Monday, December 26, 2016

All Around Sound's Favorite Albums Of 2016

I don't think anyone who pays any attention to music trends could've have predicted that after last year's terrific year that we were poised for another great year for music and yet here we are. 2016 offered up an absolute smorgasbord of releases for music lovers of every possible type: Rihanna, Gaga, and Zayn for the pop obsessed; ANOHNI, Okkervil River, Radiohead, for the indie lover; Beyonce, Blood Orange, and Solange for the politically minded. And yet this year, like almost every year, my favorite stand out albums happen to be ones that I felt were unfortunately overlooked. Considering how many good albums came out this year that's hardly surprising but hopefully this list of favorite album ranked in no particular order helps you find some truly great records that came out this year even if it's just a brief job down memory lane. Enjoy and as always feel free to chime in with your own.

Alex Izenberg - Harlequin
It's happened more times than I can count - an artist releases a single or several singles and either that single is the best song on the album by a strangely large margin or is just dramatically inconsistent with the songs on the album. In the case of Los Angeles singer/songwriter Alex Izenberg's debut full length Harlequin the singles "To Move On" and "Grace" do not prepare you at all for album in the best way. They paint a picture, intentionally, of your standard singer/songwriter crooning over guitar or piano with just the right amount of strings to ornament the song and give it added depth. And they're not entirely off base as Izenberg sets himself up to be just that but in an exciting twists glimpsed just barely in "Grace", Harlequin offers up something different: a wonderfully off-kilter experimentalism that finds itself in the wide majority of Izenberg's songwriting efforts. There's no attempts to hide it - album opening track "The Farm" sets the scene with dramatic string flourishes and highlighting Izenberg's distinct vocals. "Libra" and "Archer" inhabit that same realm of vivid dream-like imagery and its effectiveness heightened due to collaborator Ari Balouzian's arrangements. On Harlequin, Izenberg essentially breaks down many singer/songwriter tropes just by virtue of being himself - experimenting with sounds and textures as much if not more than his inventive lyricism.


Andy Shauf  - The Party
Perhaps the most surprising thing about Andy Shauf's latest effort The Party is just how steep his learning curve was that led to its creation. His debut full length The Bearer Of Bad News was the end result of 100 songs whittled down and still capable of forming coherent narratives and a cohesive flow. On The Party not only did Shauf work with far less songs but he aborted his original plans to record with an orchestra in favor of essentially handling the whole record himself while working although somewhat loosely in a concept. The Party succeeds on so many levels: the concept is simple but Shauf is able to do a lot with it: crafting characters and weaving tales that occasionally reoccur and intersect. His touch is light in every respect from the lyricism to the arrangement that it's immediately clear that's by design not lack of skill. It's impressive and engaging from start to finish and proof that Shauf is definitely a songwriter to watch.

Bayonne - Primitives
With an affinity for bedroom as well as experimental pop, I'm no stranger to loop based music and yet Primitives, the latest album from multi-instrumentalist/composer Roger Sellers, reinvigorates it in such a bold, yet understated way. The first album under his newly adopted Bayonne moniker, Sellers' manages to marry his study of minimalist music with pop songwriting and the result is a next level album that's intricate as well as exciting from beginning to end. Part of that is Sellers' own enthusiasm as he takes an active part in the layering and sequencing imbuing the electronic base with a live, human element that highlights the strengths in both while creating a sound that's new, exciting, and absolutely fascinating to dip into.

Big Thief - Masterpiece
My discovery of Big Thief is purely the result of their label Saddle Creek putting out releases from several of my favorite artists in the past that when they released the news that they were releasing Big Thief's debut album I made a note to check it out and I'm incredibly glad I did. Songwriting is nothing new to Adrianne Lenker and Buck Meek who in addition to making music on their own also had another project together, and yet there's something in the alchemy of the full band that pulls even more intriguing songwriting out of Lenker and Meek. It's hard to imagine "Real Love", a beautiful song just lyrically speaking, without the rock grit. Masterpiece doesn't just succeed on those harder moments but also its lovelier, softer folk moments.

Chance The Rapper - Coloring Book
After his amazing second mixtape Acid Rap, the only people who weren't eagerly anticipating not only its follow up but anything the man did next were people who hadn't heard his music before. From guest appearances on fellow Save Money members mixtapes to last year's Donnie Trumpet and The Social Experiment record, Chance The Rapper has been building up a golden reputation. Add an appearance on probably the best song on Kanye's Life Of Pablo "Ultralight Beam" and that's pretty much solidified it. Coloring Book finds Chance The Rapper in a considerably different place than he was three years ago and it shows. Coloring Book is a winning combination of fun and spirituality, social commentary and self critique. With an all star cast as well as highlighting some of Chicago's best up and comers, Coloring Book is a mature work of self growth. Chance is counting his blessings but literally and figuratively and sharing the fruits of his labor in a fashion that's downright celebratory. Each song paints a definitive picture of what Chance The Rapper's been up to for the last couple years and it's a joy to hear him return so absolutely triumphant. Label woes and brushes with drugs behind him, Chance The Rapper's Coloring Book celebrates the music, his city, his family and God in a way that even the most resolved atheist can get behind. In fact the most spiritual moments on the mixtape tend to be its highest points.

Esperanza Spalding - Emily's D+Evolution
Despite being a Grammy award-winning artist, Esperanza Spalding is an artist that certainly no one is talking about as much as they should be. Perhaps it's because she's a jazz musician and most people only pretend to listen to jazz? Whatever the case, Spalding put out one of this year's best albums in the form of Emily's D+Evolution. It's a concept record of sorts but even without really knowing the concept which is Spalding inhabiting an alter ego of Emily, it's a record steeped in imagination as well as talent. Separated from the live show which plays much like musical theatre and provides context, it's songs are still just as strong. Beginning with an ode to creativity energy, Emily's D+Evolution is an album of rich ideological ideas and inventive lyricism that uses its roots in funk and jazz fusion to move it along. Spalding tackles deep subjects on the album but in such an unpretentious way that it's easy for the listener to miss them. It's an album that reveals more about itself and it's multitude of wonders the more time you spend with it.

Jinja Safari - Crescent Head (Crescent Sun/Crescent Moon)
Though singer/songwriters Marcus Azon and Pepa Knight met and formed the jungle pop quintet Jinja Safari in 2010, it wasn't until 2013 when they released their debut self-titled. Sure they had released two EPs and compilation double EP in the years prior but Jinja Safari was a milestone moment for the band after several high profile shows and festivals. Unfortunately it also signaled a sort of beginning of the end, the band took a hiatus to work on side projects and otherwise alleviate industry pressures and expectations. When the band reunited they started recording the tunes that would form their double album Crescent Head.  Named after Azon and Knight's hometown and split into two parts Crescent Sun and Crescent Moon, the double album functions as love letter to the music they painstaking crafted, the fans that enjoyed it, and the band itself. It's deeply ambitious: Crescent Sun a collection of the more upbeat pop songs they're known for and Cresccent Moon a more restrained affair and yet it's masterfully done. Jinja Safari embody both the primal rhythms and jubilant energy and also making subtler, more mature musical choices. It's a shame it's their swan song since Crescent Head as a whole paints a picture of a band not only comfortable with their sounds and their choices but also a band that would continue to push itself in service to creating truly entertaining, enjoyable, and most importantly interesting music. It's a hell of a way to go out especially considering most band breakups don't come with such a thoughtful finale.

