Thursday, March 30, 2017

Listen/Watch: Aldous Harding - "Imagining My Man"

I was introduced to New Zealand singer/songwriter Aldous Harding through her touring with several musicians I already knew and loved like Andy Shauf and Tiny Ruins. I was immediately taken by Harding's bewitching vocals and her incredible anachronistic brand of folk. Her songs were simultaneously sparse but featured intricately paced narratives and just the right infusion of strings and harmonies. Though I was incredibly late to her debut (I listened to the Flying Nun re-release of her self-titled record in December), I've eagerly awaited the news of her upcoming album.

"Imagining A Man" is the second single from her forthcoming sophomore record and 4AD debut Party and it finds Harding moving in a decidedly more conventional direction. Where first single "Horizon" was both reminiscent of her debut while pushing her sound forward and her lyricism, "Imagining My Man" manages both to push Harding's sound forward and her lyricism inward. Where her tales on her self-titled seemingly belonged to bygone eras, "Imagining My Man" seems not only could it happen in the here and now but that it can effect you. Where Harding sang of love and fear in the form of hunters, beasts of prey, and hauntings, Harding presents a her love song both far more intimately and vaguely but in that vagueness Harding draws a compelling amount of drama. Harding has established herself as a gifted storyteller armed not only with an impressive, evocative vocabulary but enchanting sense of pacing and "Imagining My Man" is no different. The difference lies in Harding trying on a sort of different skin; that of a pop singer and it fits surprisingly well. Though those wondering if a lean toward pop might erase what made her so unique need only look to "Horizon" her previous single off Party to get the sense that Harding beguiling sense of mystifying eeriness is alive and well and making it's way out of Harding in increasingly unexpected ways. "Horizon" and "Imagining My Man" couldn't be more different and that makes my anticipation for Party all the most palpable. 

Aldous Harding's second full length album Party is out May 19th on 4AD/Flying Nun. You can pre-order it here.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Listen: SoftSpot - "Heat Seeker"

photo by Landon Speers
There are few bands making music as innovative and enjoyable as Brooklyn based experimental rockers SoftSpot and fewer still that are able to maintain the streak of excellent albums the band have essentially been on since debut full length Ensō. Next month sees the release of their third full length studio album Clearing and first single "Abalone" was an reintroduction to what the bands been up to since 2014's MASS. Since MASS the band has officially established themselves as a four piece and are certainly making the most of Jonathan Campolo's synth talents.

Singer/songwriter Sarah Kinlaw has always drawn inspiration from and weaved narratives through the most curious of places and "Heat Seeker", SoftSpot's second single from their upcoming album, is no different. Driving, insistent rhythms set the stage for the sensual reverie that is "Heat Seeker" as Kinlaw explores the boundaries of memory and imagination; dreaming and waking life. "I close my eyes and I can picture you so clear" offers the chorus before Kinlaw delivers one of my favorite moments of the song, a pointed question that properly conveys the song's blurred borders between real life and the fantastical: "Am I awake or am I dreaming now?". It never offers much in the way of answer and it doesn't much need to. On "Heat Seeker" the band are operating on a whole other level. Their melodies and hooks are insanely memorable, their interconnected is positively awe-inspiring, and the band are at their absolute catchiest.

SoftSpot have never suffered from the inaccessible density that plagues several art pop troubadours but much of the band's most winsome moments have been the reward of patient build up and cool downs. Both on "Abalone" and "Heat Seeker" that's hardly the case, the band offering up stellar musical moments right out the gate and then building on them with intricate layers that manage to swiftly support Kinlaw's ear-catching melodies. Clearing offers not only to be the band's most accessible work but their best, a direction of forward, visceral pop with intricate layers and intelligent construction that's sure to serve as a benchmark for the rest of the band's bold artistic choices going forward.

SoftSpot's third full length album Clearing is out April 7th on Arrowhawk Records. You can pre-order the album now and in case you missed it here's previous single "Abalone":

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Pitstop: Wae

If you're anything like me and have been waiting for news from Baltimore experimental pop duo Lands & Peoples then you're a bit in luck. While the project is still on hiatus, Caleb Moore and Beau Cole have returned to their somewhat abandoned side projects. Cole's resurrected Zu Shapes and Moore has started a new band by the name of Wae of which Beau is a member and put out his debut record Glimmer earlier this month. If you're looking for more of Lands and Peoples' loop based pop, Wae is a bit of a different speed. On Glimmer, Moore returns not only to his bedroom pop roots but also to recordings he's done several years ago and updates them into a coherent sound. The result is hazy, languorous rock pop with electronic flourishes.

