Thursday, October 26, 2017

Listen/Watch: Young Dreams - "Cells"

Though it was essentially an salvaged outtake from their abandoned sophomore full length record, "Of The City" hinted at a brand new direction from the orchestral pop sextet Young Dreams. Though it made use of organs and strings, there was a reliance on synths and they were utilized far differently than they were on the band's debut Between Places. And when they released r&b tinged single "Sinner (I'm Sorry)" earlier this year, the potential direction of their new album was once again up in the air.

"Cells" however finds the band at a sound that is perhaps far more sustainable for a full record. Another indicator that the band has largely left behind the symphonic layering that defined much of their debut, instead "Cells" finds Young Dreams drawing closer to those psych rock grooves that inspired them do a Tame Impala rework. But unlike "Sinner", the musical direction doesn't seem as far of a leap away from their original sound than it ends up being. "Cells" certainly doesn't lack for experimentation but elaborates more on the band's previous ventures in tropicalia and psychedelica. "Cells" is a laid back soak in the sun very in line with Young Dreams' normal sun-kissed musical escapism but is much more than a traipse down Young Dreams sounds past. Much like how the titual "Young Dreams"/"Flight 376" and "Expectations"/"Dream alone, wake together" singles informed the direction of Between Places, those same building blocks serve as a sort of alternate timeline here. One that relies more on the band's immediately presentable skills than in Matias Tellez's incredible production talents. Not that Tellez's production is missing on "Cells" but unlike "Sinner" and even "Of The City", they're reigned in and honed in a bit more. Though Tellez utilizes a number of percussive effects and samples as well as synths, they're treated with a lighter touch than the previous singles. Also Rune Vandaskog's vocals remain largely untouched by effects unlike the persistent autotune that they were run through before.

"Cells" is a picture of a subtler Young Dreams. Where Between Places captured these incredible emotional reflections and paired them with grand arrangements and intricate layers, "Cells" finds a bit of a balance between what the band can accomplish live and what works in the studio. It's the first song (and potentially the only one that'll actually be on the upcoming sophomore record) that you can actually imagine the band playing live even as it dips into it's electronic moments. 

"Cells" is an incredibly catchy work of pristinely plotted psych-infused pop and one that highlights just what makes Young Dreams work so well as a unit. They don't need orchestral flourishes to define them; what they have instead is an tight-knit precision and a pursuit of sounds and colors that make their hometown of Bergen sound a little brighter.

Watch the lyric video for "Cells":

Young Dreams' sophomore full length record Waves 2 You is out January 12 via their own Blanca Records. You can pre-order the album now through their new Bandcamp page.


Friday, October 20, 2017

SOFTSPOT - Clearing (2017)

One of my favorite qualities of Brooklyn art pop outfit SOFTSPOT is how they experiment with their sound. While the band arrived with a full realized and unique sound on debut full length record Ensō, instead of resting comfortably on that particular sound they've expanded: going from two members to their current four, adding in the incredible insistent drumming of Bambara's Blaze Bateh and the svelte synths of Jonathan Campolo of Pill, each album since their debut has been a veritable redshift - a musical "yes and..." statement that rather than negating what's occurred before simply seeks to build upon it.

The result of another of the North Carolina retreats where singer/songwriter/bassist Sarah Kinlaw and guitarist Bryan Keller Jr emerged with much of Ensō and MASS, SOFTSPOT emerged from the chrysalis of both touring and the retreat once again with a newer sound - one that positions them at their most accessible. Clearing, the band's third full length album, is rooting firmly in the pop element. Much of what makes SOFTSPOT truly special can be still evidenced on this record: its diverse aural tapestries, unexpected lyrical subjects and narrative choices, and Kinlaw's vocal elasticity.

On Clearing, SOFTSPOT makes the most of the official addition of Campolo and constructs songs of seemingly limitless lushness. Whether it's the intense, of album opener "Maritime Law" or , SOFTSPOT build entire worlds with astonishing swiftness. The songs pull you in instantly with either their expansive, full instrumentation or their confessional-like intimacy. At times dream-like and incredibly visceral at others (often times within the same song), SOFTSPOT illustrates the theme of connection through both a lucid clarity and dreamy, subconscious intuition.