Kevin Morby - Singing Saw
Considering how practically flawless Kevin Morby's sophomore record Still Life was, I had high hopes for Singing Saw that even then were exceeded beyond my wildest dreams. Singing Saw finds Morby going grander and more cinematic with help from Sam Cohen of Yellowbirds refining his sound with effecting arrangements. Morby continues to be in rare form and his songs are as thoughtful as they are beautiful - capturing emotion stirring moments rather just telling interesting stories. There's a shift subtle as it may be in Morby's lyricism as Morby turns his gaze towards invoking a rich, balanced portrait of the human experience. And yet, there's still a little of both the reverential and referential in Morby as he calls back themes and subjects of Singing Saw on "Black Flowers" much like did on Still Life.

Kishi Bashi - Sonderlust
Perhaps the most enjoyable thing about following the career of multi-instrumentalist/producer Kishi Bashi is that none of his releases have sounded all that similar to one another. Sure two songs from his debut Room For Dream EP found their way on his debut full length 151a but were in an excitingly new context with newer songs. His sophomore effort Lighght somersaulted into Ishibashi's love of jazz fusion and prog rock and String Quartet Live! reimagined songs with string quartet accompaniment. Sonderlust is where Ishibashi hit the wall that so many artists normally hit between their first and second album. Where could he take his lush technicolored take on psychedelic dream pop while still staying true to his core sound as Kishi Bashi? The answer was inward. Ishibashi grounded his songs in his life and looked outside of his trademark violin gymnastics for inspiration. The result is an album rooted in real hopes and dreams that resonates. The sound is ambitious and yet not wholly detached from the jazz fusion and prog rock of Lighght. The lightness of tone and melody that characterized a lot of both 151a and Lighght is all but snuffed out returning briefly in the delightful album ender "Honeybody" and its use there is cathartic: the light at the end of the tunnel. Kishi Bashi believes in love and by focusing not only the bright butterflies fluttering feeling but on the actual work that must be put in to maintain it, Sonderlust ends up as an honest, sincere ode to it.

Lucius - Good Grief
Considering how all around great their debut record Wildewoman was Lucius had quite the task ahead of them avoiding a sophomore slump and less time to gather the songs to do so. But by staying the course even when they thought it would drive them insane, Lucius crafted a wonderful follow up that further expands their diverse sonic palette. The 60's girl group influence is still there but updated and not relied upon too heavily. Lucius focus on the real tumult and strife found in relationships to inform their songwriting and it elevates the moments of joyous celebration to ecstatic heights. Good Grief emphasizes the role of pain and struggle in making the moments of ease and comfort feel truly special.

Mal Devisa - Kiid
In this the age of the surprise album I think it's been forgotten that that's largely how music was released from less high profile artists. Indie bands that had no marketing budget, especially in the old Myspace days would just kind of release their music and hope that it'd reach the listeners that wanted it. And that's essentially how Mal Devisa released Kiid. Although truth be told it was a bit of an event among people who had actually seen her live and had been eagerly awaiting for her to release music. And Kiid doesn't disappoint. It captures Deja Carr's eclectic tastes and interests and offers them up in somewhat tidy package. Kiid goes from folky singer/singerwriter to fiery social commentary to deeply moving soul without ever feeling like it's trying too hard or doing too much. The album moves quick but it's not trying to lose you, Carr just has a lot to say and trusts your ability to keep up. It's a trust more art should have in its recipients and the result of that trust is a diverse offering of powerful songcraft.

Margaret Glaspy - Emotions and Math
I have a bad habit of ignoring music my friends are listening to until an embarrassingly long time after the fact. My introduction to Margaret Glaspy was an attempt to course correct. My friend Jeanette of The Miscreant/Miscreant Records have nothing but good things to say about her and so I jumped into her music around the time of her second single and didn't look back. Glaspy is an amazing singer, songwriter, and guitarists. What charmed me, aside from the absolutely infectious melodies she builds her songs around, was a kind of don't-give-a-fuck quality to her singing that reminded me of Fiona Apple's The Idler Wheel.... On that album in particular Apple contorted her voice: howled and screamed with no regard for sounding pretty. What mattered was a sincere portrayal of the emotions and Emotions and Math finds Glaspy embarking on a similar journey. It's a portrait of complex woman - a fierce badass still capable of being hurt and wanting to be loved.

Mothers - When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired
With singer/songwriter/poets like Laura Marling and Johnny Flynn ranking among my favorite artists, it's hardly surprising that upon learning that Kristine Leschper, the frontwoman of Athens, GA four piece Mothers, is a poet why their songs resonated so much with me. But while Marling's poetic lyricism tends toward vague realism and Flynn's often detached from the self entirely, the most enthralling aspect of Leschper is that many of the lyrics feel lived in. There's also the packaging: complex rhythm and intricate guitar riffs catapult quiet emotive moments into action. When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired tells many stories: of love wanted and rebuked, of crippling self-doubt, of those questionable choices we make despite swearing we know better and yet ultimately, it's one long quest of the self: of finding yourself within yourself and reckoning with it. That's why despite the album's numerous tales of fractured, failing relationships, it manages to be so hopeful and inspiring. Leschper's charted journey isn't about boyfriends and girlfriends - it's about disarming and reversing one of the album's first eye-opening lyrics: "I hate my body/I love your taste". By album's end the certainty of the self is all that's left; all that's real.

Wye Oak - Tween
The fact that Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack have elected not to call Tween an album while initially confusing probably aids in its digestion. Essentially a collection of songs they had no home for, the fact that they don't consider it a full length or even a EP enables a sort of lowering of expectations that seems unworthy of how good Tween actually is. Recalling both Jenn Wasner's other side projects as well as Wye Oak's growth in general, it populates a unique place in the band's history in that it paints a picture of Wye Oak in transition. It might be an album of experiments and yet it's clear both in their decision to release it and the fact that songs like "If You Should See" and "Watching The Waiting" have made its way onto their setlists that it's a work of strong songcraft even managing to flow despite its various changes in sound and tone. With the exception of "Out Of Nowhere" which functions more as a place setting piece, Tween is a veritable feast of rock pop stunners. Wye Oak might not consider Tween to be a proper album but they've approached its creation with the same innovation and ear for melody that's made favorites out of their other proper albums.