Though he's assembled a competent live band to realize his compositions, the sounds on Glimmer are all of Moore's creation: recorded and multi-tracked onto a 4 or 8 track cassette. Considering that Moore's and Cole's musical compatibility is what essentially led them to form and continue Lands & Peoples from quartet into duo, it's interesting to see how the two's shared influences express themselves in their different projects. Providing to further be the musical ying to Cole's yang, Wae settles for more harsher, more jarring tones than Zu Shapes' silky dream pop while still striving for a similar softness. Wae characterized by dynamics leaps than Zu Shapes' gestating crescendos.

That's not to say Moore doesn't take his time. Though the majority of the songs on Glimmer clock in at around 3 minutes or less, Moore gives his songs adequate time to build and achieve his dramatic shifts by taking the scenic route. That sense of patience is what enables the heavy, psychedelic "Too Much" and all its grand pauses and elongated phrases. Glimmer is an album of continuous push and pull; brief winsome moments of pop goodness balanced with longer, cerebral moments of instrumental cacophony.

Wae's debut album Glimmer is out now on Friends Records.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Listen: Kevin Morby - "Come To Me Now"

When Los Angeles based singer/songwriter Kevin Morby announced his latest album City Music early this morning I was incredibly surprised. The man had released his third full length album Singing Saw, a wonderful collection that celebrated the solitude of his simple living out in California, a little less than a year ago. To think that Morby could immediate come off that collection to offer another was mind-boggling yet non completely out of the ordinary for Morby. His first album Harlem River was followed just as swiftly by sophomore effort Still Life. And yet one assumes with all the touring Morby's been doing that a record would be the furthest thing from his mind. Enter City Music. The album is offered as a counterpoint to Singing Saw.

"Come To Me Now, the first single from City Music, begins with an organ swell; an addendum to Singing Saw's plentiful auxiliary instruments. With the exception of the organ, "Come To Me Now" follows a familiar thread of composition for Morby, it builds with an impressive amount of patience as his band member flutter in and out of focus like birds (with craning angular melodic lines that recall bird calls).  Though "Come To Me Now" is essentially a call for companionship, there's no missing both in its wide expansiveness and also several key phrases a sort of inherent loneliness. "Ain't got no friend in a world so big/Ain't got no family, ain't got no kin" Morby sings in one of the initial verses and it makes his efforts to connect that much more compelling. Morby's change of setting is subtle gleaned in cast-off phrases and the percussive clang of what sounds like pipes being hit.

Where Singing Saw proceeded like a stroll through nature, "Come To Me Now" finds Morby at a distance far removed. He's singing from a rooftop or a window above a city he doesn't much care to know; singing of the pleasures of nature in a place where it's only a memory. The narrator essentially refuses to engage and reaps his own forced solitude. It's an interesting way to start an album inspired by the city from a man who has called many cities home and it sets up a bit of intrigue as you can't help but wonder how the narrator will change and grow if at all along the album or if "Come To Me Now" is merely a one-off with different points of view to be explored. Who's the say but I certainly am hooked.

Kevin Morby's fourth full length album City Music is out June 16th on Dead Oceans. Pre-orders are now available here.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Listen: Kikagaku Moyo - "In A Coil"

I was introduced to Japanese psych rockers Kikagaku Moyo last Fall at their Manhattan show at Berlin when they were in the US touring their third full length record House In The Tall Grass. The most exciting thing about Kikagaku Moyo, despite their absolutely trance-inducing nature of their music was undoubtedly the blend of typical psych instruments (guitar, bass, drums) with sitar and organs. The result is an incredibly immersive quality as the fivesome build intricately woven layers that lend themselves naturally to prolonged jams. "In A Coil", the first single from their upcoming Stone Garden EP, finds the quintet working more abrasive edges into the meditative style that encompassed much of House In The Tall Grass.  On "In A Coil", Kikagaku Moyo are rougher up, amping up the blunt force behind the repetitiveness of their interlocking melodies. Though there are vocals, they blend into the mix, offered more as another textural layer than a real point of focus. Despite it's driving beat that propels it forward, the quintet balance some of the space rock zen with a immediacy born of improvisation and their ingrained spirit of experimentation. "In A Coil" pushes the bands' sound forward while highlighting just how riveting a listen the band is in the first place; able to encapsulate the duality of old and new as the band takes their influences in classic psych, folk rock, and even Indian music and channels them into something intriguingly unique and not entirely capable of labeling. They're a band after my own heart and hopefully yours too.