On "Helen" and "Habits", Kinlaw explores the dangerous and pitfalls of pursuing connections that no longer exist as the subjects of these songs surrender to lives to reminiscing and reliving golden memories with lovers that are no longer there. Though both are expressions of grief much like Ensō's "Half a House", Kinlaw explores them in drastically different ways, "Helen" from an outside perspective as she tries to convince the titular Helen to leave her room and rejoin normal life and "Habits" from the perspective of someone wrapped up in their loss who gives up more and more of time to trying to imagine life with the departed.

In addition to Kinlaw slipping into different characters and shifting various perspectives, Clearing seeks Keller also contributing vocals/lyrics and his contributions "Touch and Go" and "Whale Song" approach them from an male perspective of what is expected and what can actually be offered and how that ultimately ties into the quest for an engaging connection.

While much of Clearing is perhaps a reaction to a lack of a proper connection or a response to what happens when a powerful connection is severed, occasionally on the record there are moments which illustrates the surge of electrifying possibility that happens when a positive relationship is received: enter "Abalone" and to a lesser extent "Heat Seeker", arguably the most pop heavily cuts on the record. "There is a pull between the endless love that comes from me", Kinlaw sings as "Abalone" begins and it's a pretty intense feeling both to describe and to feel as Kinlaw describes how the what is irrelevant when the how is what is absolutely brimming with love. "It isn't in the way you move, it's the way you simply stood and took my hand" Kinlaw sings in probably one of the song's most climactic moments and it perfectly encapsulates the intensity of feeling that's she's looking to convey.

Clearing also sees a culmination of an often used reference to water. While Ensō paired many of its various reference with either an incendiary delivery or actual mentions to fire, Clearing is rooted firmly in its aquatic element: the push and pull of the waves seeming directing the very flow of the album as Kinlaw from the albums very beginning weaves a through line of water as a force greater than almost every force but love. It's the most prevalent of nature exerting a direct influence in the lives of the album's multitude of characters but where water was a cleansing agent on Ensō, its role on Clearing is both as an actual threat to contend with like the stormy, menacing "Maritime Law" or as a fathomless mirror of the album's subjects own capacity to feel and to love. 

SOFTSPOT are a band with a fiercely distinct sound but one of their greatest strengths lies in how malleable they allow themselves to be. No one SOFTSPOT album sounds the same as the one that proceeded it but there is still an unmistakable oneness to them all. Clearing reveals more facets to SOFTSPOT as Keller takes up both songwriting and vocal duties, the band properly incorporates its former touring members, and the band pursues a bolder sound through reveling in their vulnerabilities. Clearing is a remarkably open album. It is open and sincere and full of very real reactions and responses even as it presents them in occasionally more palatable dressings than they might've been presented on a previous album. But SOFTSPOT have always operated on a point between experimental musicianship and an inescapable pull of either frenetic guitar riffs or ear-catching pop melodies and tied them together with innovative songwriting. Clearing is no different and though it pushes their sound forward towards the end of the pop spectrum than previous releases there's, they band haven't dialed back the other qualities. Clearing is a powerful document from a band utterly comfortable in their own skin, it's not afraid to try dressing a little differently. 

SoftSpot's third full length album Clearing is out now on Arrowhawk Records.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Listen/Watch: Friend Roulette - "(This Is Why I Hate) Clocks" (ThrdCoast Blue Room Session)

When last I heard from Brooklyn experimental chamber pop outfit Friend Roulette earlier this year, they were taking a break from their trademark genre-bending to release an EP of ballads written by their friend, Texas musician Matt Sheffer, in the form of the appropriately titled Matt Sheffer Songbook Vol. 1. It was a far different change of pace from the off-kilter pop fans of the band have come to expect and yet, not without their brand of strange and wonderful whimsy. While the sextet prep a brand new EP to released later this year, they had the chance to participate in ThrdCoast's Blue Room and recorded a live session for a brand new song that'll be on their forthcoming I Want Out EP.