Honorable Mentions:
Adult Jazz - Earrings Off! EP

Anderson .Paak - Malibu

And The Kids - Friends Share Lovers

Angel Olsen - MY WOMAN

Christopher Tignor - Along A Vanishing Plane

Conveyor - Ready Not Ready

Damien Jurado - Visions of Us on the Land

Golden Suits - Kubla Khan

The Heligoats - Back To The Lake

Hiss Golden Messenger - Heart Like A Levee

Jenny Hval - Blood Bitch

Julia Jacklin - Don't Let The Kids Win

Kris Orlowski - Often In The Pause

Kyle Morton - What Will Destroy You

Laura Gibson - Empire Builder

Lucy Dacus - No Burden

Mandolin Orange - Blindfaller

Marissa Nadler - Strangers

Marlon Williams - Marlon Williams

Moses Sumney - Lamentations EP

Noname - Telefone

Peter Broderick - Partners

Pinegrove - Cardinal

Psychic Twin - Strange Diary

Radiation City - Synesthetica

Steve Gunn - Eyes On The Lines

Sur Back - Kitsch EP

Tiny Ruins - Hurtling Through EP

Tuskha - Tushka

Uni Ika Ai - Keeping a Golden Bullseye in the Corner of My Mind

Weyes Blood - Front Row Seat To Earth

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Pitstop: And The Kids

Sometimes musical discoveries come to you by happenstance and you immediately follow the lead and end up finding a band you're super into. Other times you have to be practically bludgeoned by suggestions before you actually pay attention and give the band a listen. Northampton quartet And The Kids are far more of the latter. Despite numerous appearances at my hometown venue BSP Kingston over the past two years, and even a recommendation coupled with a listen to "All Day All Night" from Eamon over at Small Plates Records as recently as last year, it wasn't until they announced a tour with experimental rock faves Palm earlier this year that I finally took the hint. Sort of. While I had plenty of time to acquaint myself with their music between the tour announcement and when they actually hit NY, I neglected to do so and experienced them for the first time live twice in one weekend.

And The Kids are definitely the kind of band that are worth seeing live first, last, and everywhere in between. Even whittled down to a trio, the group is insanely tight knit; their energy utterly vivacious. Their harmonies immaculate and their hooks effortlessly infectious. But their intense live energy would mean nothing if their songs weren't any good and thankfully And The Kids are making tunes that are so incredibly hard to pin down. It helps that Hannah Mohan's vocals are so distinct and so versatile - easily shifting from more meditative folk inspired numbers to the frenetic avant pop that makes up much of their sophomore effort Friends Share Lovers that they released earlier this year. That versatility applies to the band at large often switching gears in the midst of a song. That's perhaps one of the biggest treats of the band's songs - you're never quite sure where the songs will end up or how important some of your favorite musical moments will end up being. Where some bands aim for settling into familiar grooves, And The Kids push themselves towards bigger and bolder musical statements capitalizing on the momentum to pivot from moment to moment perfectly in tune with when to build it up and when to let it go. The result is songs that are rewarding to listen to that are distinct in their progression.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Listen: Incan Abraham - "In My Bones"

When last we heard from Los Angeles based pop rock outfit Incan Abraham they had finally put out their debut full length Tolerance after years of work and test driving the songs live. Tolerance's great success, apart from just being a strong collection of songs, was that it pivoted a bit away from the world music infused sounds of their Sunscreen and Ancient Vacation EPs toward a broader pop sound without shedding the elements that made the Incan Abraham such a worthwhile band to watch. 

"In My Bones", the first taste of new music since Tolerance was released a little more than two years ago, finds the band essentially continuing where they left off despite returning to the band's roots to write it and the other songs that'll make up their forthcoming album. Building on Guiliano Pizzulo's synths, "In My Bones" captures the anthemic feel and sentiment of Tolerance tracks like "Concorde" while nudging both their songcraft and lyricism forward. The song with its piecemeal development manages to achieve both a beautiful intimacy and the designs of its larger, more expansive sound. Where his guitar passes in and out of focus, Teddy Cafaro's vocals are resolute; giving the track much of its emotive power, a strength achieved more through its tender softness than pure blunt force and offered up as a rallying cry. 

Much like Tolerance relied on subtle musical moments to move it along, "In My Bones" is a subtler shift in both style and substance for Incan Abraham and one that certainly does pique my curiosity as to  how the rest of the band's new album will sound. Fortunately with Incan Abraham promising it next year it won't be too long before fans get the answer.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Listen: Sondre Lerche - "I'm Always Watching You Too"

Earlier this Fall Norwegian singer/songwriter Sondre Lerche released "I'm Always Watching You" a single meant to tide fans over until more news on Lerche's follow up to Please was available. While details are still forthcoming, Lerche's serving up another single. "I'm Always Watching You Too" takes after Lerche's most recent Despite The Night EP and Please remixes except in this case Lerche's the one doing the remixing. The remix/rework pairs down many of the overt poppyness of "I'm Always Watching You" and dials up the electronic experimentalism. Lerche's vocals get digitized on the verses while the changes to the choruses are peak Lerche with their skyward reaching vocal flourishes. Considering the song's subject matter of post-relationship digital voyeurism, Lerche's choice to emphasize the electronic elements is a logical step and his touch delightfully light. Rather than making any changes to the song's structure, Lerche instead merely takes the song from day to night, the bright pop melodies dimmed and slipped into more sensual dressings.

Sondre Lerche's new album Pleasure will be out next year. He's celebrating the album by returning to a more rigorous touring schedule next year. Check the dates here.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Pitstop: Yairms

On December 2nd I finally achieved one of my long standing show goals to see Athens GA experimental rocker Mothers live. I'd heard of them from CMJ 2014 but failed to see them both during that CMJ and on their subsequent NY visits. And yet despite their amazing set the most rewarding surprise of the night lied in one of their openers: a trio by the name of Yairms. Considering they've played shows with favorites Big Thief, Palm, WRITER, and Friend Roulette, I'm surprised I hadn't experienced them sooner. The now Brooklyn based band create a narrative driven blend of psychedelic folk reminiscent experimental rock. From the moment they started their first song of the night, it was abundantly clear Yairms was making music practically tailor-made for my interests: incredibly distinct vocals, infectious angular melodies, and curiosity piquing lyrical narratives.

