Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Friend Roulette - The Matt Sheffer Songbook Vol. 1 (2017)

For perhaps as long as I've known about Friend Roulette since I was introduced to them from ARMS, the experimental chamber pop sextet have mentioned a desire to record and release a record of ballads. Considering it was sometime hard to round up their multitude of members, playing their songs as ballads was a tactic the band would often use if they wanted to play out but either drastically change the energy or compensate for a lack of members. They would mention the ballad record occasionally and the some time would pass and nothing came of it. Also many of their records both full length and EP would contain a ballad or two so fans were never particularly suffering from a lack of them. When Friend Roulette announced and actually released said ballad album earlier this year, I was a bit in shock. What with guitarist/singer Matthew Flory Meade starting a new side project and the members' various other commitments, I had never expected the record to take shape or at least not for it to be the next release after their rather downtempo Grow Younger EP. In fact, I essentially assumed Grow Younger was the ballad record even though "I Guess" and album ender "Kitty Song" are very high energy. 

The Matt Sheffer Songbook Vol. 1 is a tribute of sorts to their friend Matt Sheffer who is a fellow musician and is ultimately responsible for the Friend Roulette we have today. He was an ardent supporter of their music as well as a sounding bound and helped write "Viva Zyprexa", one of Friend Roulette's first songs, as well as part of "Kitty Song". Though not particularly a fan of the ballad, Friend Roulette have a knack for writing them in a way that has always resonated with me from as far back as "Or Belin" off their self-titled EP and the Matt Sheffer Songbook Vol. 1 is no different. 

Album opener "You're A Fox" is a touching love song where Sheffer uses grander and grander metaphors to express his love all the while still elevating the intended and appealing to their strong nature. Where "Joan" is a tribute of sorts to the Golden Age Hollywood actress/dancer Joan Leslie and details her struggle getting the sort of roles she wanted, she's referred to with the sort of absentmindedness you might have for a mundane piece of trivia.   

In listening to the Songbook, it occurred to me just how much Friend Roulette gained from Sheffer especially when I heard the newly recorded version of "Viva Zyprexa", as the sense of otherness that Sheffer and Matthew Flory Meade touch on essentially forms the backbone of much of Friend Roulette's output. While "Bacon and Raisins", a tale of being trapped in a would-be fight to the death with a home-invading spider, is not only the most cohesive Friend Roulette have allowed their narratives to be, it contains winsome melodic flourishes that the band often build songs on before drawing them in sharper, more abstract directions. 

It's not hard to see why songwriters Julia Tepper and Matthew Flory Meade were drawn to Sheffer's songs, though he's capable of writing straightforward songs, Sheffer is also capable of both non-linear narratives as well as touches of the surreal is his songwriting like "Snow Pea" which its shifting perspectives. The Songbook essentially gives a glimpse into the evolution of the sextet's sound. Stripped back, you can focus on the innovative lyricism and Friend Roulette's arrangements are subtle and sparse enough that they never threaten to obscure the lyrics. Instead they're held with a reverence that's befitting of someone so important to the band's core identity.   

Friend Roulette's The Matt Sheffer Songbook Vol. 1 is out now via Pretty Purgatory.

Listen/Watch: Son Lux - "Dream State"

Despite the occasional obtuseness of Ryan Lott's lyricism, Son Lux, the project of the now Los Angeles based composer/producer, has had a remarkable ability to resonate. This is largely due to the fact that Lott obscures the personal for the universal. As Son Lux has grown to include not only Lott but guitarist Rafiq Bhatia and drummer Ian Chang, both talented musicians/composers in their own right, that opaque quality has become more logical as the music could now be rooted to the collective experience of the trio. Lott has managed to avoid the distraction of personal mystery that is still incredibly poignant and sincere. But something changed around the time of the US election. He didn't say at the time but his response to the growing unrest not only in the US but the world over stirred something in him and Remedy, a four song EP whose proceeds were all donated to SPLC, was the result. But if I've learned anything from Ryan Lott, he always has more than and so several months later, we've gotten "Dream State", the first single from an upcoming Son Lux record that'll see its release early next year.

Brighter Wounds was written in the same head space as Remedy but with much more personal stakes: bringing a new life into the world in the form of his newborn son as well as watching cancer usher a friend out of it, Brighter Wounds is set to be Son Lux's most revealing album and "Dream State" doesn't disappoint. Without the context of its creation, "Dream State" is still as effortlessly arresting as any Son Lux song. Compositionally, the trio is still operating at the peak performance they honed in on as a live band touring behind Lanterns before Bhatia and Chang actually entered the fold on Bones. Everything begins subtly as Lott reminisces of times before having to wonder about how the future will play out. "We knew we were impervious no matter how we bleed", Lott croons, encapsulating the invincibility and hope of youth and as the song marches on with it's rush of shout vocals, the lyrics gradually change to reflect the newfound doubt and care. And yet much like "Change Is Everything" there is an overwhelming sense of hope that not only catapults the song but weathers the shifting landscape and contorted lyricism of "Dream State". Lott isn't a pessimist and never has been much for that sort of thinking and he's obviously taking stock of his new reality without sinking in to despair about it.

Much like Deerhoof's brilliant and political Mountain Moves, Son Lux are firmly of the opinion that even as things get unforeseeably worse that there are brighter times ahead. "Out of the dark day, into the brighter night" Lott and his choir of voices sing at the climax and its deeply felt. Things are uncertain now and uncertain as we age and wrestle with real responsibilities and real tragedies but in that uncertainly lies the glittering beacon of hope that things will right themselves in the end. It just might take a long, sobering look into the darkness and an unexpected amount of fortitude before it's possible.       

Listen/Watch the beautiful lyric video of "Dream State" directed by frequent collaborators The Made Shop:

Brighter Wounds, the fifth full length studio album from Son Lux, is out February 9th on City Slang. You can pre-order the record now.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Listen: Sondre Lerche - "Siamese Twin" (Solo)

Earlier this year Norwegian singer/songwriter Sondre Lerche played a special set at Pete's Candy Store where we played the songs of his newest record Pleasure. It was unknown to many of the attendees until after but earlier that day Lerche had cut live pressing of solo versions he would be performing later that night with Leesta Vall. It allowed fans to hear Pleasure in a brand new light as several of the songs shone more brightly or revealed more of their secrets in a stripped down context.

Though it was in line with his previous An Evening With concerts that he had performed before touring behind Pleasure in earnest, it was the first time many fans had to hear him play certain songs solo as he mostly stuck to older songs and the occasional post-Pleasure tune for the intimate series. Apparently he liked the idea and this Black Friday, Sondre Lerche will be releasing a limited edition pink vinyl of stripped down appropriately called Solo Pleasure.