Kikagaku Moyo's Stone Garden EP is out April 21st on Guruguru Brain. Pre-orders are available for both digital and vinyl here.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Listen: Feist - "Pleasure"

Earlier this week Canadian singer/songwriter Feist announced her follow up to 2011's Metals in arguably the most understated way possible. The announcement wasn't accompanied with any taste of what was in store just a sort of vague intimation of what she had been up to and confirmation that the rumors that new music would be coming this year with a definite date of next month. Yesterday, much like the lead up to Metals, Feist released a series of teaser videos (albeit this time of classic films) featuring a snippet of the yet to be announced single and finally we get to hear more than a 5 second snippet of the chorus.

Described as planting a seed of brightness by its title "Pleasure" and its eponymous album finds Feist is a considerably different emotional state than many of the break up pop that made up Metals. "Pleasure" is a bit of a slow burn: starting from completely silence and getting more and more rambunctious as it builds to the cacophony of its climatic finale. Much like her initial announcement where Feist described the two sides of pleasure: mild and fleeting or deeply felt and lasting, she toys with both sides in the single. "Get what I want and still it's a mysterious thing that I want" Feist coos initially after nearly a minute of build up. "I, and you are the same and either fiction or dreaming we know enough to admit" and just like that she sets up the chorus and the rest of the song, describing similarities and commingling feelings and the escapism that togetherness brings. It's simultaneous romantic and also deflating. Feist does a surprising amount very swiftly. After constructing an evolving song with a patient building block like cadence, she basically knocks it all down like dominoes while giving only the briefest of hints at what's coming. "We became our needs" Feist sings and then quickly moves on and then suddenly things surge up and the chorus is all that's left; overpowering in its intensity: "It's my pleasure, it's your pleasure" warps solely into "It's my pleasure" as Feist and her guitar take center stage and stomps and claps rise up to meet chants of "Pleasure! Pleasure!". It's certainly a way to make an entrance and the lead track from her upcoming album sure does a heck of a lot towards making me even more excited for the rest of the album. Luckily for us the release of Pleasure is but a month and some change away.

Feist's fifth studio album Pleasure is out April 28th on Polydor.

Friday, March 10, 2017

All Around Sound Is Turning Seven! - Day 4: The Deloreans

As mentioned earlier in the week, an unintended theme for this year's blog birthday contributors is that they're all artists we've covered while All Around Sound was pretty much in its infancy (Genders wasn't quite but they previous project Youth however was). Today's contributor, Louisville rockers The Deloreans, are one of the first bands of the batch that we covered and our love affair began with them after being played a track of there's by Sam of now defunct blog MiddleClassWhiteNoise back when was still a thing. It was a love whose flame was fanned by fellow Louisville native and longtime fan Zach of We Listen For You. He assured me The Deloreans were a band that had to be seen to be truly enjoyed and by convincing them to come to New York for CMJ quickly proved himself incredibly right.

Since our initial meeting years ago on the streets of Manhattan while Zach sang their many praises, we've managed to stay in touch and even frequently discuss classical music with multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Jeremy Perry and guitarist Loren Pilcher. Though asking them to contribute in All Around Sound's birthday was pretty much a given, it was also a matter of timing and thankfully the stars aligned and they could participate. Jeremy Perry crafted a mix and gives us the run down:

One of my very favorite pieces of music from 2016. Erik Blood's string arrangement and calculated production at first seem to be diametrically opposed to the raw lyrics and tossed off vocals by the brilliant OC Notes. But this is one of the best matches of seemingly-opposites that you'll find. The respectful honesty of OC's words is extremely effective from a literal standpoint, while the rest of the track underscores the emotional complexity of the sentiment.

This track is a few years old yet I keep coming back to it. Matt Meyers really found something with this track in terms of melodic/harmonic and lyrical timing. Lyrically, I'll think of a different interpretation every time I hear it - but every interpretation is something. With only a guitar and vocals on this track, Meyers doesn't have production to hide behind - the great thing is that he didn't need it.