There is, on their debut EP Part One, a delightful keen sense of self, a sidestepping of obvious songwriting tropes and song structure, and an innovative spirit that keeps the songs fresh even after numerous listens. While Yairms' only constant has been singer/songwriter Jerry Rodgers, there is a sense of collaboration as Rodgers enlists the help of friends to fill the ranks of both his live and recording outfit. That collaborative spirit is evidenced in much of Yairms recorded output - the drum parts provided by Andrew Hiller of Alhhla and taken up by Peter McLaughlin live are intricate and impressive: they're partly a showcase of sorts that still fit in perfectly with the songs. And that's part of Yairms appeal - the songs are complementary to Rodgers with no great pains taken to make them so. There is, even at their most frenetic, an ease and comfort and despite the fact that you probably haven't heard what Yairms is doing before there's an effortless feeling of familiarity that hooks you. They're pretty much guaranteed to become your new favorite band.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Listen: Landlady - "Nina"/"Solid Brass"

A couple weeks back Brooklyn based quintet Landlady announced The World Is A Loud Place, their newest collection of jams out early next year and solidified the announcement with not one but two cuts from the upcoming album. Turns out releasing songs in pairs wasn't just a one-off decision as we once again get a twofer in the form of "Nina" and "Solid Brass". Much like "Electric Abdomen" and "Driving In California", the juxtaposition of the two songs makes them all the more enjoyable. The fact that "Nina" and "Driving In California" come one after another is another piece of the puzzle of how the album might proceed but if I've learned anything from the quartet it's to expect only the unexpected. The fivesome are a wildly inventive collective and Adam Schatz's gift of pulling inspiration from anywhere and everything means the songs can be about pretty much anything and are all the better for it.

"Nina" is not the sort of song that gives up its secrets easily. And that's OK. It's enjoyable regardless of your ability to piece together Schatz references. Landlady have never been the type of band to retreat into mysteries and they don't do so here. "Nina won't you let me be a servant to your every word"/"Nina won't you let you be a servant to your every breath" are Schatz's only mentions of the eponymous vixen and your interest in deciphering her importance has a lot to do with how Landlady play with form on the track. After an establishing main theme of the chorus, the band shifts to a sparse cantering section filled with climbing guitar figured and alternates between the two before finally giving way to a completely new third section. Schatz's love songs have never been explicitly just that but "Nina" is handled with sort of reverence and the sense of storytelling that comes through at not just a lyrical but at a band level ensure that its sense of admiration is handled thrillingly.

"Solid Brass" forms a sort of counterpoint to "Nina" both in form and vision. The love in "Nina" in a galvanizing one based in respect in adulation and "Solid Brass" handles it's subject with a sense of fun and delightful subtlety like that of an inside joke. The choruses metamorphose; changing words but not melody eventually becoming an amalgam of all its form and connecting the ideas into one phrase accompanied by the cathartic entrance of a choir of voices and a modulation. "You won't be sorry that you met me/I talk too much but rest assured you'll hear it lower in the morning". There's a lot happening to make such a moment satisfying but the self-referential, repetitive nature of the chorus unfurling into a sensible distillation of the song's ideas is an impressive feat of lyrical sleight of hand.

Landlady's third full length album The World Is A Loud Place is out January 20th on Hometapes.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Listen: Salt Cathedral - "Unraveling" ft. Matisyahu

One of the most thrilling things about Brooklyn based Columbian electro pop duo Salt Cathedral is how they continue to push their sound forward without losing their sense of self. It's an all to easy thing to do especially in the pop realm where being able to pull from/pivot into different sounds and influences is pretty much expected but since the earliest days of the band and it's previous incarnation il abanico, Juliana Ronderos and Nicolas Losada have been able to retain something uniquely theirs even after they shifted from experimental prog rock quintet to just a duo.

"Unraveling" largely continues that tradition. Where previously released "Lift Me Up" and "Homage" were sample based b-sides, the production on "Unraveling" both resembles that of songs from their OOM VELT EP while also taking things in a different direction. Part of that may be in fact due to the nature of the collaboration with Matisyahu. Known for his spiritual take on reggae, the most surprising thing is how similar Salt Cathedral's penchant for tropical-inspired rhythms fits with Matisyahu's own style ensuring a collaboration that comes off as pretty effortless. Ronderos' vocals have always been the ace up Salt Cathedral's sleeve and though they're not as featured prominent as Matisyahu's riffs and raps, the moments the surge to forefront are enjoyable. Ronderos and Matisyahu's lyrics form an interesting parallel despite the difference in who they're addressing. Ronderos' are direct; a sort of aggressive nonconfontation "If you're looking to fight me, intermittently all I have for you is bread and flowers"/"If you're looking to bring me down, you won't find me, you won't find me at all" Ronderos offers lyrics that are such an active presentation of meeting animosity with love and positivity. Matisyahu's are intially more abstract but much more visceral. Delivered upward/internally, his lyrics are more appeals for strength to confront those challenges.

"Unraveling" shows off more of Salt Cathedral's versatility as it utilizes a different musical style and imbues with the bands own strengths as well as introducing other players into their orbit. Salt Cathedral's production in "Unraveling" is sure and confident enough to actively represent them as they allow Matisyahu to take the reigns and the main focus. It was a surprising step but one that ultimately succeeds due to the duo's strong sense of self. Whether the duo's upcoming forthcoming full length debut will feature more collaborations I don't know but based off how seamless their work with Matisyahu was, I have faith that others will stay true to the band's distinct character.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Listen: Landlady - "Electric Abdomen"/"Driving In California"

Thank goodness Brooklyn quintet Landlady with their increasingly unnameable genre of music keeps themselves busy touring. That was not only how I got introduced to them but also how I learned that their follow up to their pretty much immaculate sophomore effort Upright Behavior was done. I wasn't exactly sure how frontman Adam Schatz and his fellow co-conspirators could possibly top themselves but if I learned anything from Landlady's vivacious live energy and articulate, intricate songcraft it was that it definitely could be done it was merely a matter of when.

Though Landlady's new album The World Is A Loud Place isn't out until early next year, their new singles "Electric Abdomen" and "Driving In California" are more than capable of tiding us over until then. They're decidedly different in sound, subject matter, and message but unmistakeably theirs in sound. Considering the varied but also shared musical backgrounds of the band's five members there's never been any shortage of tight knit playing and ecstatic grooves but "Electric Abdomen" is a wonderful slow burn. It builds upon a steady pulse gradually incorporating not only the quintet but a group of guest artists (like a string quartet form from friends/collaborators) and yet as is their way they manage to effortlessly avoid too much cacophony despite its dizzying assemblage of instruments.

"Driving In California" meanwhile changes gears from the funk vibes of "Electric Abdomen", reminiscent of "Washington State Is Important" from Upright Behavior in sound not just references to places the band has been. Its change in sound is a bit of an ironic twist considering it swaps out strings for a brass and woodwind section. But "Driving In California" has some things in common with its co-single namely a steady run up to more spirited involvement from the rest of the band. It's an interesting take on the tour-inspired song/album as Schatz reveals a love of travel and awe for the little things that make each new place unique. Schatz also humorously shifts from place to place eventually undercutting his initially stated love with each subsequent place.

Landlady are one of those rare bands seemingly composed of all of the traits you're looking for in all the bands: infectious catchy songs that are also meticulously crafted and involved? Check. An incredibly present sense of self? Check. Lyrics that are intelligent but also easy to remember and sing-a-long to? In spades. If you weren't already excited about a new Landlady album just by virtue of the band's existence "Electric Abdomen" and "Driving In California" function as fairly easy sell on the matter.

