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".