Probably one of my favorite songs that has come out in the last few years. Great lyrics and timing all around. Plus,it's one of those songs that seems like not many people 'get' it so it seems even more special to me. 

If you haven't heard of this artist yet you certainly will. He was just nominated for a Grammy and is getting a lot of nods from the upper echelons. There are plenty of hits and perfectly-spun pop tracks on his debut album but this shorter track is my favorite.

I thought I had heard enough songs where it seemed the rather lame desire to recreate the vibe of Dylan's "Lay, Lady, Lay" were the raison d'être. Even if it was the case I really like this track from this band who I don't know much at all about.

I don't know a lot about this group other than I think they are from Lexington, KY and that I heard they aren't playing anymore. But that's a shame. This track is much more effective at reaching towards subversive anti-pop than most attempts. Also it seems that the type of band that makes this kind of music doesn't typically end up with a vocalist this good.

These guys are from Chicago. This track is older for them but it's a great one and I come back to it quite a bit. Listen to how they wait until almost the end of the song to hit the top of the track's dynamic range. Not a level of patience you'll find much. It makes me drive faster for some reason.

Someone wrote my band Deloreans an email saying our singer (me) sounded like the singer for The Associates. I had never heard of them and curiously looked them up. This is the first track (a Bowie cover) I listened to. I immediately loved it. But only in my dreams can I sing as great as this guy - I wish. This is also a case where this band truly made their own version of the song. There is nothing similar. He creates his melodic phrases, the arrangement is quite sparse and modest, the guitar solo, or rather moment is one of the most interesting things I've heard for a guitar solo.

Like most people I listened to a lot off David Bowie this past year. This track is the one I probably played the most. He recorded this in Philadelphia and hired out some local vocalists to sing the backing parts.

Thanks to Jeremy and The Deloreans for contributing to this year's blog birthday celebration. If you haven't listened to The Deloreans brilliant second album "American Craze" I highly recommend you do while the rest of us wait for the follow up that's sure to be just as special. If you have: listen to it again. It's a masterpiece worth revisiting over and over.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

All Around Sound Is Turning Seven! - Day 3: Wild Ones

Much like previous contributors Genders who's mix went up earlier this week, Portland's Wild Ones were a discovery I made through fellow Portland friends Typhoon. In fact both Wild Ones and Genders' former band Youth went on a west coast BFF tour together and that's essentially how both bands came to my attention. I even emailed them for info at the time since at the time they didn't have a bio. Wild Ones, similar to Genders have undergone a number of changes since I happened upon them but one thing has remained the same: they're still making sweet synth pop jams helmed by their amazing frontwoman Danielle Sullivan. Their debut full length Keep It Safe was an instant favorite, "Show Me Islands" from their Heatwave EP was our song of the summer for two consecutive summers, and their upcoming sophomore record is one we're eagerly awaiting.

Considering how thoroughly invested we are in their new record, it seemed pretty logical to ask what they were even listening to. The result was a mix from Danielle that in her own words is "is pall over the damn place". It's an eclectic mix in the best way pairing Danielle's love of pop (both mainstream and of the indie variety) with innovative songwriters and even a little world music. Enjoy!

Thanks to Danielle for sending us this rad mix and here's hoping it's not too long before their sophomore record is ready to release and subsequent tour. If you haven't seen Wild Ones live yet, I highly recommend rectifying that.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Pitstop: AlhhlA

A couple months back when I saw Yairms live I went hunting for music for them and brushed right up alongside AlhhlA without realizing what was happening. You see, Yairms and AlhhlA are two projects that are basically intertwined in a way that it's virtually impossible to encounter one without discovering the other. In addition to putting out a split record back in 2014, Yairms and AlhhlA essentially share members and have been known to tour together quite frequently. And yet they're decidedly different projects. Where Yairms filters all their experimentalism through a folk rock lens, visual artist/drummer Andrew Levi Hiller's project is a lot tougher to classify. The best way to describe Alhhla would probably be percussion heavy art pop but even that isn't necessarily always true. "lo-love", the newest track since the split recalls the dreamy otherworldliness of Levek and similarly avoids the very notion of genre. It's a sprawling piece of intricate layering.