Landlady's third full length album The World Is A Loud Place is out January 20th on Hometapes. You can pre-order the record as well as deluxe album bundles with everything from tees to patches now.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Lofty Stills Is Recording An Album

Arguably one of my favorite new discoveries of the year so far, Seattle based singer/songwriter/producer Luke Culbertson aka Lofty Stills released a self-titled EP earlier this year. The EP's only fault, in my opinion, lay in its brevity. Culbertson songs were fully realized and masterfully arranged and his brand of twangy folk, intimate chamber pop, and atmospheric dream pop were large and lush without losing any of its personal appeal and most importantly was just damn good. The EP cruises from brilliant melodic moment to brilliant melodic moment without ever lingering on its excellent songcraft. And then it's over. The EP had a cohesive flow but like most tasty treat is over far before you'd like it to be.

The good news is that Culbertson has every intentions of following up on the taster worth of songs with a full length album. And that's essentially where you come in. A few short weeks ago Culbertson launched the official Kickstarter to aid in recording the best possible version of his debut album. That involves Culbertson going to Nashville to record the album at Joshua D. Niles' The Chapel studio along with friend/collaborator Timmy Andrews of Holden Days and coproducing the album with Carson Cody. If fully funded Culbertson will begin work on the album as soon as December which puts the album release somewhere in Spring of next year. That's an exciting turn around considering two years deep into the project Culbertson has released six songs of beguiling intricacy. Considering Culbertson plays/records/produces all of his songs by himself, the added help (including real live musicians bringing his arrangements to life) as well as going into the studio with a prepared set of songs to work with practically ensures time well spent. Despite his studio aspirations I doubt that Culbertson's songs will lose any of the bedroom pop. It's an album I want, it's an album you want. Even if you don't know it yet. So head over to the Lofty Stills Kickstarter and make sure it's an album we actually get.

If you still need some convincing, here's another taste of Lofty Stills' previous output.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Listen/Watch: Alex Izenberg - "Grace"

Though his first single "To Move On" featured Los Angeles singer/songwriter Alex Izenberg prominently on piano, I've always assumed (mostly through his work on other projects/bands) that guitar was Izenberg's main instrument. "Grace" however offers up more of Izenberg at the piano and the results are positively stunning. Where "To Move On" flirted with pop conventions, "Grace" finds Izenberg with the spirit of a balladeer. Izenberg keeps his piano melodies simple while the arrangements get much of the flourish - cycling between pizzicatos and scene-stealing legato moments.

Where "To Move On" bounced jauntily to its own cathartic declarations of closure, "Grace" finds Izenberg once again in the route of romantic disappointment. Izenberg keeps his lyrics sparse but offers up the important parts of the narrative without affect. "The darkness had taken over me/Once I see her engagement ring" Izenberg croons with a pitch perfect air of melancholy. Much of the drama of his heartbreak is provided musically - the sweeping strings, the slight jar of how his chords hit.

It's composition is so natural that it's hardly surprising that for its video, that Izenberg and directors Nick and Juliana Giraffe (the same team behind Izenberg's "To Move On" video), opted for a straight forward performance of the track. It's gorgeously shot in beautiful church, softly lit and with the strings accompanying a piano bound Izenberg in the background.

 Some elements of the song's recorded form - namely its weirder, more experimental leaning electronic effects are gone but so too are its layer - its glockspiel, its vocal harmonies and the like are missing here but the effect is the same; revealing Izenberg's talents as songwriter in their purest form. It's enough to get me properly excited for the rest of Izenberg's debut and its songs that find similar inspiration in life's myriad of troubles.  

Alex Izenberg's debut full length Harlequin is out November 18th on Weird World. You can pre-order the album here.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Listen: Weyes Blood - "Do You Need My Love"

The music of Brooklyn based singer/songwriter Natalie Bering's Weyes Blood project has from its first moments occupied a space entirely at odds with the circumstances of its creation. From debut full length The Innocents, Bering has offered up music with a sense of hushed, contemplative quiet that managed to incorporate medieval modes and melodies and update them in a way that didn't insist upon its own cleverness. On her third album Front Row Seat to Earth and "Do You Need My Love" in particular, Bering pushes her sound forward while still avoiding sounding too modern.

Instead Bering effortlessly recalls the west coast psych rock/folk scene of the 70s without succumbing to the homage entirely. Album standout "Do You Need My Love" is bewitchingly cinematic: reminiscent of the closing credits of a spaghetti western. Bering does a lot with sparse arrangement/accompaniment - relying almost entirely on her power of her vocals and the strength of  her songwriting capabilities. Bering is able to imbue the simpliest words and phrases with emotional depth: "passion is the only thing/passion must mean everything" Bering sings in a way encompasses both a lovelorn appeal and also chiding derision both of the self and the nameless intended.

Bering's I's (as well as her you's) are formless but no less personal. Bering's narrative vagueness affords "Do You Need My Love" a universal standalone appeal without sacrificing any of its sincerity. Despite its universality "Do You Need My Love" also fits into incredibly intimate world of Front Row Seat to Earth.

Weyes Blood's third full length album Front Row Seat to Earth is out October 21st on Mexican Summer.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Pitstop: Uni Ika Ai

I was first introduced to Brooklyn art pop quartet Uni Ika Ai when I saw they were playing a show with Michael Hilger of Thin Hymns. A fan of Thin Hymns for several years, the idea that he was out and about playing songs albeit solo after the band went on a bit of a hiatus appealed to me. While I wasn't able to make it out to that show Uni Ika Ai's name stuck with me especially as I saw them paired up with other artists I liked and/or had covered like Cantina and GEMMA. In fact one of Uni Ika Ai's cofounders is Lucius' own Peter Lalish.

Uni Ika Ai fall into a subset of bands that are among my favorite to discover: those that evade genre classification. The foursome helmed by vocalist Mala Friedman encorporate elements of rugged experimentalism, psychedelic haze, and electronics occasionally coalescing in smatterings of infectious power pop. But there songs are never quite what they seem and their debut album Keeping a Golden Bullseye in the Corner of My Mind is an album that's as engaging as it is challenging.

Their most pop-centric songs like "Make You Better" or "Soft In Ice" aspire to more than being merely ear catching and like much of Keeping a Golden Bullseye... seem to prioritize taking the listener on an aural adventure. "Make You Better" arguably the most straight forward and simple the band lets itself get is a masterclass in the band dynamic. Building off Peter Lalish skipping guitar melody, Friedman's vocals rightfully take center stage but there's a delightful amount of interplay happening between the band. Undulating synths bow and bend with Friedman's cadence, the guitar goes off on these little embellishments before harmonizing with the synth, and the drums keep pace in increasingly interesting rhythmic figures. It's a song that provides plenty to latch on to even as it attempts to replicate a simple (though catchy as hell) pop song. It's the shortness track on the entirety of the band by a considerable margin (most clock in around 7 or 8 minutes) but there's no shortage of dynamicness in its composition.