If you weren't lucky enough to either be in New York for the Pete's show (which he also livestreamed), you can now hear what that might've sounded like before the album's November 24th release with "Siamese Twin". One of Pleasure's most straightforward and sultry cuts, solo the track still retains most of what makes it work so well on the record. It's a downtempo moment where Lerche gives listeners a break from the confusion, hurt, uncertainty that opens much of Pleasure and luxuriates in the simple feeling of a connection made. Considering much of Pleasure is obsessed with the body, it's a moment that balances both that and the cerebral as Lerche never really reveals his hand on it. It's not exactly established if it's an actual pursuit or merely a proposition. A thought that either is or isn't acted upon. And stripped of the various effects Lerche and producer Matias Tellez threw on it and essentially sung entirely straight, it's maybe more titillating because Lerche doesn't assume this character he does on the original recording/record. If anything, the solo version highlights how much the original isn't just about sex but about the pursuit or the desire to pursue a deeper connection with someone that you feel can or could complete you. 

The album will only be available on Black Friday RSD so make sure you check this list of participating Record Store Day stores and head on out to grab it.

Listen: Cosmo Sheldrake - "Come Along"

The last I actually heard from English multi-instrumentalist/producer Cosmo Sheldrake, it was when I had essentially followed him around CMJ 2015, he's since done a couple of dates in the UK but remained relatively quiet as he worked on his debut full length record and follow up to his Pelicans We EP. Now with a Europe tour with Johnny Flynn underway and his own headlining tour to follow soon after, he's decided to set free "Come Along", the first single from his aforementioned work-in-progress debut full length.

On his auspicious return "Come Along", Sheldrake essentially swings for the fences going the absolute biggest he can. There's a large grandiose build full of brass fanfare before everything dips out and Sheldrake's vocals enter. Much like his most exciting Pelicans We cuts, Sheldrake balances English folk and folklore references with polished production. Though his aim is dramaticism, that doesn't mean Sheldrake's lost his subtle touch and his builds are organic, his deployment woodwinds and glockenspiel in the quieter moments are spectacularly intricate enough that the first beat-heavy climactic peak is almost unexpected. "Come Along" essentially luxuriates in these ebbs and flows while Sheldrake uses them to display not only his mastery of typical pop songcraft but his more singer/songwriter rooted lyricism while "Come Along" itself is an piece of artful production. Sheldrake hears music in everything and much like his previous songs built on some unexpected and decidedly nonmusical element like rock-splitting on "Rich" or NASA captured sound of the sun in the appropriately named "Solar", "Come Along" features the sound of a vacuum cleaner in addition to an Armenian duduk and field recordings of people juba dancing in New Orleans all seamlessly stitched together with Sheldrake's own man-made additions. Sheldrake's manages to effortlessly weave his naturalistic influences and sample archivist tendencies with such precision that it transcends mere gimmickry, instead they're an nearly impermeable layer in his music that illustrate his innovation without distracting from his obvious musicianship.

Much like his musical setting of William Blake in "The Fly" or his Alice and Wonderland referencing "The Moss", "Come Along" is derived for a similar love of prose and poetry, with Sheldrake referencing heffalumps from A.A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh stories. Sheldrake's music is delightfully English featuring various winks and nods to staples of British culture but shifting the sense of traditional classicism into the modern day.

Considering how eclectic Cosmo Sheldrake's interests, inspirations, and influences are, there's no telling what his debut full length album will end up sounding like but based off Pelicans We and the incredible first offering of "Come Along", it will certainly be an innovate take on electronic music and I for one can't wait. Unfortunately fans of Sheldrake will as apart from confirming it exists, there's no news of when the album will drop. Until then though "Come Along" will do nicely. 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Listen: Makeness - "Loud Patterns"

While I was first introduced to Scottish multi-instrumentalist/producer Makeness through his collaboration/affiliation with former Leeds flatmates Adult Jazz, diving in his own music has been interesting enough in its own right. Releasing his Temple Works EP earlier this year, Makeness has provided an experimental take on dance music that ensure his songs are aural journeys not just hook-laden floor-fillers. 
"Loud Patterns", his first new single since Temple Works in June and his first on the Secretly Canadian roster, already shows Makeness' Kyle Molleson moving forward in terms of sound. While other artists might root around in a particular sound for multiple releases if not their entire career, Molleson's got his own ideas and those seem aligned with creating the type of music that is interesting for him to create. Maybe that's because he already has an outlet for his more pop-centric works through his work with Glad Hand. Whatever the case, there's no denying Makeness is not creating your run of the mill dance-pop. 

"Loud Patterns" doesn't eschew danceability outright, it's still very in line with the beat-heavy that Molleson's been pursuing since his Acid Dad 7" but it pushes his sound forward in a way that's not necessarily supposed to be pleasant to the ear. With crunchy guitar riffs, cacophonous cymbal hits, and an effect or two thrown in for good measure, the track is at times abrasive and others seeks to soothe. Molleson's plays around with the balance on "Loud Patterns" to essentially see what he can get away with and short of 5 minutes of harsh noise, he walks that line confidently. He also throws his vocals into the mix to add to the pop appeal that the song occasionally tries to upend. 

Listen to "Loud Patterns":

Makeness is going on a North American tour with Jungle later this year, dates available here.  

Monday, October 9, 2017

Pitstop: Kelsey Lu

While collaborations with Blood Orange's Dev Hynes and Solange and a recommendation from Dave at Stadiums & Shrines probably should've been enough to set me forth on a path of ravenous discovery for the music of Brooklyn based singer/cellist Kelsey Lu, it wasn't until seeing her live opening for Hundred Waters' most recent tour behind their album that I really took note of the clearly gifted artist. Both in person and on her record, last year's Church EP, Kelsey Lu communicates in a solemn, almost spiritual sense of quiet.

Despite her frequent collaborations with hip hop artist and perhaps because of her background as a classical cellist, Kelsey Lu belongs to an increasingly group of artists of color who subvert the stereotypical notions of what their music should be/sound like. Like Mal Devisa or Moses Sumney, Kelsey Lu's music is rooted deep down to its core in a folk spirit. It's soulful yes, but it's quiet and introspective with delightful lyrical narratives too. Armed with her cello, a loop pedal, and her voice, Lu's music is patient in its beauty and devastating sincere and her live set is a testament to those qualities. Lu decked out in a bold, knitted outfit, carefully arranges sprays of flowers before she ever picks up her cello or utters for her first word. Then she starts to build her loops in a manner both meticulous and seemingly effortless as she feeds off the energy of the room. It's absolutely captivating before she even lets her mouth open and when she does, it was enough to hush a whole room.

Kelsey Lu's music displays a beguiling reverence for space and how her sound exists in it. A religious background finds her peppering her lyrics with light references but ultimately her songs are soul-achingly human. The ethereal "Dreams", spritely "Time", and intense "Morning After Coffee" are essentially diverse depictions of a quest for connection. Actually, the predominant theme of Lu's music and Church in particular is about the inherent need of connection and they all tackle it a bit differently. "Empathy" about the need for love in general not just romantic. "Visions of Old": a beautiful tribute to Lu's grandmother, and the stormy "Liar" is less of a cry for help but a blunt, honest confession of not being ok in so many connotations of that word.

Lu is talented, that much is a given but her greatest strength is her sincerity. Her music is honest both about herself and others and seeks to resonate with you deep down in the core of your soul based on the similarities of the human spirit.   