"(This Is Why I Hate) Clocks" finds the band swinging back towards their more characteristic influence in psych rock, art pop, and jazz. Singer Julia Tepper leaves her violin behind in favor of sprinting vocals as the band start at a full on gallop while John Stanesco switches from bass clarinet to EWI (electronic wind instrument). But Friend Roulette has always been a band that favors dynamicism and the track shifts tempos and sections frequently: going from the all out power pop of the introduction into hazy psychedelics for the chorus. As the song proceeds the distinction between the two sections blurs and they blend into each other until the lyrics from the faster section take on the elasticity of the chorus. It's a subversion of typical songcraft as instead of starting slow and picking up speed and ending on a climactic high, the band instead elongate their phrases all the while never dumbing down the instrumentals. Also Friend Roulette are a band that make the most of their time in the studio adding elements that might not necessarily be possible to perform live so it's very likely this version of "(This Is Why I Hate) Clocks" will sound mighty different from its later studio version.

Friend Roulette's I Want Out EP will be out later this year on Pretty Purgatory.

Brooklyn Rider - Spontaneous Symbols (2017)

New York string quartet Brooklyn Rider have made a career establishing the crucial link between essential classical music and the now more nebulous, far reaching era of modern composition. It's a choice that's taken them on a rather circuitous journey. From introducing the uninitiated to Armenian composer Komitas Vartaped or their cover of Mexican rockers Cafe Tacvba's "La Muerte Chiquita" on their first record Passport, to the global premiere of collaborations with Iranian composer/Kamancheh play Kayhan Kalhor and New York based Russian composer Ljova, Brooklyn Rider have taken great care not only to bridge the musical gap between traditional classical music and contemporary but also to bridge cultural gaps (unsurprising considering Brooklyn Rider are also members of the Yo-Yo Ma founded Silkroad Ensemble).

While most of their albums paired a known classical work with newer works they felt meshed well or were inspired, the foursome broke new ground with The Brooklyn Rider Almanac: a collection of collaborations from all living composers/artists like folk singer Aoife O'Donovan and jazz pianist Vijay Iyer. Since then the group has gone on to have a number of releases like the Gabriel Kahane collaboration The Fiction Issue but The Brooklyn Rider Almanac signaled a turning point in the quartet's catalog where elevating and commissioning new works took primary focus over their attempts to revitalize old classics. The spirit remained but by focusing almost exclusively on works from composers they could actually work with, the quartet highlights all the exciting things that are happening in current day classical scene. Spontaneous Symbols is a return of sorts to their traditional setup (even as they welcome new cellist Michael Nicolas). Unlike The Fiction Issue or their collaboration with soprano Anna Sofia von Otter So Many Things, Spontaneous Symbols repositions many of those extended collaborations back to the simpler composer/performer dynamic.

"ArpRec1", a composition by Tyondai Braxton, is a notated version of piece Braxton normally performs with the use of a midi controller and built using Ableton and MaxMSP. Brooklyn Rider are no strangers to work with electronics, as evidenced by "Together Into This Unknowable Night" from their album Seven Steps, a composition by violinist/software engineer Christopher Tignor. "ArpRec1" is a piece that relies on the intuition of the performers. Reminiscent of the works of Terry Riley, "ArpRec1" Braxton's use of generative technique allows for a feeling of spontaneity. And yet, much like Riley's use of music modules gives each performance an improvisitory quality, to the casual listener the gradual build and precision of rhythmic fixtures seem wholly planned. It's not until the end of the first part where you hear a sort of unraveling that it occurs there could anything happening other than the written music. Considering this is the notated version of Braxton's musical experiments, it's not totally out of the norm that he would include this moment of chaos as part of the music. It actually forms a bridge between the two parts the piece is split into on the album: from the surefooted, unfurling of part 1 into the frenzied pacing of part 2, the minor elongating, conflicting rhythms sets up an unexpected second act.