Songs like "Is This Life" or "Already Dead" make the most of their longer run times pairing deliberately plotted narratives with intricate, layered instrumental performances. Despite its song construction being rooted in improvisation (Friedman and Lalish exchanging bits and pieces of ideas electronically while Lalish was out on the road with Lucius) every part of their longer songs not only feels vital but methodical. The fact that they apparently aren't is a testament to the skills of its members: all talented members of other bands before embarking on this newer project. Uni Ika Ai's music ideas seem properly developed, their creative trajectory of their songs all but certain but at no point predicatable. And therein lies the appeal of Keeping a Golden Bullseye... as it's both an expression of the artists' certainty in theirs skills even when they haven't particularly mapped out the particulars.

Uni Ika Ai's debut full length record Keeping a Golden Bullseye in the Corner of My Mind is out now and available for purchase either digitally or on LP/CD via their Bandcamp.

Listen: Emily Reo - "Spell"

photo by Brian Vu
It's been a little more than three years since dream pop enchantress Emily Reo released her debut full length album Olive Juice. In that time Reo has been hard at work on producing her follow up as well as actually touring a field testing some of the songs. For anyone who's been following Reo since Olive Juice, her new single "Spell" arrives with a contented sigh of FINALLY. Since premiering it in a session for Portals back in 2013, "Spell" has become a highlight of any Emily Reo live set and it's a definite treat that an official recording is finally going to be available to own.

"Spell" is easily one of Reo's most emotive and expressive tracks to date even through Reo's characteristic digitalized vocals. Reo's music has always sat at the crossroads between futuristic arrangements and stirring humanistic touches but "Spell" takes that and levels it up: pairing the lullaby lilt with a sparse composition that draws incredible focus not only to the beauty of its growing layers but to its lyricism as well. It's pastoral as well as touchingly human. "Time cast a spell on me, burn down the trees/Make me believe, feel something" Reo sings after a series of evocative nature imagery and its the first instance Reo offers of what the song is about as its lyrics become more rooted in the self; building and building until the repetitive pseudo-chorus "I can't feel anything/I don't hear anything". As the song reaches its emotional climax, there's a shift in the production, a crystallizing chime, the entrance of strings, and various effects that all threaten to overwhelm and overtake the simple chorus and Reo herself. Reo's voice endures the cacophony but when they're all that's left, they're stripped of their clarity repeating a different undiscernable mantra instead.  

Emily Reo is releasing "Spell" on 10" with b-side "Strong Swimmer" on October 28th via Orchid Tapes. You can pre-order the record now. In case you missed it, here's Emily Reo's brilliant (and seasonally appropriate) performance for Portals:

Monday, October 10, 2016

Listen/Watch: Sondre Lerche - "I'm Always Watching You"

After the released of his latest full length album Please, Norwegian singer/songwriter Sondre Lerche set out to work on its follow up. It was certainly a hard record to top: a break up record that never quite lets itself behave like the typical break up record. Several songs were omitted like "Despite The Night" which sort of focus on a different narrative than one Lerche was striving for and that along with a newfound love of dance music found many of the album's singles given the remix treatment as well "Despite The Night" being bundled together with several different remixes of the song which was a sort of remix of itself. But the party was soon over and Lerche isolated himself to get back to work on a new set of tunes. "I'm Always Watching You" is our first taste of what the new batch will possibly sound like and it's an interesting step for Lerche.

Lerche's always been able to spin deeply relateable tales of love even at its most intense (see Duper Sessions for Lerche's most deeply felt love songs) but Please's "Bad Law" was the first time Lerche really highlighted the dark side of that intensity. The fact that it was Lerche as his danciest was a surefire distraction. "I'm Always Watching You" continues more in that vein. Lerche does his best 80's send up as he put his charming spin on cyber-stalking. We've all done it. Whether its checking in to see how an ex is doing because you're curious or vindictive or still very much in love with them or the harmless bit of research you do when you're interested in someone new. Lerche's with you and he's made an anthem for it. And yet even to him, the darkness inherent in that behavior is apparent and he just goes for it.

The video directed by Johannes Greve Muskat plays like a thriller with hints and nudges towards it's twist without ever really beating you over the head with its reveal. In fact, its original shot of Lerche shot in soft light with kind eyes only for the color to drain and his gaze intensifies and he focuses in on the object of his obsession does a hell of a lot of storytelling in its simple change of tone. The rest of the video essentially chases that narrative lead - the sequence broken up with flashes of its conclusion occurring while you watch Lerche pine and his intended get increasingly bolder. It follows the format of the song's own twist as the chorus switches from "I'm always watching" to "I know you're watching". Lerche doesn't let himself off easy noting the questionable healthiness of his digital voyeurism.

The most exciting thing about "I'm Always Watching You" is not only does it ground itself in real experience but much like "Bad Law" it opens up Lerche's narrative capabilities and his storytelling options. Lerche's the narrator but these tales take up a life of their own where you can distance Lerche himself as the protagonist. After releasing probably one of the most personal records of his career, it's certainly a prospect that bound to be creatively reinvigorating. Sondre Lerche refused to wallow on Please and now, he's perfectly content with exploring material that might be at odds with his nice guy image. I can't wait to see where that revelation leads. Until then "I'm Always Watching You":

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Listen/Watch: Alex Izenberg - "To Move On"

If Los Angeles based singer/songwriter Alex Izenberg's vocal warble sounds at all familiar to you it's probably because you might've heard it in that of his experimental pop moniker Mirage. "To Move On", the first single from Izenberg's upcoming debut full length Harlequin and the first batch of music not released under an alias, tones down much of the calamity of Mirage's composition. Where Mirage reveled in the juxtaposition of sounds: occasionally harsh and abrasive, "To Move On" takes a much more ear catching approach to Izenberg's take on the singer/songwriter tradition.

Based around a piano, Izenberg's croon is as dramatic and showily vaudevillian as it is a delightful sincere extension of his personality. "You don't know what's it's like to move on" Izenberg offers and immediately a rush of a saxophone comes to solidify the assertion of his chorus. Frequent collaborator Ari Balouzan's arrangements recall Van Dyke Parks without totally cribbing his style. It's a melting pot of ideas and influences while also distilling those very things into a complete artistic statement. Izenberg's musical realms are all together his own even when channeling the creative spirits of his native Los Angeles.

It's a sort of love song but there's also a sense gleaned from the lyrics of news beginnings. "You don't know what's it's like to move on/from a name you despise, it's true love" Izenberg offers in the second part of the chorus. It's purposefully vague able to function as a goodbye to a relationship you've outgrown or in this particular case, possibly an alias Izenberg no longer wants to be tied to anymore. It's a kiss off offered jauntily and without much animosity, ambiguously tucked into a track that could just as easily be about old time flapper girls as it could a girl in the modern world.