"Who Shall Lead" is probably the most pop leaning of AlhhlA's oeuvre and even so it's more due to it's pulsing tribal-esque rhythms than it's following any of the conventions. Featuring everything from loops and samples to angular guitar notes, the bulk of the melodic work rests on Hiller's vocals as the guitar as well as an effect incredibly reminiscent of a sitar mostly form a mesh of intriguing timbres. It's surprisingly infectious, staying with you long after it's spiraled off into silence like a desert caravan.

Despite having wrapped up a tour with Yairms, there's no telling when we'll get to hear new music from AlhhlA but one thing is clear: Andrew Levi Hiller is making music that is as fascinating to listen to as it is wildly unique. He's definitely an artist worth paying attention to and though his available output is unfortunately quite sparse, it's definitely worth coming into contact with.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

All Around Sound Is Turning Seven! - Day 2: The Heligoats

A rather unintentional theme of the bands that I tapped to participate in this year's blog birthday is they all were written about in my blog's second year. But unlike first contributor Genders, Chicago's The Heligoats were making music long before I discovered them. While I discovered them in 2011 from a NPR Tiny Desk Concert they did months earlier, singer/songwriter Chris Otepka had been making music both as The Heligoats and as part of Troubled Hubble well before I was old enough to discover what cool music even was. Perhaps the fact that Otepka's been making music for almost two decades has something to do with it or perhaps it's just that Otepka personality steers him toward pretty innovative and astute lyrical observations. Whatever the case The Heligoats make music that's both wonderfully familiar in sound and surprisingly unique in composition. Their camping themed concept record Back to the Lake was an engaging listen full of unexpected twists and turns. When someone is able to make music both as enjoyable and as fascinating as The Heligoats I wonder what kind of music they're even listening to. So I asked. And thankfully Chris Otepka delivered and gives us a play-by-play. Enjoy his mix!

Happy Birthday to All Around Sound! Endless Pitstops forever! Thanks for inviting me to the birthday party. And thank you for the love you've given us through the years and for all of your service spreading the love.  It was great to meet you this past year at Silent Barn!  Hope to cross paths again soon.  Here's to many more years to All Around Sound!  Happy B-Day!  I am not going to bog this party with a lengthy playlist, but rather a few significant samplings from my recent adventuring.  I know I may be revisiting some artists you've already covered, but that seems unavoidable, provided the power of your radar.  

First up, friend rock, Chicago dudes, Meat Wave just released The Incessant on Side One Dummy this past week.  Produced by Steve Albini, a tight three piece, with short, raw, powerful songs. So good.   

Good god, Caveman! From New York! The only time I've seen a band, having never seen or heard of them before, to wake up the next day with a song of theirs in my head.  Delicious, melodious, rocking, and nice dudes to boot.   My band, Troubled Hubble got to open for these guys a couple weeks ago at Gas Fest in Davenport, IA.   It was a great time, and this band killed!  

I love Palehound. Dry Food came out at the end of Aug 2015, and I think I listened to it about 142 times in 2016, if I'm doing my math right. It is truly impossible to pick a favorite song from the record. Healthier Folk is so sick! Cinnamon, Molly, the whole record is so good. To be honest though, the song that got me first hooked on Palehound is from their 2014 Bent Nail EP "I Get Clean'. Go see them March 22nd at Sunnyvale!

My roommates are virtual pillars of the progressive rock and metal community and some of the biggest music fans I have ever known in my whole life. Knowledgeable headbangers. Husband and wife, Heather and Justin, beautiful people, tour managers and drivers for bands like Circus Maximus and Evergrey, from Sweden and Norway, crew members of Prog Power USA in Atlanta, GA, and always introducing me new bands, sounds, songs, scenes. One band they work with stands out more than any of them, Pain of Salvation, from Sweden! Just released their 9th studio album, The Passing Light of Day, which has stuck with me and has had me diving backwards into their previous, and sometimes completely bizarre prog rock back catalog. The new record is so tight, so focused and very powerful, if you're into that kind of thing.  I saw them in Detroit as they passed through the Midwest on tour last week.  It was an honor to meet them. I love their drummer, Leo Margarit. Brilliant.  

I installed 800 sq feet of pergo flooring in an attic this past summer over 3 days, listening to nothing but Mother Mother.  They're a band from Vancouver, BC and are on tour right now and I think they're fantastic.   I discovered them on CBC Radio while living in Port Angeles, WA for the past 8 years.   Their "Oh My Heart," record from 2014 is full of some of the best written folk, gaze pop I've ever heard.   Great band, very cool songwriting.  I always go back to Mother Mother. 

I also always go back to Laura Veirs.  This is one of my favorite things on all of You Tube in case you wanted to know.
I could go a million places from here.  I've recently been revisiting Rilo Kiley's "The Execution of All Things," and have found it having a very positive effect on my days. I listen to a lot of rap. Kendrick Lamar & Mac Miller's "Fight the Feeling," has been on heavy rotation through my days. Vince Staples, Childish Gambino, Tribe Called Quest. MF Doom has been one of my favorites for a long time and someone recently posted the SadeVillian mash up on You Tube, I hadn't heard it before a couple months ago.  It's pretty great.   

Sometimes I fall asleep to this:

And sometimes I fall asleep to this:

Saw her at Empty Bottle in Chicago this past summer. Unbelievable.

Finally, everyone should listen to Mascaras, from Portland, OR.  Second finally, everyone should see Mascaras, from Portland. Lastly,  support Mascaras from Portland.  Any chance to see or hear Papi Fimbres play drums should be taken seriously.   That is all for now.  Happy Birthday, All Around Sound!  
Love, Chris
Thanks to Chris for his awesome and incredibly eclectic peek into his listening habits. If you haven't for some weird reason make sure you check out The Heligoats' pretty spectacular discography and stick around for more mixes later this week.

Monday, March 6, 2017

All Around Sound Is Turning Seven! - Day 1: Genders

This year this blog All Around Sound will enter it's seventh year of operation. I say this every year but looking back I never would've anticipated the blog running this long at it's inception. It's insane to think that we're still here in our little corner of the internet especially when so many of the other blogs we've featured here in the past have gone by the wayside. Nevertheless we're still trucking and we will be for quite sometime. We're offering up another year of our birthday mixtape spectacular. 

Every music writer longs for that one band that they knew before anyone else. One of my absolute favorite bands that I essentially got to see form before my very eyes (albeit from across the country) is Portland's Genders. Stumbling upon their previous band Youth with it's heavy beach rock vibes and watching the transformation into psychedelic experimental rock that's pretty definitive of their current sound has been a treat. Genders have grown into a fairly mighty band so it only made sense to reach out to them to help us celebrate another year of being around especially since we've written many a love letter to their continued growth. 

Genders' Stephen Leisy is up with the first mix of week inspired by the band's touring:
Hey Dante,
Here's a mix. Not too much theme or backstory, but all the songs remind me in some way of time spent on the road or just hanging with my bandmates. Most of all the bands on this list (with two exceptions) are bands we've played with, been inspired by, and sung along in the van to. Happy Birthday All Around Sound! 

Thanks to Stephen and Genders for contributing and being in an awesome band worth covering. Stick around for other contributions throughout the week. 

Friday, March 3, 2017

Listen/Watch: Sondre Lerche - "Serenading In The Trenches"

While Norwegian singer/songwriter Sondre Lerche may have fast-tracked his upcoming eight album Pleasure, he certainly hasn't slowed down any of the press around it. "Serenading In The Trenches" is the fifth single from the album and the second single he's releasing in a week and it's easily a highlight of the album. In his other Pleasure cuts, Lerche's examined his emotional state post-divorce in a myriad of ways: "I'm Always Watching You" dealt with more or less immediate aftershocks and subsequent obsession and checking in to make sure one person wasn't better off than the other. "Soft Feelings" saw Lerche wrestling with his newfound freedom as well as a sort of creeping sense of guilt about possibly being able to move on. "Violent Game" tapped into a well of anger and resentment that Lerche's largely avoided. It was flashy and confrontational; biting but also fluctuated between reality and fantasy much like when you're imagining all the cool comebacks you could've said long after an argument is over. "Serenading In The Trenches" leans pretty heavily into Lerche's subconscious. It's practically all metaphor from it's first lyrics: "Thought I saw you at the finish line/ And you burning a flag and you biding your time.". From its very opening lyric Lerche's on the defensive against his would-be aggressor. Lerche's all about flight and disarmament  and that says a lot not only about his emotional state but his personality in general. Lerche's a lover not fighter and approaches acts of hostile aggression, real or metaphorical, with sort of a resolved calm of a negotiator. Perhaps more so than any other Pleasure track we've heard so far, "Serenading In The Trenches" is the most cerebral despite it's assortment of action words and phrases. It's an olive branch; an attempt to mollify. "Do you want to make love instead?" Lerche croons and it couldn't be more fitting.