"BTT", Brooklyn Rider's own addition to the album by violinist/composer Colin Jacobsen, sees the quartet essentially finding parallels between their classical training and the modern classical movement. Inspired equally by the 70's/80's downtown New York scene as well as by John Cage, Jacobsen realized that Cage and Bach, though diametric opposites are connected through a tendency towards rule-making. Bach's being strict and conservative while Cage's were meant more to focus his chaos. The result is a multi-layered piece that's a pendulum swing between order and chaos, minimalism and maximalism. Theoretically, Jacobsen is operating on a level of deep complex: having two motifs: a Bach and Cage one, interweaving all throughout while also trying to pay homage to Phillip Glass and Steve Reich. It's a piece that's pretty much synonymous with Brooklyn Rider's mission statement as it seeks to illustrate the interconnectedness of music using the string quartet as that lens.
Brooklyn Rider's albums have contained at least one multi-movement work and Evan Ziporyn's Qi is Spontaneous Symbols offering. Inspired by the Chinese concept of life-force, Ziporyn's three movement work is breath-taking. First movement "Lucid Flight" is adequately named as it seeks to inspire a feeling of weightlessness in the listener, the harmonics like soft wisps of air streaming past your face. But Ziporyn avoids expectations of what flying is supposed to sound like - it's not all polished breathy melodies and bright timbres, rather there's a dissonance that flutters in and out as if the awareness of the unnaturalness of human flight seeks to ground it at any time. That "awareness" theme is passed around from instrument to instrument even as those airy harmonics try to keep everything afloat.

"Garden", the second movement of Qi begins slowly, a comedown from the flighty first movement but when it truly touches down, it offers up one of Spontaneous Symbols most beautiful moments. It's meditative while not lethargic, it's also built with kaleidoscopic complexity, as a shifting array of vibrant coloring and stirring melodic moments catapult it forward from section to section. Where "Lucid Flight" glides from one moment to the next, "Garden" arrives to each with deep centering breaths. And its final section gives the sense of relieving sighs before letting everything peter out to contemplative silence.

And where "Garden" is an inward moment, "Transport" is reactionary. Inspired by intense moments that led to epiphanic revelations, "Transport" is expectedly busy. But even then Ziporyn subverts that notion, it isn't a fast paced sprint, it's a patient plod toward a moment of true weightlessness "Lucid Flight" never actually achieves. Perhaps because of the expectation and cerebral nature of it then but in "Transport" it whisks you up and away.

Where Ziporyn's piece is focused on the inner life, Paula Matthusen's "on the attraction of felicitous amplitude" is a piece shaped by a strong sense of place. Written during Matthusen's fellowship at the American Academy at Rome, it's a piece that draws from Matthusen's love of architecture and a cistern underneath the Villa Aurelia in particular. Matthusen utilizes field recordings she took of the cistern and the piece is an exploration of how sounds travel in the space paired with notated music performed by Brooklyn Rider. The quartet capture both the cavernous quality as the space while also replicating the sound of trickling water with col legno and slides. In addition to trying to replicate the sounds of the space but also invoking how sound travels in it, the field recordings are also transduced through the actual instruments themselves.

Kyle Sanna's "Sequence for Minor White" closes out the album and is a particular solid choice for that duty. Inspired both by the photography and the teachings of photographer Minor White, Sanna builds a set of sequences sans movement. One doesn't have to be at all familiar with Minor White or his teachings to be effected by Sanna's work as the work is multitudinous and sans context but like White's sequence philosophy, Sanna seeks to construct a sense of interconnectedness. White's attempts to evoke a stronger feeling through the grouping of specific photographs is an idea not at all foreign to composition where often you string various personal ideas or techniques together in the hopes that the observer can put the puzzle together (except if you have the benefit of program notes) but the idea to essentially score selected still photographs and White's philosophy to try and provide an adequate measure of the man is incredibly ambitious. But if the piece inspires you to acquaintance yourself with either the photography, creative thoughts, or poetry of Minor White, Kyle Sanna is sure to consider the work successful.   

