Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Listen/Watch: Magos Herrera & Brooklyn Rider - "Niña"

Despite the fact that they have one of the most rigorous touring schedules I've seen and released their brilliant new album Spontaneous Symbols just last October, string quartet Brooklyn Rider has somehow found the time to record a brand new collaborative album with Mexican jazz singer/songwriter Magos Herrera. Although the ease of the collaboration might've been helped by the fact that both Herrera and Brooklyn Rider are based in New York. Dreamers, the forthcoming album from Herrera and Brooklyn Rider follows in a long line of Brooklyn Rider's collaborative efforts with singer/songwriters like Bela Fleck and Gabriel Kahane but unlike those previous collaborations, Dreamers sets the words of poets like Ruben Dario, Octavio Paz, and Frederico Garcia Lorca as well as other singer/songwriters and poets to arrangements by Brazilian cellist Jaques Morelenbaum, Argentinian pianists/composers Diego Schissi and Guillermo Klein, and Venezuelan born multi-instrumenalist/composer Gonzolo Grau as well as Brooklyn Rider's own resident composer/arranger Colin Jacobsen. It's an example of classical music as a political statement not unlike Ravel's "La Valse" as the idea to craft an album featuring poetry from a multitude of Central and South American writers (and mainland Spanish in the case of Lorca), featuring arrangements from composers/artists who are largely from these places at a time of particularly anti-immigrant sentiment speaks volumes down to the name of the album.

Featuring the use of cajón and a pair of palmeras or hand clappers as well as Brooklyn Rider's incredibly sharp chops, "Niña" begins an incredibly percussive piece that roots Grau's arrangement of  Mexican poet Octavio Paz's piece more in flamenco than in salsa or tango. In contrast, Herrara's singing is fluid and melismatic with Brooklyn Rider occasionally mimicking to create moments of levitating harmonic consonance as Herrera underlines parts of the texts that are rife with spectacularly vivid imagery. A love song to his Paz's daughter, Grau's arrangements are incredibly dynamic - propulsive builds, cathartic releases, and dramatic shifts all aided by Magos Herrara's impeccable vocal talents, Brooklyn Rider's precision, and the addition of percussionists. 

Dreamers, Brooklyn Rider's new collaborative album with Magos Herrera, is out September 21st on Sony Music Mexico. You can pre-order/pre-save the album here.

Buke & Gase - "Pink Boots"

While Hudson, NY based experimental duo Buke & Gase have made sure to ease the wait between albums with one-off singles like "Seam Esteem", "Typo", and PJ Harvey cover "Dress" (which eventually all found their way onto the Arone vs Aron EP they released last year), there's been a bit of time since the release of their sophomore full length General Dome back in 2013. That's mostly due to the incredibly high standards and non-linear approach the tinkering inventors take towards creating their music - having scrapped an entire album's worth of material in favor of music that pushed their sound into previously unexplored territories and was thrilling for them to perform as well as record. Buke & Gase are one of those rare bands that answer to themselves first and foremost. And now after a nearly 6 year wait, the duo are back with the promise of a new record in the form of two singles "Pink Boots" and "No Land" that they've been incorporating into their live set since 2016.

"Pink Boots" is actually the second of the singles to be released, after they dropped "No Land" virtually in the dead of night on NPR's All Songs Considered last night. It follows the twosome's trademark embrace of cacophony with a noteable twist - since the release of General Dome, Arone Dyer and Aron Sanchez have incorporated more electronic elements in their song's composition than their previous modified guitar-bass and baritone ukelele from which the band summoned its name. But much like duo's effortlessly interwoven instrumental deluge of guitar-bass, buke, kick drum, and foot-trigged tamborine called the toe-bourine (another of the duo's innovations), Buke & Gase return with a similar everything-but-the-kitchen-sink style of composition. Though instead of relying on an awe-inspiringly dexterous ability to play everything - they've freed themselves up a bit - synthesizers taking the place of the buke, the boom of the kick drum compressed and digitized. At least in a live setting. In the studio - the duo are proven multi-instrumentalists chasing improvisation to their sometimes unexpected conclusions and committing them to tape.

Lyrically, "Pink Boots" is somewhat more vague than more obviously politically charged "No Land" but the sentiment is more or less the same. While "No Land" prophesies the fall of the corrupt along with everyone else due to the actions of the corrupt, "Pink Boots" serves up the how; as much of a societal critique as a critique of gender norms. Where "No Land" seethes with rage-tinged clarity, "Pink Boots" resorts to conversational slight of hand - relying on subtlety of intent, double-speak, and plausible deniability. "I'm better better better used at the table" Dyer sings above the din, the repetition of the lyrics as percussive as the accompanying drums.

"Pink Boots" and "No Land" are the first singles from Buke & Gase's forthcoming third full length album. Although information is still not readily available, the duo have put up a pre-order link via Bandcamp that gives you access to the two singles with full pre-order details to follow. Listen to "No Land":


Wednesday, September 5, 2018


photo by Tonje Thilesen
While the debut full length album from Philadelpha via Athens experimental rock quartet Mothers When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired seesawed between sparse introspective lyrical moments and complex, interwoven instrumental pyrotechnics, one of the main differences I've noticed between the debut and previous singles "BLAME KIT" and "PINK" from Mothers' upcoming sophomore full length Render Another Ugly Method has been an all-hands-on-deck type of inclusion. Where their debut often saw Kristine Leschper's vocals under a perennial spotlight that occasionally saw the band lessening their intensity, on Render Another Ugly Method, the foursome have established a new dynamic: one that lauches Leschper's vocals right into the dense, instrumental din.

"BEAUTY ROUTINE", the third single and opening track from the forthcoming record establishes an unexpected moment of quiet, much more reminiscent of their debut while featuring the much more fractured lyrical style that Leschper's been exploring on this new record. Much like "PINK" was a series of vignettes, strung together by the particular feelings they evoked in Leschper, "BEAUTY ROUTINE" follows a similar style of disjointed narrative structure. There's no chorus, or even vaguely conventional approach to songwriting here as Leschper stretches and elongates the delivery of two rather brief verses. But much like an actual beauty routine, Leschper's lyrical delivery is methodical, gradually building and the rest of Mothers follow suit. It's not until almost two minutes in where the band snap into action from their previously listless expansiveness. Unsurprisingly it's also where Leschper turns her lyrical focus outward. It is slight but "BEAUTY ROUTINE" falls into Leschper's pervasive interest in the body as a malleable thing: capable of being expanded and contracted, and even abandoned completely. The first verse - aloft in a dissociative haze before a moment of jarring self-consciousness shifts the focus towards actually engaging with another person as the second verse's lyrics are about the self but delivered outside of the self. Much of the ethos of "BEAUTY ROUTINE" is a matter of Leschper's thought process during its composition but she lets others in, and none too gently with the song's final line: "Show me a beauty routine to erase me completely".

The music video, directed Jake Lazovick and Richard Phillip Smith, is a case of the visual enhancing the audio aspect as the ideas behind the track become the video's sole focus. Leschper carries a small hand mirror with her, glancing at herself in it but from the audience's perspective, you never get a good view of what she sees and the glances you steal into the mirror they appear to be reflecting something completely other than Leschper. Eventually Leschper does away with the actual mirror and decides to create a homemade mannequin in her own image: she gives it her own hair, models its appendages after her own and even dresses it up in her own clothes essentially creating the image she hopes to see in the hand mirror. Much like the video for "PINK" which was also directed by Lazovick and Smith, there's a creeping sense of malaise that lingers until the very conclusion.