Friday, October 6, 2017

Listen: Armel Dupas - "A Night Walk"

photo by Fiona Grimmeison
When a chance meeting brought me in contact with French pianist/composer Armel Dupas, my reward was the introduction to his wonderful solo debut Upriver. While he's more or less been touring behind that record since its 2015 release, he most recently announced its follow up A Night Walk. The record finds him assembling his touring band mates multi-instrumentalists Mathieu Penot and Kenny Ruby into a trio for the inaugural release of Dupas' new label imprint Upriver Records.

Despite his training as a jazz pianist, the most curious thing about Dupas' music both on Upriver and on the "A Night Walk", the eponymous first single from the upcoming record, is the fluidity of genre. Dupas' touch remains as subtle as ever and he's found collaborators that manage to engage with that same gentle touch when it would be easy to blow it up for a bigger sound. Penot who plays drums on the record and Ruby who serves on bass, help Dupas' to illustrate his veritable nocturne. Whether through the percussion or the swirl of synths (which Penot and Ruby are both skilled players of), there's a pervasive sense of introspective quiet. It's a walk to clear one's head. On "A Night Walk" Dupas' continues to blur the lines between organic and electronic sounds with an ease that is commendable. The piece, luckily, does not stay at the same dynamic. Though never losing either the effortless ease or sense of calm, the trio to push towards a sensible climax that sees the band becoming more involved with each other. Dupas also makes impeccable use of a more or less sudden switch up as everything comes to a seemingly finite conclusion a little more than halfway through. A steady synth hum is the only indicator that the piece isn't complete and when the band return - they're operating at peak energy and in a blissful key change. It's a piece that could easily go on for ages like the New Age drone in a spa but that use of the key change in all of it's glorious, triumphant nature signals a complete and deeply felt ending. It's a hell of an introduction to the Dupas' trio and curiously enough the track that Dupas elected to end the album with so everything leading up to this point is very much up in the air. Lucky for us, there's not too long of a wait before the rest of A Night Walk is available.   

A Night Walk, the first record from Armel Dupas' Upriver Records featuring Mathieu Penot and Kenny Ruby is out October 20th.

Listen: Living - "Calyx"

While Living, the project of Norwegian producer Lucas de Almeida, has largely defined their sound as dream grooves, their latest offering "Calyx" is probably the grooviest of their songs thus far. That's not to say that they've haven't been living up to their self-descriptor in their past releases. Much of their self-titled EP leaned far more heavily into the dreamier aspect of their sound while the singles releases since then "Glory" and "Path" have certainly galvanized their sound in an astounding way. But "Calyx", the newest of their previously standalone singles that the foursome will compiled into their debut full length album, hits peak groove. Not quite electro-funk, the song is begins with noodling synths but when the guitar riff enters at around 2 minutes in, there's a shift unlike any other Living track. Lucas de Almeida also immerses the track in darker textures than fans of the band have come to expect. "Calyx" uses samples from a previously unfinished song of de Almeida's but given new context - a full band and new ideas for sounds and textures, de Almeida was able to breath new life into it and transform it into not only a strong outing for Living but one of de Almeida's favorites so far.

Living's debut EP was good but if the band continue to exceed their potential with better and better songs like "Path" and now "Calyx", their debut full length album Absolutely will be an absolutely amazing ride. I can't wait to hear what other tricks the band have up their sleeve. Until then listen to new single "Calyx":

Living's debut full length album Absolutely is set for a 2018 releases. Stay tuned for more details.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Listen: Berlin Bar Hounds - "Heights"

It's been a bit since we've heard from former Jinja Safari member Jacob Borg's side project Berlin Bar Hounds but luckily for us the wait's come to an end. While most of Borg's output so far has made extensive use of his Matt Berninger-esque baritone, "Heights" offers up a new dimension in Borg's vocal capabilities. Though he rarely if ever sang as a member of Jinja Safari, with Berlin Bar Hounds its evident it wasn't due to lack of ability. "Heights" is Borg's strongest outing to date as he aims higher both in terms of his vocal register and the song's energy. It begins at a steady plod but gathers up steam that's sure to pull you in. Borg's project has largely been defined by a quiet, sparse calm but on "Heights" he goes full on indie rock subverting his characteristic tension/release with new bits and bobs like the use of samples and more dynamic builds. With the end of Jinja Safari firmly behind him, hopefully we'll be hearing a lot more from Berlin Bar Hounds as "Heights" is pretty indicative that Borg is widely capable of reaching his own great songwriting heights.

Listen to Berlin Bar Hounds' new single "Heights":

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Listen: Golden Suits - "Bad Timing"

photo by Sammy Goldfien
Though he released his follow up record to his self titled debut late last year, Golden Suits is back already with a new jam. "Bad Timing" is a jam in every sense of the word: following in his newfound Springsteen-esque sense of grandeur displayed on Kubla Khan. Despite the big licks and the aim-for-the-cheap-seats matter of size, Nicolaus' lyricism remains its equally relatable and intimate brand of strangely upbeat heartbreak pop. As he ponders what constitutes a missed connection: whether simply bad timing or something more self-defeating, Nicolaus paints a captivating picture of self-doubt and self-reflection that doesn't quite arrive at tidy self-actualization. It's aware but awareness doesn't always get you the girl. Or that's at least what Nicolaus offers up as the track gathers up steam and sort of snowballs into a delightful full band affair featuring back up singers and the like. It's not uncharted territory for Nicolaus but it's a definite show of strength for a man normally known for balladry.

Listen to Golden Suits' new single "Bad Timing" now:

Monday, September 25, 2017

Listen: Twain - "Little Dog Mind"

photo by Nina Westervelt
Last month Brooklyn based singer/songwriter Twain released "Solar Pilgrim", the first single from his upcoming album Rare Feeling. If I hadn't had the privilege of seeing him perform several of the tracks live the strength of the single would've been enough to make me deeply invested in the album. With the album release getting closer Mat Davidson has released "Little Dog Mind", the studio version of a song Davidson did for La Blogotheque that I stumbled upon after I first saw him last year when he was still firming up album details.

On "Little Dog Mind", Davidson turns his focus inward. Instead of ruminating on love like much of Life Labors in the Choir or wondering what lies ahead of him in the future/the afterlife on "Solar Pilgrim", Davidson tries to wrangle his wandering thoughts. It's a pretty universal feeling: catching your mind drifting to other things when you want to/have to focus on the task at hand and one that Davidson is probably intimately familiar with when he's trying to write songs. So he hashes it out with the offending party much like you might try to reason with a child or the song's titular "little dog mind". Davidson, who's probably best characterized by/as the heart, almost playfully chides the mind. He's aware he's in control but his method of authority is winsome persuasion: "You're just like a little dog running away from me/little mind I'll catch you every time" Davidson sings and it's sure to put a smile on your face. Davidson manages a beautiful balance of emotion and charm with an invigorating display of songwriting prowess that both utilizes and subverts typical conventions.

Twain's sixth album Rare Feeling is out October 20th on Keeled Scales. You can pre-order the limited hand-printed vinyl from Keeled Scales now and other editions (digital, CD, cassette) will be available on the release date. Twain is also playing several dates with Langhorne Slim later this week so make sure you catch him if you can.

9/26 NYC - Bowery Ballroom
9/27 Washington, D.C. - Sixth & I
9/28 Philly - Union Transfer

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Listen: Landlady - "Share a Tree"

After releasing one of my absolute favorite collections of songs earlier this year in third full length album The World Is A Loud Place, Brooklyn quartet Landlady have released a new set of songs: a cover of Al Green's "Love And Happiness" and an original song by the name of "Share a Tree". Unfortunately, the release comes on the heels of some pretty devastating news for the music industry in the passing of Those Darlins' Jessi Zazu Wariner. Though based in Nashville, Jessi Zazu fostered a sense of community that extended far beyond her city. Landlady have always stuck out to me as a band who go beyond the standard expectation of just releasing good songs and playing good shows but a band that really seeks to build a sense of community both among the musicians they come across and befriend and musicians they know already but also among showgoers new and old. A lot of that is in a similar spirit to Jessi Zazu and Schatz has shared "Share a Tree" in tribute to her. The song is for and about her and the somewhat tricky nature of collaboration in general and it has her personal seal of approval. 

Though it was written and recorded some time ago, it follows in line with Landlady's distinct of brand of dynamic soul pop. It's a song that is almost endlessly patient: padding along at a comfortable walking tempo. After nearly the length of a regular song, the band surges forward and the focus shifts from Schatz' narrative plodding to a sort of instrumental showcasing chasm where Schatz is freer to do emotive ad-libs and more actively engage with the rest of the band. It's a development section that's no doubt inspired by Landlady's time together and their actual ability to play together. It's probably much more evocative of the spontaneity of a Landlady live set than the band have leaned into before but really speaks to the subject matter as the band break out into an full on jam for nearly half the track. It's delightfully cathartic and hopefully as inspiring at it's intended to be towards motivating you to take stock in the simple joy of community. 

You can donate to the Jessi Zazu memorial fund with proceeds going towards helping her family with funeral costs and anything extra going to a charities that she supported. You can also grab "Share a Tree" as well as their "Love and Happiness" cover from Landlady's Bandcamp. And if you haven't already make sure you listen to Landlady's brilliant third album The World Is A Loud Place

Friday, September 15, 2017

Pitstop: Truth Club

I've always been strongly of the opinion that the true magic of a music festival lies not in the big name acts - the acts people know for a fact are good and enjoy but in the discovery of smaller acts that are perhaps far easier to miss. Hopscotch has made it both easier and harder to prove this assertion as they do a very good job booking so many interesting acts to so many interesting venues that you're torn between where you want to and where you should be. Raleigh's own Truth Club are a band I caught based purely on word of mouth from locals. When I asked everyone their plans for the penultimate day of Hopscotch everyone was sure to leave time in their schedules for Truth Club and I made sure to do the same.

The thing that intrigued me the most about the Raleigh trio lied mostly in the voice of singer/guitarist Travis Harrington. Among angular guitar melodies, surging tempos, and shifting dynamics, it's the one thing I found myself returning to and focusing on. Despite how many times you listen to any Truth Club song (and currently there aren't very many), you never quite get a sense of predictability from Harrington's vocal leaps. Truth Club sit at the intersection of pop punk and indie pop but never quite show their hand with where they're pulling influence in a particular song. Harrington's vocals are dynamic: whether their craning, or proceeding with a start-stop clip like a skipped stone they dictate essentially where the songs can go. That's not to say that the band aren't capable of truly intriguing instrumental moments: they are. Truth Club's song are made of an impressive assortment of these little memorable moments like the sudden cacophony in "Post-FOMO Life" or the drum hits that seem to punctuate the end of each of Harrington's thoughts on "Hi From C.A.". Despite their simple, standard setup, they play and write music with an air of maturity that's somewhat unexpected. Maybe that's due to past experience (Harrington was a member of Wilmington's Astro Cowboy) but one thing is clear: the band are sure to captivate from their very first note.

Truth Club's debut release Interest Meeting, released earlier this summer, is out now. You can grab it at a pay-what-you-want rate on Bandcamp.    

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Listen: Night Idea - "Perfect Water"

Richmond, VA quartet Night Idea are, like a lot of my favorite bands, a completely accidental discovery. Kingston, NY psych pop duo Shana Falana had invited me to a show of theirs at nearby Quinn's in Beacon, I went, and visiting openers Night Idea with their updated take on glacial, expanding prog rock instantly charmed me. The foursome displayed a level of technical proficiency obviously required for their genre of influence but their network of intermingling mathematical patterns erred on the side of accessibility. Their style of song construction allows you to see the various layers increasing in density in real time. 

"Perfect Water", the first single from their upcoming album Riverless, both builds on the band's established familiarity and tour-hardened precision while also making the most of effects that are enhanced in a studio. If you listen to the track through headphones or aloud through legit speakers you can hear moments of the band's diverse panning. 

"Perfect Water" also finds Night Idea at almost a full-on thaw. Their pacing remains creeping and furtive but there's no denying a pick up in momentum and surging intensity. On previous effort Breathing Cold, Night Idea balanced expansive prog rock odysseys with more radio friendly track lengths and "Perfect Water" essentially finds a comfortable balance between the two: an intricate full band showcase that dabbles in a similar avant pop sensibility to contemporaries like Palm or early SoftSpot. 

"Perfect Water" spotlights a Night Idea equally at home with their sound and capable of pushing it forward to display newer strengths. That bodes exceedingly well for Riverless and I'll certainly be anticipating how other singles feed not only into the concept of Riverless and the sudden drought that motivates much of narrative of the album but how Night Idea rely on their instrumental capabilities to flush out and intriguing concept. 

Night Idea's sophomore full length record Riverless is out October 13th on Gigantic Noise/Citrus City Records. CD/Digital copies will be available from Night Idea via Bandcamp while limited edition 12" pressings are available for pre-order now from the Gigantic Noise webstore here.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Pitstop: Glad Hand

One of the greatest thing to come out of Leeds outfit Adult Jazz (aside from their distinct brand of expansive, lush art-pop) is the fact that they have very talented friends whom they constantly try to uplift. It's probably the closest an outside listener halfway across the globe can get a sense of what kind of music scene Adult Jazz are a part of. While fans may have been introduced to Kyle Molleson's project Makeness not only through his place of several mixes but also through his collaboration with Adult Jazz's Harry Burgess "Other Life" last year, London foursome Glad Hand are another band worthy of knowing. Fellow school companions (and featuring Kyle Molleson of Makeness in their roster), Glad Hand make a sort of ephemeral, texture rich experimental pop that's not too far away from what fans of Adult Jazz are sure to be looking for. But Glad Hand are more than mere Adult Jazz soundalikes. While not quite as rooted in dance as bassist Molleson's Makeness, Glad Hand songs are prodded along their wide, cavernous expanses by interlocked grooves and singer/songwriter Declan Pleydell-Pearce's sinewy vocals give the songs much of its mutable character.

Their debut album Be Kind, released earlier this year, contains a collection of songs made up of intriguing sounds and timbres and percussion to create a sort of captivating mirage pop. Songs like "Been One Thing" or "Shape Your Fever Close" which brush right up against their pop sensibilities recall early Wild Beasts while tracks like album opener "Undone" is much more characteristic of the band and the album in its sumptuous slow burn. The album is made up of these incredible moments of quiet tension and release. There's dynamic musical peaks but each songs manages to be engaging in its own right and hold your attention even when there's not an obvious amount of things going on instrumentally that ultimately makes album ender "Eavesdropper" with its sparse, almost a capella opening feel well and truly earned.

One of Glad Hand's strengths is not only its synthesis of ideas but also the sum of their individual talents: Dan Jacobs' jazz percussion, effortlessly subtle production, and the elasticity of Pleydell-Pearce's enrapturing vocals. The most surprising thing about Glad Hand is not its subtlety but that they manage to create all these pockets of silence or open sound that draw you further in. Glad Hand are minimalists and considering their standard rock band setup the could easily fill all the space but they don't. The spaces, the silence, the slow unfurling of their songs and the lack of musical drama are what set them apart from other outfits like Wild Beasts. For Glad Hand not only is less more but it can be an obsessive and rewarding focus: like how a snare rolls can form the backbone of an entire song. Be Kind is a multi-layered album that reveals more and more of itself with each listen. It's a record that draws from progressive genres like jazz, prog rock, and occasionally contemporary classical to translate its lyrical subjects of the phantom self, unreciprocated love, and self-doubt musically into a swirling miasma of disorienting effects and sounds.

Glad Hand's debut album Be Kind is out now as a pay-what-you-want download via their Bandcamp. A physical 12" featuring "Shape Your Fever Close" and "Been One Thing" as well as remixes from Glad Hand's Dan Jacobs and Makeness is also available from Handsome Dad Records.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

AlhhlA - 8oNitsSidE (2017)

When I was introduced to Arizona based experimental artist AlhhlA earlier this year due to their affiliation with Yairms, one of my only real complaints about the band was that there was so little music available from them. I was sold on a single song ("Who Shall Lead") out of two possible ones on a split EP released in 2014, my obsession fueled by demos and live recorded concerts and now with singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Andrew Levi Hiller's plans to reunite with Yairms' Jerry Rogers to create/recorded new material he's seen fit to release a brand new EP he's been sitting on for some time and was only previously available as a tour-only cassette. 8oNitsSidE, AlhhlA's first release since the Yairms split three years ago finds Hiller demonstrating a wider expanse of sounds than at-home listeners would have gotten to experience.

"-_cLeArLiNes_-", the EP's opening track begins in a place of quiet dramatically different than the percussive, boisterous "Who Shall Lead" that introduced AlhhlA on the split. And yet its quietness is hardly indicative of its multitudinous layering. Hiller takes his time building its lush lilt as his own vocals combine with instrumental shuffling in a feeling akin to the sloshing of ocean waves. That wave formation informs much of the track as its swells softly build and recede in much the same way. There's also the fact that many of the effects are practically indiscernible. That's largely due to Hiller relying on different forms of recording and playback from old shareware to and old boombox and finally a tascam tape machine before being transferred to digital, "-_cLeArLiNes_-" almost seems ironically named. It's various parts a mesh of intriguing, augmented sounds as Hiller's sage-like voice cuts clear through cassette hiss. It's a move reminiscent of Son Lux: forming an interesting base rooted in intricate layering and unique sounds while letting his distinct vocals captivate and enhance the instrumental parts.

Second track "@@" however is much more familiar territory. Percussion and guitars anchor the track while Hiller's vocals function in several different ways: percussive staccato, a narrative flow, and craning ornaments. As much as Hiller experiments with timbre and effects, his voice remains his secret weapon: wispy but with enough weight behind it that its never in danger of getting overwhelmed by the myriad of other elements Hiller plays around with in his song's composition. Whether at a whisper or a shout: the timbre of Hiller's voice effortlessly informs all the other textures in AlhhlA's catalog.  Even in a track like "LoLoVe" which is a full on vibe showcase featuring a djembe, cello, and bowed saw, Hiller's vocals supersede. That's not to say that Hiller isn't capable of incredibly engaging moments outside of the sound of his own voice. "LoLoVe" expands not only Hiller's textural palette but his sound as well. A world music influence has existed at the core of most AlhhlA songs but "LoLoVe" takes it to its logical conclusion and even then with it syncopation and djembe loops Hiller doesn't rest on invoking that sound without filtering it through his own creative lens to guide not appropriate his influence. Also considering how entangled AlhhlA and Yairms at once seemed, 8oNitsSidE is an album forged in the distance between them as Hiller and Rogers took divergent paths. The EP relies on a completely different cast of collaborators (owing more to geographic distance than creative distance between Hiller and Rogers).  

8oNitsSidE is a wonderfully demonstration of just what AlhhlA have to offer and if you haven't listened to the songs on the aforementioned split, it serves as a pretty excellent introduction. The EP is varied but grounded in a consistent sound that is uniquely Hiller's. AlhhlA's music gets its sound from a number of aspects: the various transitions between analog tape and digital and editing, Hiller's fascination with augmenting sounds, as well as sense of creative storytelling that brings to mind bands like Le Loup or Akron/Family. Hiller crafts delightfully intricate textural meshes that he simultaneously works to shepherd you through. It's no wonder I was obsessed after one song as Hiller's songs balance an entrancing experimentalism with a subdued pop sensibility. The only thing keeping people from becoming fans of AlhhlA is time and if it takes three years between releases to get songs as good as those featured on 8oNitsSidE, I'm surely willing to wait.

AlhhlA's new EP 8oNitsSidE is out now and available for stream/purchase via his Bandcamp. All digital purchases come with three bonus tracks.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Listen: Twain - "Solar Pilgrim"

photo by Nina Westervelt
This is a moment I've been waiting for since I first saw singer/songwriter Twain open up for Kishi Bashi this past fall. "Solar Pilgrim", the first single from Twain's upcoming album Rare Feeling, has Mat Davidson's same doleful yodel and twangy guitar. Instead of drastically changing his style, he sticks to what he knows and explores different narrative possibilities. "Solar Pilgrim" essentially ponders the specifics of the journey Davidson's soul will take when he's gone from the world. It's a song about life, death, and the hereafter; frequently shuffling through each. Twain often sings of love but on "Solar Pilgrim" the love shifts shapes and forms: romantic love, love of the natural world, spiritual love. It's a love that's bigger than his body and that Davidson sees as lasting long after his physical body.    

Twain's third full length album Rare Feeling is out October 20th on Keeled Scales. You can pre-order the album on CD, cassette, or LP here.

Pitstop: Elisa

My discovery of Brooklyn based singer/songwriter/producer Elisa happened oddly enough through a series of pictures. Over the past couple months photographer Landon Speers aka Headaches has been sharing a number of pictures he took of her and as he continued to share them piecemeal, my curiosity grew more and more as a narrative eventually formed: Elisa Coia went from a nameless model to a mononym, and then the fact that she was a recording artist became clear after Speers posted a picture of her with Becca Kauffman of Ava Luna/Jennifer Vanilla and Ziemba. And yet oddly enough, it took my most recent obsession with the new Photay album to lead me to Elisa's music instead of following the breadcrumb trail of Speers' pictures. Listening to the Photay album led me to research the Astro Nautico label it was released on which is co-founded/co-run with electronic artist/producer Sam O.B. (fka Obey City) and Elisa features heavily on "Samurai", a single from his debut full length Positive Noise.

Releasing music under her actual name before rebranding much like Sam O.B.'s Sam Obey, she recently released an EP under the moniker Elisa. If I wasn't enamored enough by her vocals on "Samurai" (spoiler alert: I was), hearing "You Can Wear The Mink" which popped up next in the cue, cemented it. The track, as well as the whole Morning Again EP, shows off Coia's versatility. The track begins minimal with Coia framed as an old school chanteuse before the track fills and Coia's vocals become more modern. Coia's vocals are distinct and yet its style is not particularly easy to pin down: pop, soul, something wholly other. She shuffles through styles and the genres are fairly elastic. Lyrically, the tales Coia tells are fairly universal: love lost, heartbreak, trying hard to make something work. And yet Coia's songwriting and her vocals are refreshing. Or you end up with a track like the EP's title track "Morning Again" where Coia takes on the state of America and the constant bombardment with bad news. It's sardonic and yet sincere, an excellent example of when pop meets politics as the message is poignant but not too heavy to the point that it disables the song's enjoyable qualities and Coia's set it to a groovy beat makes it more easily digestible. It's heavy for sure: as she references specific news events and vague ones that apply far too frequently but the production is sleek enough that you can feel the emotion: the anger, the sadness but not be overwhelmed by the politics.

Take the dark textured pop of "You Can't Work For Love" with its visceral imagery and its explosive choruses and her counterpoint to  a typical pop song staple: love is hard work. On "You Can't Work For Love", Coia essentially argues the opposite. "You love like a Catholic, if it's bad must be worth it" she sings and it's hard to resist the urge to cheer. The struggle is often romanticized and Coia isn't having any of it. There's an ease that should come in a good, healthy relationship and she wants that. And yet, it's not delivered like a stinging rebuke but an affectionate unpacking of an insurmountable flaw. That's a consistent theme of Coia's Morning Again EP. The songs come from a place of love even when they're indulging in the darker, unseemly aspects of relationships.  

Elisa's Morning Again EP is out now. She's about to embark on her Back-To-School tour with Miles Francis.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Pitstop: Photay

A continuing point of interest for me has been the intersection of electronic and acoustic sounds: the interplay between mechanical and digital sound. It's what drew me to bands like Hundred Waters, Bayonne, or early Night Beds. The method of composition entwines these two radically separate ideas and blurs the line until you're not so sure what is processed and what is natural sound. Or at least that's what some of the best electronic acts have been able to do. Sometimes it's less about blurring that line and more about one informing the other. That's essentially what Photay's new album Onism sets out to achieve. Introduced to him through fellow ambient/chillwave artist Teen Daze, Onism was inspired by the nature documentaries on the 70s that largely relied on synthesizers.

It's an album at odds with itself: crafted in Brooklyn and other cities, a various national parks, and the Hudson Valley that Photay's Evan Shornstein calls home. The idea of Shornstein trying to rectify these normally conflicting places through his own electronic experimentation called me to Onism like a siren song. Unlike the electronic music I normally gravitate towards where it's hard to suss out just what is a naturally occurring sound and what is digitized/augmented, Shornstein relies almost purely on synthetic sound. Sure there's saxophone, cello, and even a balafon featured throughout the album but most impressively Shornstein seeks to capture a sense of place through the art of soundtrack almost. It's not about replicating the natural to conjure impressions of it, rather Shornstein takes the inspiration he feels from his forays into the natural world and let's it inform his sound. He's not trying to mimic or replicate, he's merely drawing necessary inspiration and filtering through his own lens. Perhaps the most surprising thing is how well this works and what makes a moment like "Aura", a rare moment of Shornstein actually singing, so effective. It's an album that even at its most bombastic strives for harmony and a sort of meditative calm. And Shornstein is adept at navigating these high energy moments and steering them into the sense of quiet that they all practically demand.

The most surprising thing about Onism: more so than how evocative Shornstein's ability to invoke these nature scenes in the mind's eye of the listener but how effective his ability to imbue even the most silent-striving moments of Onism with an engaging tension. Every moments on Onism is one of dynamic interest: a testament not only to Shornstein's talents in production but also of compositional prowess.

Photay's debut full length album Onism is out now on Astro Nautico.

Listen: Deerhoof - "I Will Spite Survive" ft Jenn Wasner

I've said it time and time and again but Deerhoof are one of the most innovative bands going constantly pushing themselves in different directions in a career that's spanned more than 20 years. After their last full length record The Magic was released last year I figured it'd be some time since we'd hear from them again or rather they would simple tour around that set of songs but in addition to being Joyful Noise Recordings 2017 artist in residence, they've also announced a brand new batch of songs.

Mountain Moves, their newest record, looks to be the band's most political. The band have been fairly vocal in this increasingly hostile political climate and Mountain Moves acts as a sort of response to America's fraught politics. It's also the quartet's most collaborative. Featuring artists like Lætitia Sadier and Awkwafina, Juana Molina and Xenia Rubinos, there's a number of unexpected guests that mesh surprisingly well. Despite the number of great singles released so far (there's been three and the album is out in 3 weeks time), my interest was piqued instantly by the mention of Jenn Wasner of Wye Oak/Flock of Dimes. While each band are distinct enough in their own right, I was incredibly intrigued to hear what a collaboration between Deerhoof and Wasner would sound like and it sure doesn't disappoint.

"I Will Spite Survive", the first single released from Mountain Moves earlier this summer, begins with a "Jessie's Girl" like intro before Satomi Matsuzaki enters with her saccharine vocals. It's a move synonymous with Deerhoof's oeuvre: pairing heavier rock moments with Satomi's feather light vocals especially as she sings sweetly of terrifying things and dark motives but it works exceptional well here as she coos the song's oft-repeated and most gripping lyric: "You could outlive your executioners".  Suddenly Wasner enters and everything coalesces into a wonderful harmonic moment: Wasner, Matsuzaki, and band are in perfect alignment and the effect is overwhelming. It's a song meant to rally for the tough fight ahead and it achieves this not in the high intensity, heart-thundering style of punk but rather in the universal, communal language of pop. Both Wasner and Deerhoof know their way around ferocious guitar solos and attention-grabbing distortion but "I Will Spite Survive" communicates through clarity and harmony. The lyrics are simple and memorable: repeated often like a protest chant; the instrumental interplay effortlessly layered but crystal clear and the harmonies are immaculate. The song is hopeful, but cautiously so in a way that acknowledges the difficulty of pressing onward and yet it's not handled like a slog. There's no dissonance: cognitive or compositional. Each phrase sung is reliant upon its neighbor either undercutting it or expanding upon it as the band helpful try to point you in the direction they think you should take: "Sleep at night, if you can stay alive". Each lyric is another call to rally: you can beat those trying to end you if you're willing to do the work. Earn your rest, celebrate. Deerhoof are able to convey a pretty poignant message with very little. And that's why a song like "I Will Spite Survive" works. It's catchy pop melodies and nimble lyricism are tailor made to endure.

Deerhoof's newest album Mountain Moves is out September 8th on Joyful Noise Recordings. You can pre-order the album in a variety of formats including limited edition blue swirl LP here.  

Monday, August 14, 2017

Listen: Elizabeth and the Catapult - "We Can Pretend"

photo by Shervin Lainez
If you follow Elizabeth Ziman of Elizabeth and the Catapult on any form of social media, the wait between her third full length album Like It Never Happened and her upcoming fourth album Keepsake might not seem like the three years that has passed between them. This is due purely to the fact that Ziman is one of the most open and engaging singer/songwriters and frequently shares demos and home recordings that it never quite seems like she's far away from releasing something new.

"We Can Pretend", the first single from the new Elizabeth and the Catapult album Keepsake, shows Ziman firmly in the midst of her consistent stride. Keepsake reunites her once again with frequent collaborator/producer Dan Molad and "We Can Pretend" essentially plays to the strength of Ziman and her other collaborators. Ziman is wistful but optimistic, hopeful but not delusional. Ziman essentially sings about upending expectations in search of something better; reveling in golden memories and letting them color your present situation. It's Ziman at her catchiest, Molad at his subtlest, and the result is a wonderfully crafted pop tune that is sure to rank  as one of your favorite Elizabeth and the Catapult tunes. Based purely on the strength of her previous output I was already looking forward to the new album but "We Can Pretend" has increased my anticipation by leaps and bounds. Luckily we're bound to hear some more from Ziman and co before the album comes out this Fall.

Elizabeth and the Catapult's fourth full length studio album Keepsake is out October 20th on Compass Records Group.    

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Listen: Moses Sumney - "Quarrel"

Well this is more like it. After years as essentially Los Angeles' best kept secret (in the words of Hundred Waters who introduced me to his music), Moses Sumney is making moves. He's been consistently releasing music for years but last year's Lamentations EP was by far his most anticipated release and now several EPs down, this fall will see the release of his debut full length Aromanticism.

"Quarrel", the second single from the upcoming album, is a melange of just what makes Sumney such a force to be reckoned it. It's a subtler vocal performance than other efforts and therein lies its beauty: it's a sumptuous offering of stellar arranging and slow burning builds that juxtaposes the spiritual with the secular. Though he often frames his songs as hymns, there's universality here. There's also the fact that nearly half the track is an instrumental outro of sorts that establishes Sumney's other multi-instrumental talents. Not quite as much of an outright jam as "Lonely World", "Quarrel" moves at a much quicker pace than songs like "Doomed" which luxuriate in their incantation like lyricism. But "Quarrel" follows suit with Sumney's other output in that it captivates from the start, the listener hanging on every coo and change of inflection. Sumney enchants with little effort and "Quarrel" perhaps the most verbose song he's offered is still a masterclass in less being more.

Moses Sumney's debut full length album Aromanticism is out September 22nd on Jagjaguwar. You can pre-order the album now.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Listen/Watch: Oshwa - "Off You Go"

Since the announcement and subsequent release of I We You Me, the follow up to art pop outfit Oshwa's debut full length album Chamomile Crush quite a lot has changed for the project: singer/songwriter Alicia Walter made the trek from to Chicago to Brooklyn and essentially reclaimed the project as a solo endeavor. While the shift has perhaps meant less in terms of mathy guitar parts, the project is no less weird and wonderful than they've been before. I We You Me ended up being an album of incredibly personal record full of beautiful cinematic moments and "Off You Go", the first new music from Walter since she's made Brooklyn her home, manages to marry Walter's one-woman band aspirations with the kind of life-affirming lyricism she strove of on her previous record.

"Off You Go", released right before Walter embarked on a massive cross country tour, is essentially a celebration of that spirit of independence; of taking your future into your own hands risks be damned. It's a subject Walter knows all too well and yet she frames it as a sort of rallying cry for those worried of the risk and in need of the support of someone who believes in you. "Didn't you know you were made to fly?" and that combined with Walter's lovely layered harmonies give you the sense of being catapulted into possibility. "Off You Go" downright levitates with positivity as Walter takes up the mantle of cheerleader both for herself and anyone in need of a friendly push in the right direction and it's awe-inspiring how Walter is able to musically set these feelings she's trying to stir inside of you.

The feelings translate easily into the accompanying music video,  directed by Anneliese Cooper and featuring choreography by Walter, Walter seems incapable of delivering her song's message with anything less and a big beaming smile of her face. From a solo dance number to a more involved number to strutting the streets of Brooklyn, Walter is pure contentment taking pleasure in every scene and shot of the video in a way that's as impressive as all of the various moving parts and different stages that make up the video. It's simple but Walter and Cooper and a crew of dancers make the most out of the simplicity and the result is something playful and fun but also downright interesting and enjoyable to watch.

"Off You Go" is definitive proof that Walter's still an exciting singer/songwriter and composer and that this next chapter might be her very best yet. Here's hoping it's not too long before we get to hear more.

You can snag "Off You Go" now on the Oshwa Bandcamp or through other online music retailers.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Listen: Wild Ones - "Paresthesia"

photo by Jeremy Hernandez
After the summer grooves of 2015's Heatwave EP, Portland indie pop outfit Wild Ones are back with a new single ahead of their sophomore album Mirror Touch. "Paresthesia", the first single and lead track on the upcoming album, finds the band trading in their funky guitar grooves for synth tapestries and a multitude of effects. Singer Danielle Sullivan is still the object of the band's focus: harmonizing with herself and running her vocals through reverbs and delays but the track remains a bright, pretty much straightforward jam despite its experimentation. It's a return of sorts to the textures that defined much of Wild Ones' debut album Keep It Safe while incorporating much of what the band's achieved since then. Since their debut, the band has formed into a solid, cohesive unit and that's true here even if the full band are utilized more subtly than a track like Heatwave standout "Show Me Islands". Named after the scientic name for the tingling feeling of pin and needles, there's a freshness in Wild Ones' sound as well as a pep in their step.

Curiously enough, it's Sullivan's attempt to frame a particular anxious time in her life in a positive context. On "Paresthesia", Sullivan takes responsibility for her anxiety causing her to pull away from everything and work through it. It's a pep talk of sorts as Sullivan's "This has got to be the last time" is more to herself than anyone. Underneath the sunny melodies and the quick pacing, Sullivan's taking an emotional inventory of sorts: she can see what she needs and what she wants but it's about getting there mentally as well as physically. While anxiety isn't really a thing you can just get over, Sullivan's clearly worked through the intense portion of it that caused her to become a shut-in and the poppiness of the single frames it as a winsome triumph of her spirit. "Paresthesia" finds Sullivan removed just enough that she can reflect on her feelings of fear in a way that they don't seem quite so scary anymore but still close enough  that she can still empathize with the kind of person she was in that state. Sullivan's lyrics are honest and sincere while never losing the sense of ease and fun that's such an integral part of Wild Ones' sounds. The fact that the band can tackle such a serious subject and make it so palatable bodes particular well for the rest of Mirror Touch and I certainly can't wait to see what the band have up their sleeves.

Wild Ones' sophomore album Mirror Touch is out October 6th on Topshelf Records. You can pre-order the album now.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Listen: Canon Blue - "Beholden"

Several years ago I was introduced to Nashville based singer/songwriter/producer Daniel James' Canon Blue project through Efterklang (a band he was a touring member of)'s recommendation of his album Rumspringa when it became a spotlighted album for Noisetrade. Even then the orchestral dance record had been out for several years and so while I haven't had to wait as long as some longtime fans, I still greeted the news of both a brand new single and album from James as welcome news.

"Beholden", the opening track and first single from Canon Blue's upcoming third full length record Lasso Yo, arrives six years after James' previous effort but he hits the ground running. It's a track very in line with the sort of lush, uptempo songs that defined much of Rumspringa but without the assistance of Efterklang or the blend of electronics and strings Icelandic collective Amiina. Without the trappings of James' very talented friends, his powers of production are much more obvious as he builds an intricate tapestry of sounds that eventual burst into a resplendent climax. James' emotive tenor makes a welcome return and the track's bright melodies almost make it hard to believe that Lasso Yo was a record forged from James' struggles with anxiety and depression. But some of the saddest songs come in most upbeat of dressings and though "Beholden" relies mostly on metaphor and storytelling, it's not hard to see how the introduction to James' psyche would strive to go down easy. It's a thrilling return and an intriguing first taste to an album no one quite expected.

Canon Blue's third full length album Lasso Yo is out October 6th on Temporary Residence Ltd. You can pre-order the album now. Digital orders come bundled with a Jamie Lidell remix of album track "Onyx".

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Listen: Blue Hawaii - "No One Like You"

Since I was introduced to them at their CMJ set at Glasslands, it's hard to believe that electro-pop duo Blue Hawaii haven't released a new record since 2013's Untogether. Though of course this probably has to do with Raphaelle Standell-Preston's main project BRAIDS hitting a massive creative stride with 2013's Flourish//Perish that they've managed to keep the momentum with. But today Blue Hawaii are back with a new single and a new album on the horizon. "No One Like You", the first single from their upcoming second full length album Tenderness, is a characteristic slow burn blossoming from its sparse vocal intensive opening to a vibrant disco-recalling jam featuring a strings and a multitude of interest synth effects. It grows into arguably Blue Hawaii's catchiest song. A companion of sorts to "Taste" off BRAIDS' Deep in the Iris, where "Taste" was a piece of self-actualizing self-admonishment, "No One Like You" sways between highlighting your partner's strengths and what they bring out in you and a sobering rejection of idealization: "What if I remember only remember the good times/Would I be lying to myself?" Raphaelle Standell-Preston sings and

"No One Like You" is a far cry from Blue Hawaii's debut Blooming Summer EP: an occasionally confusing tale of growing pains, simultaneous full of love with heartbreak seeping in at the track's most resplendent moments. "No One Like You" is essentially a song about growing up and of love filtered through the self. Even its most praiseful moments; its most praise-seeking moments, the track manages to keep the focus purely on Raphaelle Standell-Preston's emotions: what is she getting from this? How is she feeling? It's a pretty unique take on the standard love song formula which so often focuses on the external. It also happens to be an absolutely groovy number where Blue Hawaii are at their most danceable, club ready. There's no telling if Tenderness will remain as musically upbeat or as catchy but "No One Like You" is an excellent introduction to the upcoming album and brilliant welcome back for the duo.

Listen to "No One Like You":

Blue Hawaii's second full length record Tenderness is out October 6th on Arbutus Records. You can pre-order the record now through the band's Bandcamp.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Pitstop: Twain

photo by Samantha Skapin
My introduction to Twain, the project of Brooklyn based singer/songwriter Mat Davidson actually happened several months ago in October when he opened for Kishi Bashi's Webster Hall stop of the Sonderlust tour. Armed solely with a guitar and his incredibly emotive yodel, it was an incredibly captivating set. After the show I immediately sought to acquaint myself with Davidson's catalog while also biding my time until an announcement of an album that would feature a number of the newer songs he had played that night (namely an absolutely emotional wrecking ball of the tune by the name of "Georgia"). The wait is actually why I didn't rush to feature him right away: I figured with so many new songs an album would surely be on the immediately horizon and I'd prefer to talk about beguiling man and his brilliant songcraft then. However after catching him again opening for the incredible Big Thief, it occurred to me that there really wasn't any good reason to wait. Davidson's music is stunning in its beauty and needed to be shared. On record - Davidson employs a host of musicians to fill in the spaces and it was a somewhat startling departure from the raw force Davidson taps into for his solo live shows. The songs still contain the same touching lyricism but there's something to be said for his calm, more measured delivery instead of his rafter-seeking vocals that easily overtake every nook and cranny of the room he plays in.

A member of Spirit Family Reunion (a fact I learned only after seeing him twice), Davidson's music is rooted in much of the deep American music tradition that serves as their inspiration: namely bluegrass, folk, and gospel. Though guitar is his main instrument, he's equally well versed in piano and fiddle, and these factor into his album efforts. Davidson's music deal almost exclusively with matters of the heart: the feeling of homesickness when you've been on the road for a long time, the blossoming feeling when you catch your lover off guard, Twain  is adept in this regard easily balancing these relateable feelings and subjects with winsome, simple presentation. Davidson doesn't engage in any extra frills: rather his vocals so consuming in their fervorous intensity serve as both the window and the grounding element of his music. Much like artists like The Tallest Man on Earth or Mandolin Orange the anticipation between albums is less about expecting radical tonal departures but rather what new lessons his distinct voice will seek to impart. With an album completed, it hopefully won't be too long before we heard Twain's new tales of love and woe and I couldn't be more invested.

Until his next album is announced cozy up with Twain's previous releases including the his recently re-pressed Life Labors In The Choir which you can order via Davidson's Bandcamp. He's also on tour with Big Thief and I strongly recommend catching both of them if they're in your city - you absolutely will not regret it.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Listen: Living - "Path"

photo by Øystein Grutle Haara
Since releasing their first singles several years ago Living has gone from the moniker of Bergen based producer Lucas de Almeida into a full on full band endeavor. More so than on their debut self-titled EP new single "Path" is an explosion of their immersive tropical dream pop. Where de Almeida saw fit to sort of luxuriate in kaleidoscopic sound baths previous, "Path" kicks the energy levels up a notch as the track blasts off from it's very first note. The slow steady sprawl of songs like "Florahedron" and "Cerulean" are instead imbued with a forward momentum that's nothing short of breathtaking.

Living's songs are no less complex but it's beautiful music moments come at you faster and the band consisting of Sturla Kvernerg, Nora Tårnesvik, and new edition James Kalinoski of Flesh Prince makes the most of their live energy. The foursome harnessed this in previous single "Glory" and it's certainly good news that see that wasn't a fluke. The project has evolved considerably in the past two years or so and "Path" is a good indicator of what the band can sound like when it's firing on all cylinders. Hopefully the intricate nature of their song composition doesn't mean we have too long to wait before more Living tunes surface but in the meantime "Path" is more than worthy of a heavy amount of repeat listens.

If you haven't, listen to Living's previous single "Glory" released earlier this year and you can check out their brilliant self-titled EP via their bandcamp here.