For a group of musicians that pushes themselves to new creative endeavors over and over, it seems unfair to call Spontaneous Symbols their best work. It is an assuredly different work than they've released before both in form and content but it seems like their most vital. Brooklyn Rider essentially wrote themselves a new playbook on The Brooklyn Rider Almanac and those lessons have been internalized and improved upon. Spontaneous Symbols is not the easiest album to listen to but it is an incredibly interesting one full of fruitful collaborations and compositions. Brooklyn Rider are hardly the kind of that frequently need to highlight their strengths as a string quartet but Spontaneous Symbols contains many pieces that do just that. Brooklyn Rider are not only game for just about anything but have an exception knack for curation that in turn spotlights their incredible versatility. Spontaneous Symbols that requires patience but rewards it with both incendiary moments and soothing ones.

Brooklyn Rider's new album Spontaneous Symbols is out October 20th on violinist/Brooklyn Rider founding member Johnny Gandelsman's In A Circle Records. You can pre-order the album here.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Listen: PRO TEENS - "Signals Crossed"

photo by Ash Ponders
I am dubious of most if not all unsolicited music recommendations I get but when fellow Arizonan and recent favorite music discovery AlhhlA suggested that I go see Phoenix quintet PRO TEENS during their recent stop in Brooklyn, I took him up on the offer. What I experienced was a great set of would-be opposites juxtaposed and intermingling pretty effortlessly. PRO TEENS were simultaneously high energy but their songs had much of the feel of lazy day sprawled out in the grass or on a pool float on a not too hot sunny day. Part of that lies in Andy Phipps' sleepy vocals drawn out like a good stretch. They're not always that way but they certainly are on "Signals Crossed", the second single from PRO TEENS' upcoming EP Philistines. The track is breezy and calm, its guitars, keys, and even its drums following suit as they all blend harmonically. That said, the track isn't without dynamics or an interesting development: there's a synthy buzz that foreshadows the song's eventual cacophony. But even amidst the rising energy and added layers, there's still a sense of ease to the rollicking climax; a pervasive pleasantness that wins out over the push towards entropy. 

PRO TEENS upcoming EP Philistines is out November 3rd on Broken Circles. You can pre-order the album on cassette or digitally through the band's Bandcamp.

(via Gold Flake Paint)

Listen: Milagres - "Are You Lonely"

Late last month, Brooklyn experimental pop rockers Milagres, broke a nearly year-long silence to announce a show at Rough Trade on October 18th. While that sort of thing usually isn't that big of a deal, the timing of it pretty much guaranteed new material was on the horizon and the band - now function as the duo of singer/songwriter/band founder Kyle Wilson and Fraser McCulloch, have decided not to let fans of theirs walk in blind tonight and shared "Are You Lonely", the first single from what's sure to be a new collection of tales.

Where their 2014 album Violent Light saw Milagres engaged in a stunning reinvention that saw the band leveling up sound with an arena rock sense of grandeur, "Are You Lonely" finds the new duo operating at a more hushed version of the more synth-centric sound they cultivated on their sophomore record. The move away from the glam-infused stadium pop isn't just a practical one however, "Are You Lonely" is an uncertain love song much like "Terrifying Sea" where Wilson attempts to forge a connection with someone based on a similar sense of loneliness. But where such feelings normally result in less than pure intentions, Wilson's ring sincere even if they might be some projection going on.

"I knew someone once, someone just you and they were lonely, lonely just like you" Wilson sings and it'd be cause for alarm if Wilson wasn't so upfront about his attempts to bridge communication with this particular person. There's something utterly charming about the way Wilson recognizes a shared loneliness in the other person that motivates him to reach out to them but he still phrases it as a question: "Are you lonely? Lonely just like me?". It's a question that reveals more about the questioner than the questioned, as Wilson frames his confession as an appeal for companionship. That vulnerability is ultimately what elevates it from creepiness. 


If you're in New York City, you can hear Milagres play this song and more at tonight's show at Rough Trade. Tickets are still available here.

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" with 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: