at moment you expect everything to coalesce or to deconstruct it immediately when melodic fluidity becomes the norm.

"Music in Circles" is a challenging, subversive piece that breaks down the very notion of expectations while offering wonderful moments of beautiful, almost happenstance like harmony that gives yMusic ability to really flex their technical chops. Norman draws attention to the nature of melody, which through his suspension of it, makes the moments when it appears all that more arresting, and the momentous climbs toward its establishment perhaps more intriguing and important.

yMusic's second full length Balance Problems is out September 30th on New Amsterdam Records.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Listen: Sondre Lerche - "Sentimentalist"

                                                 (photo by Eric Ray Davidson)

After the groovy dancefloor filler that was "Bad Law", Norwegian export Sondre Lerche's offering up a much moodier number far more befitting of the breakup album that seventh studio album Please is rumored to be. While the lyrics of "Bad Law" were no doubt rather dark, there's no denying the rather upbeat presentation obscured them a bit - not quite a celebration, but not quite an admonishment either. While it remains to be seen exactly what kind of album Please will end up at the end, "Sentimentalist" sees Lerche optioning a different shade. There's no doubt that Lerche's best songs are the unflinchingly honest, heartfelt gems in his catalog and "Sentimentalist" has all the makings of those without exactly drawing from the same well.

Lerche's most recent dips into experimentalism for The Sleepwalker soundtrack have clearly stuck as his vocals are submerged into a cold bath of reverb. Lerche's trademark melodic clarity is set directly at odds with an ominous, lurking haze that threatens and eventually does consume everything. One of Lerche's greatest strengths has been an ability to spotlight the fallout of negative emotive turns without a sense of wallowing and "Sentimentalist" is crystal clear example of that. It's a song tinged with the specter of regret but never quite giving in to it - at least not lyrically. Instead of riotous pyrotechnics of a relationship at its end, Lerche instead paints a picture of a gradual fade - almost completely at odds with the passionate fervor addressed in "Bad Law". "I'll be damned if I fight, I'll be damned if I don't" opines Lerche before offering a very telling "In the end, would it count?" 

"Sentimentalist" strips Lerche of all his trademark charm to his great benefit. There's no rights or wrongs presented, no appeals for the listener to take a side, instead Lerche presents his own measured evaluation that makes it clear he's removed from the emotional fallout. It's almost jarringly in its neutrality, but commendable that Lerche avoids the viable but cheaper option of playing victim or villain. If Please ends up being a break up album, songs like "Sentimentalist" will be its saving grace - rising above the standard tropes to offer a smart but still enjoyable and still relatable take. 

Sondre Lerche's seventh full length studio album Please is out September 23rd on Lerche's own Mona Records. Preorder for digital as well as CD/LP are available now.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Listen: Ólöf Arnalds - "Patience"

While first single "Half Steady" might've signaled Icelandic singer/songwriter Ólöf Arnalds' absconding from the beaten path into the previously uncharted territory of synth-inflected pop, "Patience" acts as its foil. Palme, it appears won't be all folk/electronic hybrids after all. Instead, it appears her team up with Gunnar Örn Tynes of múm will result in more subtler tweaks to Arnalds' style of lush folk pop. Unlike "Half Steady" "Patience" isn't all that atypical to Arnalds' other works but it's immediately evidentl Arnalds has leveled up her production.

"Patience" might be Arnalds most catchy song to date with its winding melodies and the push and pull of its song structure that culminates into Arnalds' layered choir-like harmonies. It's a sultry surge - never quite picking up from its lilting bow and bend but never quite losing steam either. The video, directed by  Máni M. Sigfússon, seemed to realize this - growing from a soft focused afterimage effect to casually (and most importantly gradually) shifts Arnalds' surroundings from a dark room, to derelict ruins and overgrown forests and fields. Nothing about the direction is immediate; everything growing from a seed of an idea while gently nodding towards Arnalds lyrics.