"To Move On" is tame when compared to Izenberg's other music endeavors and yet, it functions as both a less jarring reintroducing to Izenberg's wonderfully weird style of experimentalism and also an infectious slice of pop that's aspires to much more than radio friendly ear worm. The music video directed by Nicky and Juliana Giraffe humorously explores the notion of persona as Alex Izenberg sits dressed in a suit, stoically preparing to eat his burger for a camera trained upon him. He doesn't particularly play to the camera but acknowledges it's presence; not wholly comfortable with it but not put off by it. It's a different approach than that of his more slickly dressed alter ego, who sings and dances, drinks soda from a bottle like he's in a commercial. It's a disconnect that's larger than that of the camera's other subjects: regarding the camera straight-faced at first before offering up flashes of personality often in the same shot. The two versions of Izenberg never intersect and the video ends with the straight-laced version, his task completed, tiding up and ready to leave giving a final look to the camera that's all business.

Alex Izenberg's debut full length record Harlequin is out November 18th via Weird World. You can preorder the album now.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Kishi Bashi - Sonderlust (2016)

Considering how tied to the concept of love the wide majority of violinist/composer/loop maestro Kishi Bashi's songs are, it's hardly a surprise that he would find himself creatively blocked when his own love life was suffering a sort of break down. From the tenderly emotive "Manchester" from his debut Room For Dream EP and subsequent reappearance on full length 151a, to the ecstatic giddiness of Lighght's "Philosophilize With It! Chemicalize With It!", love in all its permutations lyrically fueled Ishibashi and grounded his vibrantly colored blend of psych rock and orchestral pop. And after dealing with his writer's block, Kishi Bashi was able to channel that strife into his third full length studio album Sonderlust that essentially manages to pick things up right where he left them.

One of most exciting things about Kishi Bashi's albums - Sonderlust in particular is it shows a growth that's both in line with previous releases while aspiring to be more than just more of the same. Lighght pushed Kishi Bashi's sound firmly into that of his influences in prog rock and jazz fusion and Sonderlust gives the occasional nod to those influences without rooting itself too much in the sounds of Lighght ("Ode To My Next Life", "Who'd You Kill").

While songs like "Manchester" and "Bittersweet Genesis For Him AND Her" introduced darkness into Kishi Bashi's narratives to show the enduring appeal of true love, Sonderlust treats that darkness less as means of narrative shading and more as rooting his tales of love in reality. Real feelings of doubt, insecurity, and sadness. Sonderlust begins with "m'lover", a dizzying but sweet appeal for reconciliation that along with "Say Yeah" obscures their inherent melancholy with upbeat and engaging pop dressings. Even more overt songs like "Can't Let Go, Juno" and never quite forget to be pop songs first and foremost. It's not until penultimate track "Flame On Flame (a Slow Dirge)" that Sonderlust shows any signs of slowing down or toning down its pop mechanics. In this way Kishi Bashi creates an album that's a sort of cousin to friend Sondre Lerche's own breakup record Please: both seemingly operating under the rule that regardless of the intensity of emotion, how negative the feeling that wallowing heartbreak ballads simply will not do.

Sonderlust is essentially an album about putting in the work to sustain the honeymoon of Lighght and the fantastical first love of 151a. Through moving through the shade, its glitchy "It All Began With A Burst" recalling finale in "Honeybody" feels earned. It's the sun appearing in newly blue skies after storm clouds and the rain and Kishi Bashi's playful enthusiasm is infectious and cathartic. With "Honeybody", Kishi Bashi's creative woes and romantic strife appear to be solved for the time being and love wins out, surging to the forefront past the churning bile of the album's negative emotional displays. On record Kishi Bashi employs drums instead of the beatboxing he's done in his live show since ditching him cumbersome drum machine after his first tour and while he doesn't exactly enact that here, his cadence on "Honeybody" is perhaps the closest Kishi Bashi has gotten to the kind of music a beatboxing would feel at place in.

Sonderlust finds Kishi Bashi at his most electronic while still the orchestral pop flair that's become a core part of Kishi Bashi's sound. By focusing on the personal, Kishi Bashi has created a dynamic record that pushes his sound forward by circumventing the easy and predictable. Hardly surprising considering his past output but thrilling nonetheless.

Kishi Bashi's third full length album Sonderlust is out now on Joyful Noise Recordings.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Listen: Genders - "Never Belonged To You"

As Portland indie rock quartet Genders continue to unveil bits and pieces of their upcoming Phone Home EP one thing is becoming abundantly clear: unlike their debut full length Get Lost which was a culmination of years of playing and writing songs together, Phone Home appears to have a more definite theme. Not that Get Lost lacked the cohesion of a good album - it's songs all fit together if not lyrically than definitely in style but the time in between records has given the band a much more focused narrative.

"Never Belonged To You" essentially picks off right where first single "Life Is But A Dream" left off. However where "Life Is But A Dream" dipped into dream pop, "Never Belonged To You" is a much clear cut rock jam.  Where "Life Is But A Dream" relied on synths for textural padding, "Never Belonged To You" features Maggie Morris and Stephen Leisy's interlocking guitars. There's a push and pull both narratively and compositionally. Morris' lyrics turn from vague introspection to a downright warning: "Setting you up/gonna knock you down" before launching into the chorus and the guitars rise up like walls around her heart. "But I never belonged to you/I never belonged to anyone" Maggie coos and the lack of bite makes it a much effective siren call. Narratively Morris leaves you wanting more, never quite explaining why you're not good enough or even attempting a cathartic capitulation. Instead the band take up the task of crafting a satisfying conclusion as they embark on instrumental break that teases and expands the tracks main riff.

Genders' Phone Home EP will be out later this year.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Listen: Flock of Dimes - "Everything Is Happening Today"

Though she's been making music as half of Wye Oak with Andy Stack for the better part of a decade, Jenn Wasner's has her hands in many creative pots. Five years ago she released "Prison Bride", the first single under her solo moniker Flock of Dimes and while she's added a couple singles to the mix (as well as forming Dungeonesse with Jon Ehrens), she's returning again to the project and giving it a bit more attention.

Wasner may have kept her projects separate from each other but there's no denying the effect each has had on the others: after exploring her love of pop unabashed love of pop with Dungeonesse, Wye Oak returned with arguably their most pop-centric record in Shriek. But Wasner's solo project has been slowly undergoing a metamorphosis over the years. Finally readying a batch of tunes in the form of debut full length If You See Me, Say Yes, "Semaphore" and new single "Everything Is Happening Today" hardly resemble the bombastic, glitchy debut of "Prison Bride". The production is sleeker, if not necessarily glossier, and Wasner imbues the project with clarity and narrative depth.

Lyrically "Everything Is Happening Today" resembles "Watching The Waiting", the lead single from Wye Oak's recent non-album Tween, in its emotional inventory. That's hardly a coincidence seeing as they were both written around the same time Wasner relocated to Raleigh from Baltimore. But while in the Wye Oak track Wasner essentially relives her past failures unable to change the outcome, "Everything Is Happening Today" leverages the knowledge of those failures with an appreciation of the experience. It's beguiling both in its refusal to wallow in heartbreak pop tropes and a delightful sense of life-affirming hopefulness. Wasner sings of fragility with vulnerability but there's an unmistakeable strength that carries the track to its resolved chorus of "Everything that ever was is happening today".