Render Another Ugly Method, Mothers' sophomore full length album is out September 7th on Anti- Records.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Listen/Watch: Red Sea - "Love Is Blind"

photo by Javier Aguirre
Back in 2016, I went to see Atlanta, Georgia quartet Red Sea at my first Hopscotch based on fellow experimentalists Palm's recommendation. Playing the fest themselves, Palm announced from the stage at the end of their set that they would be heading down the street to see Red Sea perform and everyone should head over with them. Though I had previously been introduced to Red Sea via their record In The Salon through Eamon from Small Plates Records earlier, I looked forward to catching them live and the recommendation from one of my favorite bands was enough to seal the deal. The resulting set was a mix of brilliant guitar work, catchy synth hooks, and just the right amount of rugged experimentalism and I remember leaving the Red Sea's set both astonished and a little upset that their set where they played new songs and old was far better than their recorded output so far.

Now, almost two years after seeing that set, the band has emerged with a brand new single after dropping a teaser for the forthcoming music video about a month ago. Though Red Sea have never shied away from the pop side of their experimental pop, "Love is Blind" sees the band embracing it even more so. While the complex, interlocking rhythms of In The Salon are suspended in this new offering, they've haven't completely streamlined their sound and the accompanying video, directed by Josh and Tony Gary of Funguh Productions along with Red Sea themselves, shows that their trademark weirdness is here to stay as the band traipses through the surreal. The plot is purposefully elusive as the band and a rotating cast of other characters perform various handoffs of a pair of special contacts in a BDSM themed night club/performance but as initially confusing as it all starts out - as characters slip in and out of reality and events are presented out of sequence, the video itself gradually reveals its hand and fills out the necessary details for narrative consumption. It's a tale of love lost with a hint of spy thriller and surrealist fantasy and for their first official music video, the Red Sea offer up a pretty compelling reason for taking the better part of a decade to actually release one.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Listen/Watch: Villagers - "Fool"

On "A Trick of the Light", the first single from Villagers' upcoming full length album The Art of Pretending to Swim, singer/songwriter Conor O'Brien sang about relying to faith in the most daunting of circumstances. It was a song as hopeful as it was melancholic with a music video directed by Bob Gallagher that encapsulated the emotional juxtaposition. Now on "Fool", the follow up single, O'Brien has once again teamed up with Gallagher for a one-take video from the point-of-view of Conor' O'Brien's partner on a particularly doomed date. Much like it's source material, it isn't immediately apparently that there's something wrong. The date proceeds properly enough - a glass of wine, some small talk, but there's a couple sweeps around the room to give the indication that there's something afoot that's more than just nerves. O'Brien's date frequently pulls out their phone to document the evening - and even ignores an incoming phone call from someone else. O'Brien pulls out all the stops to regain his dinner partner's attention - a mariachi band, confetti, even ripping his own heart out during the song's climactic "So here is my bleeding heart, will you be my falling star? Will you take the pain away?" but the date has pretty much already gone off the rails at this point. The fellow dinners are the only indication of a particularly emotional attachment to the proceedings - cheering and trying to hide smiles as O'Brien bleeds out quietly in his chair and the waitstaff try to rouse him. You never get a sense of exactly how many dates in this is - is this a first date? Has there been several. And it kind of colors the whole situation in a way that's borderline comical. O'Brien is all smiles with eyes full of wide-eyed hope even as he's dragged out of the restaurant and has been obstensibly rejected.

The track itself follows a similar if not entirely congruent trajectory. Where "A Trick of the Light" concerned itself with holding on to faith in the midst of, "Fool" treats the notion of faith as kind of blinder or,  more aptly, as a sort of sweetener for the uncertainty one constantly lives with. "Cause I'm a fool, love, for the burden of a promise of eternal life in Heaven, of a kind of anesthetic for the journey for which there's no need to worry" O'Brien sings. It's frequently repeated and often after similar lyrics about the not really knowing the certainty of anything. It has the whisper of critique but not much. It isn't until the bleeding heart line that it seems like the song's subject has any particular issue with the way they're living their life. And at the line I had a somewhat epiphanic moment of "Oh it's a love song" before the next line dealt it's blow. "There's money in the morning and I'm looking at my screen failing to accept that there's problem to the scene too, there's a problem" O'Brien post-climax and there's a surprising amount going on in such a muted moment. "Fool" proceeds at more or less the same tempo throughout with a similarly maintained energy but on this verse - the energy slows down - O'Brien elongates the verse, softens his delivery on the repetition of the line "there's a problem". The line leads right into an uptick of energy and the chorus and like the song itself references there's a blink and you miss it quality to the verse.

