Friday, February 24, 2017

Pitstop: Jack Martini

photo by Riccardo Niar
My discovery of Italian singer/songwriter Jack Martini was the direct result of my appearance at a show late last year at Arlene's Grocery in Manhattan where I had no real idea who any of the band's were or sounded like. A college friend was in town on tour with his band Dreambeaches and the stars aligned in such a way that I happened to be free. Jack Martini and his rag tag collective of incredibly talented fellow Berklee students were easily the night's highlight. Their numbers approaching Typhoon levels of "How do you fit all those people on the stage", their set was a triumphant and free almagam of jazz and pop without really adhering to any preconceived notions of any of the genres Martini cruises though and yet his music succeeds for his ability to take what he needs to create surprisingly simple pop gems.

Perhaps due to his worldliness or in spite of it, the strength of Jack Martini's songcraft lies both in his easy wit and intelligent turns of phrase he effortlessly threads through much of lyricism. Despite the absolutely stellar arrangements, songs like "Unimpressed People" or "Pleasantly Surprised" stay with you more for the beguiling simplicity of Martini's universal lyrical themes. And songs like "Kevin Spacey" and "Apricot Love" which tone down the full band in favor of emotion stirring minimalism are even more indicative that Martini doesn't need his pop overtures to make his songs stick. His Marmalade Love EP is a lovely collection of songs that show a great deal of potential for the young songwriter. Hopefully it's not too long before Martini and his collaborators show there's even more where that came from.

You can stream Jack Martini's Marmalade Love EP now.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Listen/Watch: Laura Marling - "Next Time"

Perhaps the most exciting thing when English singer/songwriter Laura Marling returns with a new batch of songs is to see the bold new directions she goes in. No two Laura Marling albums sound the same and after offering her strongest impressions on the folk songwriter on Once I Was An Eagle her next album Short Movie saw her exploring new creative wells and experimenting more and more with her sound. Her upcoming sixth studio album Semper Femina will, if the first two singles "Soothing" and "Wild Fire" are anything to go off of, see Marling continuing her exploration of sounds and textures not normally associated with the folk realm. Produced with Blake Mills in Los Angeles, it's got a noticeably different feel than Marling's work with Ethan Johns. Unlike the sultry bass-led "Soothing", "Next Time" puts Marling's lyricism and guitar firmly in the driving seat while a building an arresting musical tapestry around her. The arrangements are pitch perfect: ebbing and flowing when needed; culminating in colorful bursts of impressionistic strings. While on previous Semper Femina cuts Marling's mostly engaged and remarked with external subjects, "Next Time" shifts Marling into observer mode while also regarding herself and her perceived role in the world.  "It feels like a long time since I was free/It seems like the right time to take that seriously" Marling rattles off right at the start before resolving to do/be better before each climactic string resurgence.

The video, directed by Marling herself, is a sparse setting to the track responding mostly through dance as time and the large room the dancer is in seems to shift and bend. The lights flicker and the dancer draws several lines and then a circle of salt which act as a center for her movement. You never really get an idea of what's happening and why. Is it a haunting? Is something supernatural to blame? Is the wiring just faulty? But the why isn't really important. Your hints are a blue sash previous featured in the "Soothing" video and another character glimpses briefly at the video's start and later at it's end. But while you never quite get the why the what is intriguing as are the dancer's movement which go from gentle and flowing to sharp and spastic during the moments the room's light flicker heavily. It almost recalls a possession of some sort as the dancer rushes to the closet and checks inside before returning to the window. She's waiting for someone and it's thrilling to see. The answer may be explained in the final of Marling's self-directed videos or it might not. Either way, it's a delightful vignette making the most of sound and vision, space and the body that's incredibly enjoyable.

Laura Marling's Semper Femina is out March 10 on her own More Alarming Records. Pre-order available now.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Listen: Sondre Lerche - "Violent Game"

It's a story as old as time: you go to see one of your favorite bands/artists on tour supporting their latest album and they unveil a new song. It's good. So good. But you know you'll have to wait until it's officially released. So you wait. And see them each time they blow into town hoping they'll play it to tide you over. That's essentially what happened with Norwegian singer/songwriter Sondre Lerche's latest single "Violent Game", the exception of course being that he unveiled "Violent Game" during his first and only CMJ set in 2013, recorded and released Please the following September in 2014, and released the one-off Despite The Night EP the following year. It appeared on neither release. It felt like Lerche was torturing me but the real reason "Violent Game" never made it on a release despite being a fully completed song was firstly that it didn't fit with what Lerche was trying to do with Please and also because a studio version of the song that he liked eluded him. So what happened differently that "Violent Game" ended up on his forthcoming record Pleasure? He recorded the song live in studio with his trusted live band.

"Violent Game" is so markedly different from the first two singles "I'm Always Watching You" and "Soft Feelings" that it's almost immediately obvious why he's withheld it until now. "I'm Always Watching You" pines, "Soft Feelings" looks forward, both push his sound in bold new directions by looking to the past. "Violent Game", like it's name suggests, is Lerche's rallying song. It's quintessential Lerche with it's bossa nova recalling chord structure and emollient charm. But much like his live album Bootlegs, it reveals a fiercer, scrappier Lerche than his more polished studio counterpart this side of Phantom Punch. And while Lerche's lyricism has been trending towards blending the lines between Lerche's id impulses and his Nordic charm, capturing "Violent Game" live does a better job of capturing the intensity. The depiction of moving on in "Soft Feelings" was largely introspective and pleasant, "Violent Game" has no such intentions. "Done tearing out my hair, I wanna tear you up/Done running from the sun, I wanna run you down." Lerche croons before the band surges forward to accompany his winning directness. Much like "Soft Feeling" there's a toss and turn but where Lerche veered between hopefulness and guilt, "Violent Game" is rooted in the visceral. Lerche has the upperhad here unlike the pleading "Soft Feelings". The shifts play with that dynamic; Lerche's dominant and the lines blur between anger and lusty with a dose of the fantastic and the surreal. As Please demonstrated even at his lowest Lerche is a lover not a fighter and "Violent Game" seeks romance even if it's a fevered, flawed one.

It's a set piece for both Lerche and band as they go absolutely balls to the wall and Lerche does more with his guitar in 7 minutes than some bands do on an album and it's hard to imagine how you can possibly follow up such a firestarter but "Violent Game" is only the penultimate song on the album. There's more to follow. And Lerche wrote pretty much an album's worth of material after it. I'm certainly glad Lerche eventually found a home for it as it's one of his most enjoyable songs and one that ostensibly bridges the gap between Lerche's self-titled, Please and Pleasure.

Sondre Lerche's eight studio album Pleasure is now out March 3rd. He's currently on tour so you can find out when he's coming your way as well as pre-order the record here.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Listen: Operator Music Band - "Creative Tube Bending"

My introduction to Brooklyn art rockers Operator Music Band is essentially the direct result of being invited to a party. Caleb from Lands & Peoples' new band Wae was playing a show and despite neither listening to their music ahead of time nor knowing any of the other bands I found myself down in a basement in Brooklyn watching a whole bunch of new music. Though each band was good and incredibly different in sound and appeal Operator Music Band stuck out due to their ability to make me dance. "Warned" ahead of time that their sound was rooted in/inspired by kraut rock I was incredibly delighted to find it so danceable. Though not necessarily a sentiment shared by the majority of the night's party goers as few others actually danced.

But if you take a listen to "Creative Tub Bending" there's no denying a certain toe-tapping appeal outside of the motorik beat. Though drawing influence from kraut rock it's not the band's only source and it's part of what makes the band interesting as they sit at the intersection of various influences and channel them through their own experiences and ideas.

Despite it's various moving parts, "Creative Tube Bending" proceeds with a simplicity and ease that belies both it's composition and subject matter. About singer Jared Hiller's experience with a benign brain tumor, the band keep things groovy and light enough that you never really suspect it's about anything all that serious. And that's where Operator Music Band lie too good to be disregarded and not taking themselves too seriously to be off-putting.

Operator Music Band's debut album Puzzlephonics I & II is out March 3rd on New Professor Music.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Listen: Johnny Flynn - "Heart Sunk Hank"

British singer/songwriter Johnny Flynn has traveled a lot of ground in nearly decade of  recording/producing albums. He's a man of many talents and varied interests and yet in "Heart Sunk Hank", the second single from upcoming fourth studio album Sillion, listeners learn there's deeper depths to explore. Flynn's music has always enraptured more by what he's singing and how The Sussex Wit sound than how they're recorded but "Heart Sunk Hank" with it's gramaphone-like tinniness shows that Flynn is willing to experiment with production a whole lot more than probably anyone's expected of him. Flynn's voice competes with lo-fi fuzz and twangy guitar lines. It's Flynn perhaps at his most performative - inhabiting the role of old school country singer a la Hank Williams and rewarding himself with applause when he reaches the song's end. And yet, Flynn's sincerity is unquestionable. It's the constant that grounds all of Flynn's poetic prose regardless of which styles he's tried on or what tales he's spun in the past and it's certainly true here. Flynn doesn't assume an affect outside of the production which oscillates in and out of clarity but very little, the listener immediately gets Flynn's intended effect in a way that's subtle enough not to distract from the song's other moving parts.

Johnny Flynn's forthcoming fourth studio album Sillion is out 3/24 on Transgressive Records.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Listen: Gilligan Moss - "Mirror Mantra"

Essentially just appearing in 2013 with one of the best dance tracks in "Choreograph" I've been a huge fan of Gilligan Moss to the point when they were slated to hit CMJ 2015 I attended almost every single set. Since the release of their Ceremonial EP that same year, Gilligan Moss have mostly kept to themselves working on a follow up occasionally sending out remixes like carrier pigeons to send news that they'll still at work. While it still remains to be seen when that follow up will make it's way into the world, the duo have a new track "Mirror Mantra" released as part of FoF Music's Up Too Early compilation.

Inspired by and written during mornings in upstate NY (where I'm assuming the now NYC based duo were on a writing retreat), it's a considerably chiller affair. Gilligan Moss' music has never felt particular overstuffed with beats, samples, and effects but "Mirror Mantra" feels far more open, more expansive and free than any of the cuts off Ceremonial. Their touch is light, hazy vocals filtering in like the rising sun through the bedside window. The most impressive feat is how the duo are able to balance that lightness in composition, brightness in feel, and the sort of questing nature of the piano melodies with beats that still manage to be dance-friendly. It's not an out and out floorfiller but there's an unescapeable toe-tapping quality that follows the song from beginning to end. Gilligan Moss have an ineffable knack for producing vibrant texture dance jams and even the mellower "Mirror Mantra" adheres to that: shifting to sepia from technicolor. Whether it's a one-off experiment or indicative of what's to come it demonstrates the duo are capable of a versatility that's bound to serve them well in the future.

Listen to Gilligan Moss' "Mirror Manta":

Gilligan Moss will be embarking on a tour with The Knocks. Check show dates and plan your next dance party here.

Listen: Holden Days - Eau Claire (ft Lofty Stills)

I'm a firm believer that bands you already like are an essential component in worthwhile music discoveries. Though mostly reliable in terms of playing with similarly enjoyable acts, occasionally an artist/band will cosign another and set you forth on discovering a new band to love. That's essentially how I stumbled upon Holden Days who not only was featured on previously featured artist Lofty Stills' EP but accompanied him to Nashville to help record and produce his debut full length album. The work of California singer/songwriter Timothy Jude Andrews, Holden Days offers music in a similar if not wholly congruent realm of Lofty Stills' folky dream pop. Or at least "Eau Claire", the first single from his upcoming full length album Cultivate, gives that impression. Aside from the single and a demo called "Here", there's not necessarily too much to go off in terms of Holden Days' cultivated sound.

But listening to "Eau Claire", it's not hard to see why Timothy Andrews and Lofty Stills' Luke Culbertson linked up. They're kindred spirits in sound and vision, downplaying little magical production moments that could be wonderfully expanded in favor of maintaining forward momentum. Culbertson's presence is deeply felt: his vocals capable of delivering emotive sweeps with seemingly little effort. Andrews is the Fred Nicolaus to Culbertson's Daniel Rossen and if the band's lineup is to be believed Holden Days' debut might feature more collaborations not just between Andrews and Culbertson but also Nashville based artist/producer Carson Cody. There's no telling what a collaboration not one but three singer/songwriters based in three different cities will sound like or how prevalent collaboration even is with Andrews project but "Eau Claire" is certainly enough to leave listeners intrigued and primed for more. Thankfully it won't be too long to wait and see as Cultivate's March 2nd release date is right around the corner.