Ólöf Arnalds' fourth full length album Palme is out September 30th on One Little Indian Records.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Listen: Buke and Gase - "Seam Esteem"

The best thing about the now Hudson, NY based experimental duo Buke and Gase is that they arrived more or less with a fully formed signature sound and a predilection for surpassing even your most wildest of expectations. In a way that's only real descriptor that sticks as the riotous twosome manage to elude and evade absolutely everything even vaguely resembling a genre classification. Earlier this year when Arone Dyer and Aron Sanchez decided to post snippets of their upcoming third album in its earliest stages, it was a rare look into the band's creative process that still managed to be completely nonrevealing as to what the album would sound like. Not due to any subterfuge but the fact that Buke and Gase so frequently scrap or warp ideas or employ their improvisations and experimentations in a variety of different ways that you were never quite sure if what you heard then would sound anything like the end product.

"Seam Esteem" is however a proper glimpse at the yet to be titled/detailed third album. On it, Buke and Gase have seemed to settled into comfortable groove - with a direct line of growth evident from last year's General Dome. It continues in their established vein of cacophonous, multi-layered pop-oriented songs while still populating its own universe in terms of style and substance. It's surprisingly straight forward, a firmly established boom-clap beat underscoring the real variant which is Dyer's vocals which undergoes a number of microtransformations throughout. Her unaffected howl making its way towards an ironic computerized detachment as she sings "It feels so for real" in the track's chorus. The twosomes trademark buke and gase made their appearance but more or texture than any real spotlighting.

There's no official word of the third album yet but considering their going on a tour in the Fall, news of the album should be hopefully be revealed soon.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Listen: Ólöf Arnalds: "Half Steady"

For fans of the Icelandic chanteuse Ólöf Arnalds' previous efforts, "Half Steady" is going to come as a bit of a surprise but a epiphanic, euphoria-inducing one to be sure.

On her upcoming fourth album Palme, Arnalds is taking a page out of her cousin Olafur's book and imbuing her sound with a bit of electronics. It's not a wildly radical idea with other more folk oriented singers like Alessi's Ark and Basia Bulat going that route on their releases last year but damn if Arnalds' doesn't absolutely sell the shift AND stick the landing. Taking a song she original wrote in her teens, Arnalds, along with Gunnar Örn Tynes (of múm fame) and frequent collaborator Skúli Sverrisson crafts an utterly radiant experimental pop gem. A gifted songwriter, Arnalds' true talents have always been not solely the words of her songs but the feelings they invoke and that's firmly on display here as Arnalds glides above the music box melodies. It's delicate in its construction, oddly simplistic despite in its resplendent cacophony while managing to be charmingly human despite its many inorganic elements. Arnalds' knack for creating little pocket realms for the listener to slip into is still at play here, although "Half Steady" is much more of frenetic clockwork retaining Arnalds' smooth, soaring melodies but upheaving much of the terrain for glimpses at mountainous jags.

Ólöf Arnalds' fourth full length Palme is out September 30th on One Little Indian Records.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Listen: Steve Gunn & Mike Cooper - "Saudade Do Santos-o-Vehlo"

Singer/songwriter Steve Gunn is certainly having a busy year.  After putting out his Paradise of Bachelors debut Time Off last year, he's already prepping to release its follow up Way Out Weather in the fall of this year. What's more sometime in between the production of that record, he somehow had time to work on not one but two collaborative LPs that also came out this year. One with fiddler Mike Gangloff and the other with one of Gunn's own influences British guitarist Mike Cooper.

"Saudade Do Santos-o-Vehlo" is for most, the amuse-bouche to Gunn & Cooper's collaboration and for me at least a much needed/belated introduction to Mike Cooper - a man whose been consistently releasing music for the past 50 years. Cantos de Lisboa, the 11th installment in RVNG Intl's Frkwys series, finds the duo teaming up in Portugal of all places for a set of improvisations inspired in part by the Portuguese culture and their surroundings but also by the two's shared musical backgrounds in folk, jazz, and blues.

"Saudade Do Santos-o-Vehlo" is an instrumental ramble not entirely out of Gunn's normal oeuvre. Cooper & Gunn are in total creative consonance, swirling about and meshing together fluidly enough that you can't really tell which melodic lines are Cooper's and which are Gunn's. You have your guesses but for the most part, the two are in perfect sync feeding off of each other's flourishes. It's a track that could very well go on forever and kind of does, considering it ends with a fade; never quite reaching a true resolution.

Steve Gunn & Mike Cooper's collaborative album Cantos de Lisboa is out now on RVNG Intl