"Fool" is Villagers at arguably their most pop down to the fact that O'Brien tucks moments of somber realization underneath upbeat melodies. Where "Trick of the Light" highlights the positive life-affirming and life-saving quality of faith, "Fool" subtly critiques its hypocrisy as the song's subject frequently is concerned with later rewards - in this case "the promise of eternal life in Heaven" that they're not all that concerned with what's happening right in front of them.

The Art of Pretending to Swim, the new full length album from Villagers is out September 21st on Domino.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Listen: Ohmme - "Peach"

photo by Alexa Viscius
With their previous singles "Icon" and "Water", Chicago experimental duo Ohmme, offered up an introduction to both their sound and their upcoming full length debut Parts with a display of versatility. The caustic guitars of "Water" balanced effortlessly with the pristine unencumbered beauty of the duo's vocals lines already a worthwhile display of Sima Cunningham and Macie Stewart's embrace of opposites in motion, when contrasted to the resplendent pop hooks of "Icon" showed a band that truly intended to but their best foot forward. With "Peach", the third single, from their upcoming full length album, Ohmme continue to lean wholeheartedly into their spirit of experimentalism. "Peach" essentially splits the difference between "Icon" and "Water", featuring jangly complex guitar lines, clattering percussion, and surreal lyricism. Unlike "Icon" which achieved a subtly glide into it's more abrasive instrumentals, "Peach" offers them up immediately and unrelentingly as the duo balance the song's various moving parts with elongated verses, bursts of harsher elements, and the duo's characteristic ability to use their more gentle vocal lines as a ballast in the cacophony.

Parts, the debut full length from Ohmme is out August 24th on Joyful Noise Recordings. You can pre-order the record here.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Listen: Saintseneca - "Beast in the Garden"

photo by Olga Pavloska
While Columbus folk collective Saintseneca has largely made a career of encapsulating the various incarnations of folk - be it punk, pop, or rock, singer/songwriter Zac Little sought in the recording and production of their upcoming fourth full length album Pillar of Na to more obviously incorporate different elements of the genre into the record's sound. First single "Frostbiter" saw Little weaving electronic elements into the band's already lushly layered textural palette while "Ladder to the Sun" was a much more straight forward pop-rooted affair. "Beast in the Garden", the third single from the forthcoming record, is a heady dose of 60s inspired psychedelica with Saintseneca's harmonic mesh of stringed instruments effortlessly replicating the Eastern recalling sounds most Bay Area psych bands sought to emulate. Unlike the battering ram that is "Ladder to the Sun", "Beast in the  Garden" is a more meticulously plotted bloom - shifting from sparse guitar to euphoric gang vocal dense choruses. Of the three singles, it's probably the most tied into the album's religious influence. Little is no stranger to weaving the secular with the more evidently biblical, but for "Beast in the Garden" he leans fully into it as he conjures up vibrant images of a life locked out of Paradise. There's a sense of nostalgia, true but there's also an optimism for the new paths ahead and even strange sense of compassion for the solitary sentinel preventing their return. Little's lyricism, through pulled from sacred texts, are less an attempt to pontificate and more an attempt to know, to connect with the idea of a life laid bare in front of you with a daunting amount of freedom. It features stellar arrangements of both traditional and unconventional strings: mandola, hammered dulcimers, violins, viola, and cello. It's another slice of bold musical experimentalism that continues to upend expectations as to what Pillar of Na might sound like as a whole and that to me is terribly exciting.

Pillar of Na, Saintseneca's fourth full length album is out August 31st on ANTI-.