The music video directed by Evan Savitt, the same force behind Lerche's trilogy of Please videos, applies that source of sexuality and contention to probably the strongest relationship Lerche has post breakup: his friendship with drummer Dave Heilman. Operating at a similar level of narrative vagueness and dives into the surreal as the videos for "I'm Always Watching You" and "Soft Feelings", "Serenading In The Trenches" is essentially an ode to platonic male friendship with Lerche and Heilman as its subjects. At times playful, at times bristling with an almost guilt inspiring sensuality, Lerche explores masculinity by casting Heilman and himself in a number of roles: friends, brothers, lovers, man, woman. The borders of identity are as blurry as they are rapidly interchangeable. From its opening where clearly female hands are readying Lerche for a shave before a jump cut finds them replaced with Heilman's, Savitt and Lerche base the relationships in dream-like fluidity and adjustable amounts of narrative clarity.

Sondre Lerche's eight studio album Pleasure is out now and is available through most digital retailers with physical editions available through Oslo based distributor Tiger Records.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Listen: Juana Molina - "Cosoco"

I was first introduced to the intricate experimental pop of Argentinian singer/songwriter Juana Molina through her brilliant sixth album Wed 21 when it came out back in 2013. Though her lyrics are in Spanish, Molina crafts the sort of engaging pop songs where you're too busy bopping along to its rhythms to notice. Molina's music is beguiling complex - layers upon layers of electronic and amplified acoustic instruments, driving primal rhythm figures, and vocals utilized more for its possibilities in timbre than its melodic capabilities, Molina's music evades classification as easily as it's sure to get stuck in your head. "Cosoco", the first single from Molina's upcoming seventh album Halo, continues Molina's love affair with aural hypnotism. It's brighter than her more darkly textured efforts and yet her chorus which consists of aspirated chants of its titular "cosoco" introduce a fleeting sense of malaise. It's shifting sounds are positively spellbinding as parts shift in an out of focus, a distant whirring grows until it practically envelopes everything but cymbals and drum hits. Molina's musical world building is at it's best with each sound and musical phrase feeding into each other to creating an absolutely dazzling aural tapestry. It's an absolutely fascinating listen and one that hints that Halo with it's themes of witchcraft and premonition is going to be a thrilling ride.

Juana Molina's forthcoming studio album Halo is out May 5th on Crammed Discs.

Sondre Lerche - Pleasure (2017)

If you had told me that the young songwriter behind 2001 debut Faces Down would grow up to release an album like Pleasure, I wouldn't have believed you. Not because I would have thought him incapable but because I couldn't possibly imagine the leap in sound it would take to get from point A to point B. But year after year and with album after album Norwegian singer/songwriter Sondre Lerche has been incrementally pushing his sound in invigorating new directions that have made such an evolution possible. Pleasure is as much an album about Lerche's personal growth as it is his artistic one. It's an album rooted both in past influences, inspirations, and experiences; his present realizations, and future hopes and desires. Lerche, who grew up with a healthy diet of 80s pop and Brazilian tropicalia, has existed at sort of the nexus point of those influences without allowing his sound and vision to be too reminiscent of either. The ability to dilute what makes those influences so interesting and incorporate them without merely imitating them has been as much of a strength as his sincere, universal songwriting. Right around the time Lerche returned with his raucous, rebellious Phantom Punch, that spirit of experimentalism became a constant that paved the way for the surreal-minded art pop of Pleasure.

While Please was unabashedly a breakup album both honestly detailing and at times eluding the breakdown of his marriage and eventual divorce, his follow up Pleasure is a bit of a different beast. Beginning with his Talking Heads channeling album opener "Soft Feelings", Lerche's synthier side is at his peak and his lyrics blur the lines between what is real and what is imagined; the personal and the broad. It's unsurprisingly that three years and an album later, his divorce would still be a fruitful narrative well and yet "Soft Feelings" attempts to put some distance between him and it; exploring life in the metaphorical hereafter of unexpected singledom as Lerche wrestles with lingering feelings of both hope and resentment. It's a seesaw between trying to move on and realizing not enough time may have passed and it might never be enough to completely erase those feelings. "I can't will into motion impossible things/I can't promise devotion or make a bell unring" Lerche sings in one of the song many shifting sections and it's an excellent encapsulation not only of the song's thesis statement but where Lerche might be at the end of Please and the start of Pleasure.