Flock of Dimes' debut full length If You See Me, Say Yes is out September 23rd on Partisan Records. You can preorder the record now.

Listen: Living - "Risen"

photo by Simen Peder Aksnes Aarli
After being introduced to Living, the Norwegian pop trio helmed by producer Lucas de Almeida, earlier this year I've been eagerly awaiting their promised new single. "Cerulean" was a bath of warm dream pop that recalled both fellow Norwegians Young Dreams and balmy chamber pop of Los Angeles' Princeton in equal measure. I was hooked. And now after much waiting, the trio are offering up another new track as well as news of an EP planned for October. So the wait begins anew.

The first thing you notice about Living's new single "Risen", aside from its tabla samples, is it takes the sense of patient ease of Living's previous output and really doubles down on it. Aside from occasionally pairing things down to just the tabla, "Risen" luxuriates in its own vibrant, layered melodies. For the majority of its nearly six minute run time there's a sprawling sense of ad infinitum; waves crashing along the shore without need for conclusion. Its build toward its climax is subtle as Lucas de Almeida does a few laps around the pool before kicking things up a notch: his swelling vocals ultimately ushering in tabla-less coda. "Risen" is Living at their most subdued; almost balladic as they trade its infectious pop hooks for experimentalism and emotion. While "Florahedron" and "Cerulean" featured a sort of call-and-response with the self as well as significant instrumental breaks, "Risen" relies largely on its vocals to set its course.

Living's fourth single "Risen" is out now on Brilliance Records.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Pitstop: Armel Dupas

My introduction to the music of French pianist/composer Armel Dupas was due to the strange sense of serendipity that's become pretty commonplace in some of my most unexpected and most treasured music discoveries. A matter of happenstance found us sat next to each other at the record release show for Christopher Tignor's latest album Along A Vanishing Plane. At the bar with time to kill, Dupas struck up a conversation that went from stories of how we came to be at this particular concert to our musical interests and endeavors and an easy rapport ensured that we checked in after each set to discuss what we had just witnessed. Earlier in the evening Dupas shared that he was a musician and his interest in the pedal setups and gear of opener Patrick Higgins and of Christopher Tignor had me resolved to check out his music before he even offered information on where to find it.

What struck me immediately about Dupas' music, especially that of his most recent effort Upriver, was an incredible subtlety; a lightness of touch and a refreshingly sense of minimalism. Dupas' melodies are beautiful and free flowing but carry an ephemeral air. His use of electronics is sparse but effective often used for color than an actual composititional focus until its climatic use in "Sometimes I Need Some Time" and the interlude "Epilogue". Though Dupas has trained in jazz, his music transcends the genre while still applying skills and techniques he gained from it. Dupas has cited Nils Frahm as an influence but at times on Upriver, he more recalls Japanese pianist/composer Mashashi Hamauzu and his impressionistic lilt. Like Hamauzu, Dupas makes incredible use of space and silence as his melodies expand out like questions confidently asked and patiently awaiting their answer. The album effortlessly flows from one piece to another but not without each making a noteable impression. From sprightly opener "Les Plaines De Mazerolles" to the only vocal track "Aujord'hui il a Plu" to meditative closer "Upriver" no one song is the same but the album grows in such a way that none seem out of place and its end is wonderfully cathartic.

Armel Dupas is a gifted pianist, yes. But Upriver demonstrates a knack for arranging a rewarding musical voyage that's thrilling both in actual practice and its potential. Dupas evades easy definition while offering a collection of pieces that a brilliantly original. Upriver is a pristinely plotted soundtrack of nocturne's that's enjoyable and exciting in its presentation: effortless in delivery and engaging in its composition.

Armel's debut solo album Upriver is out now on Jazz Village.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Listen/Watch: Sylan Esso - "Radio"

After numerous updates that they were working on a new record, Durham, NC based electro pop duo Sylvan Esso are finally offering up a taste of their work in the studio with new single "Radio". "Radio" marks the first new bit of music we've heard from Sylvan Esso since they released "Jamie's Song", the track they wrote for Radiolab last year. But while "Jamie's Song" was somber ballad, "Radio" finds Sylvan Esso picking up right where they left off with their debut self-titled record and offering another winsome high energy dance jam. Nicholas Sanborn continues with his delayed gratification style of production as he stacks several layers on top of each other, slowly building the base before Amelia Randall Meath enters. It's a radio-friendly 3 minutes (no doubt intentional given its title and subject matter) but "Radio" seems longer than that and at the same time way too short. Sylvan Esso are in peak form: infectious, engaging, and fun while the production is delightfully simple.

Sylvan Esso are releasing a 12" featuring "Radio" and another track titled "Kick Jump Twist" on November 18th via Loma Vista Recordings. You can pre-order it now through Sylvan Esso's site. The duo will also be playing several dates where they've promised to play new tunes so catch them on the festival circuit if you can. They'll be playing Hopscotch next week, The Meadows and Treasure Island in October. Full list of tour dates are available at their site.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Listen: Young Dreams - "Of The City"

After releasing their impeccable debut album Between Places back in 2013, Norwegian power pop outfit Young Dreams more or less got immediately to work on their follow up before scrapping it and returning to side projects and solo efforts while other ideas percolated.  Guitarist Chris Holm put out his debut record Kilos as well as worked on/recorded new material with his other band Bloody Beach while multi-instrumentalist Matias Tellez produced several tracks on Sondre Lerche's seventh studio album Please as well as Lerche's Despite The Night EP and forthcoming follow up record. But after some time away the sextet are back with brand new single "Of The City".

While Young Dreams has largely rooted itself in a summery indie pop sound, Between Places and its supporting singles reintroduced the band as a far more arrangement heavy incarnation than their debut singles "Flight 376" and "Dream Alone, Wake Together". "Of The City" instead focuses in on the band's tropicalia and psych rock influences for a particularly groovy jam. It's a nimble gallop rooted more in synth tones than the band's previous efforts without completely redefining the band's core sound. The orchestral flourishes are more ornamental in nature and the Rune Vandaskog led track avoids layered vocal harmonies in favor of much more straightforward vocal delivery and interlocking grooves but the band's sense of musical escapism is alive and well.  Considering it was originally meant to feature choir and orchestra on the band's discarded effort, the rework of "Of The City" finds Young Dreams leaning more into dance and rock elements than the chamber pop of Between Places without losing any of its balmy breeziness. It's a decidedly different approach than originally intended but the finished work is a testament to Matias Tellez production talents. There's no
telling if the newly recorded replacement album will follow "Of The City" all that closely stylistically but it's a hell of a comeback that's guaranteed to help satiate fans until Young Dreams release their new album next year. Until more details roll out, welcome back Young Dreams.

"Of The City" is out today via the band's own new label Blanca Records.