"I'm Always Watching You" follows and its selection as the album's first single is incredibly obvious in the context of the album. A post-break up song lyrically based on how easy it is to keep tabs on exes with the advent of social media, it's also a song that's not as directly tied to Lerche's personal experiences. It's universally applicable, incredibly catchy and rooted in the same 80's synthpop that initiates the album to make its unflattering portrayal of obsession incredibly palatable. It's also the listener's first indication that Lerche is striving for realism not necessarily truth on Pleasure. "I'm Always Watching You" ensures a song like its successor "Serenading In The Trenches" is cohesive even if it's narrative metaphors are less plausibly rooted in actual events.

On Pleasure, Lerche not only references his influences like new wave and synth pop on the aforementioned "Soft Feelings" and "I'm Always Watching You" but he also references himself. Though lyrically very different "Serenading In The Trenches" recalls "Crickets" with it's stuttering drum line. While melodically "Bleeding Out Into The Blue" calls to mind both "Ricochet" and "When The River" from his self titled  and "Reminisce" resembles "Lucifer" with it's tropical pop springiness. There's also "Hello Stranger" which resembles Antonio Carlos Jobim standard "Águas de Março" in Lerche's lyrical delivery while also quoting one of Lerche's strongest influencers Prefab Sprout.  Lerche also derives influence from modern music doing his best D'Angelo in the funky album ender "Baby Come To Me".

Pleasure is much more than a trot through Sondre Lerche's greatest hits and those of his predecessors however. Compositionally, it's his most complex and scenic work to date. Lerche's continuous efforts to subvert traditional songwriting structure are fully realized here resulting in dramatic shifting sections like "Soft Feelings" or "Hello Stranger". Lerche offers up golden musical moments like throwaways and it makes them all the more precious and enviable since Lerche proceeds through much of Pleasure like there's more and more unexpected phrases and ideas where that came. It's a confidence that leads itself well towards the sultry croons "I Know Something That's Gonna Break Your Heart" or "Siamese Twin" and grounds the multi-faceted musical portraiture of Pleasure.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about Pleasure is how very little Lerche's guitar factors into it. It's a bold move inline with Jenn Wasner of Wye Oak eschewing guitar for synths on Shriek. Lerche is no multi-instrumentalist: his specialty and only instrument, aside from his voice, is guitar and so the shift is certainly unexpected. But it addition to highlighting Lerche's songwriting capabilities to their fullest, it also spotlights Lerche's trusted collaborators - his live band: drummer Dave Heilman, bassist Chris Holm, Europe tour band member Alexander von Mehren, producer Matias Tellez as well as longtime producer Kato Ådland who does much of the record's programming. It's a record that relies on the talents of others for it's most winsome moments. Take "Violent Game", a remnant from Please that features Lerche prominently on guitar but needed to be recorded live in studio to produce a cut that Lerche felt album worthy. Lerche has often approached studio recording as the antithesis to the more lonely art of songwriting so the presence of his friends and collaborators is not entirely new. It's just far more obvious when Lerche has elected to bench his instrument of choice.

While a breakup nevermind a divorce isn't exactly something you get over overnight, Pleasure shows that there's more to Lerche than that. Lerche's always been a genuine songwriter and love has been his most rewarding topic. Pleasure indicates that Lerche has no intention of letting disappointment and heartbreak alter his whole worldview nor his most reliable topic of songs. Lerche is even poppier, even dancier than he was on Please and it succeeds much for the same reasons Lerche set out to do with Please: it's a record rooted in the personal that refuses to let itself wallow. Lerche's sincerity isn't a question but for all his wry allusions to failed relationships and the like, there's an endearing push to move on; to explore what else is out there. To dust himself off, to learn and grow as well as to make sense of his feelings and the world around him by building visceral scenes of emotional theatre and knocking them down. Please make have dressed up Lerche's heartbreak in slick dance-y dressings that might've seemed a little like denial but Pleasure is an indicator that not only is all well but that Lerche is capable of reaching brand new creative heights.

Sondre Lerche's eighth full length studio album Pleasure is out March 3rd on his own PLZ Records. You can pre-order the album now.