Monday, December 2, 2019

Lou Rogai - Cathedral (2019)

Last year, Lou Rogai of Lewis & Clarke unveiled Implications in D major, Adagio for Chamber Strings, the first of a series of chamber music compositions Rogai wrote while also crafting a follow up to his last Lewis & Clarke album Triumvirate.

While Lewis & Clarke has often invoked the intimacy of chamber music both in its recorded output and its live shows, with Implications and now Cathedral, Rogai filters his slow building chamber folk into a classical idiom. 

A composition in three movements, Cathedral isn't your standard classical composition - from its use of field recordings, guitar, and synth, Rogai provides an interesting stamp on chamber music in a way wholly unlike his straight forward, elegaic Implications. Beginning with church , "Arrival", the first movement of Cathedral is an ambient wave slowly manuvering away from the shore - it's not until 2 and a half minutes with the entrance of the guitar that Rogai embarks on a direct presentation of a melody. Where each member of Rogai's ensemble flittered by in rapid blur or peeked from a haze before, they're all accounted for at this point, flute, double bass, clarinet, classical guitar, and strings weaving together in Rogai's characteristic slow build. 

"Acceptance", the piece's second movement is essential a marriage of Rogai as a composer and a songwriter (much like Lewis & Clarke), Rogai lends his vocals to the piece, at first vocalizing in response to the string and brass before he begins singing actual words. Much like "Arrival", "Acceptance" engages in about two minutes of musical world building - creating a hazy ambience meant to disorient and which makes the sudden clarity of Rogai's vocals all the more potent. 

"Ascent", the final movement of Cathedral, finds Rogai playing off of his field recordings of chimes as he creates a theme that seeks to replicate them. It's slow at first, gradually building and almost improvisatory as Rogai recalls the casual brush of the chimes and eventually eeks out a beautiful, furtive melody elevated to masterful grandeur by a lush string accompaniment. 

Cathedral isn't your standard classical composition. It isn't even your standard experimental classical composition. It exists as a mix of experimental composition and songcraft - similar but not entirely reminiscent of his work as Lewis & Clarke. Rogai has always crafted music that rewards the patient listener and Cathedral is no different - an exploration of theme and place where the place in question might not actually exist.

Cathedral is meant to resonate deep inside the listener like the church bells Rogai uses to signal the start of the piece and the shift between its movements. It's a beautiful and meditative piece of art that surprises and delights by virtue of its embrace and suspension of traditional form and its avant garde approach toward both the classical and singer/songwriter realms. 

Lou Rogai's Cathedral is out now on Veritidas Recordings. Both LP and CD orders come with bonus tracks of Rogai's Essere Amato film score. You can order it now. 

Monday, November 18, 2019

Listen: Diamanda La Berge Dramm - "Amazon"

photo by Juri Hiensch
My introduction to Dutch violinist Diamanda La Berge Dramm came curiously enough when I was scrolling through Instagram. As I was mindless swiping through the stories of my friends and casual acquaintances, the sounds of her siren-recalling glissandos coupled by her featherweight vocals immediately made me pause. A whole host of questions immediately rose in my brain: who is this? Who posted this? Where can I hear more? Those questions were immediately answered as the poster was none other than Peter McLaughlin, founder of the Pretty Purgatory label, announcing a new single of Dramm's from the collaborative record from Dramm and English poet SJ Fowler Beastings.

Before even looking up Dramm's biography, I could tell Dramm had a reputation that far proceeded her simply after listening to more than the 14 second sound bite McLaughlin has unknowingly gifted me with. Dramm started violin at the age of four, studied at the New England Conservatory, Royal Conservatory of Music at the Hague, and has devoted much of her professional career towards the presentation of new music, founding Splendor, an artist collective and arts space in Amsterdam that regularly puts on concerts. 

"Amazon", the second single from Dramm's forthcoming album Beastings, immediately hooked me with is juxtaposition of opposites - Dramm's vocals are light and airy against at first an effect not unlike a sliding trombone, and then a mounting cacophony of  Dramm caresses Fowler's texts holding them firmly aloft above them to set the mood but also to leap out among the fray of otherworldly sounds Dramm is somehow able to weave from her violin. Fowler's texts are elusive, weaving paths of serpentine grace as Dranm's accompaniment blooms forth, both occasionally dealing glancing blows at they intersect at just the right moments. "To be inside a background noise of a thing I don't possess" Dramm sings, accented by a rumbling low end. 

"Amazon" is an excellent piece of songcraft - multitudinous in sound and meaning, a luxurious unfurling reverie that's both delightful simple and awe-inspiringly complex. It's a testament to Dramm's compositional prowess that she's able to craft such a lush backdrop of infinitely rewarding instrumental flourishes that doesn't distract from the simplistic but elusive beauty of Fowler's text. 

Diamanda La Berge Dramm's Beastings is out November 22nd on Pretty Purgatory. It's available as a digital download, a rose colored cassette or as a CD with a chapbook featuring lyrics and expanded poens from SJ Fowler. 

Monday, November 11, 2019

Listen: Lake Mary & The Ranch Family Band - "Sun Dogs"

My introduction to Lake Mary, the Missouri based ambient folk project helmed by experimental guitarist Chaz Prymek happened, as all of my favorite discoveries tend to, by chance. I attended a house show to see proven favorites Ben Seretan and Cassandra Jenkins and was rewarded with the enchanting instrumental rambles of Prymek who was joined by Nevada Greene guitarist and Dismal Niche co-founder M. Crook as well as Ben Seretan on harmonium. The result was an absolutely spellbinding set of patiently plotted tracks that blurred the line between improvisatory ruminations and methodical compositions that kept the entire room in an awed hush. I was so won over by the set that when they mentioned they had another gig in town before heading back to Missouri, I immediately made plans to go and later, dug into the Lake Mary catalog. As a fan of long form compositions, Lake Mary's catalog was an embarrassment of riches full of solo works as well as incredibly fruitful collaborations recorded virtually all over the country which explains in some measure the expansive, windswept nature of some of Prymek's work.

"Sun Dogs", the title track from Lake Mary's forthcoming album out November 15th on, is an unofficial follow up to last year's River Ceremony and finds Prymek "getting the band back together" so to speak as Prymek enlists The Ranch Family Band again on this record with a few helpful additions (like Ben Seretan). While I associate Prymek's compositions as more of a slow burning amble, "Sun Dogs" is more brisk: a windows down drive instead of a exploratory stroll but the view is no less scenic, effortless conjuring images of sun drenched vistas and the wide open plain.

While "Sun Dogs" moves at swifter pace than most of Lake Mary's oevre, Prymek spins compositional gold out of repetitive themes, elevating them with virtuosic slide guitar, and employs dazzling builds that gives each instrument its time to shine and interact with its central themes. "Sun Dogs" is essentially through composed - shifting from one theme to the next without an attempt to double back. The bright frolick of Prymek's initial theme gives way to a looser, more spacious melodically suspended interlude with pulsating synths before shifting to a rollicking theme that expands on itself with graceful solos and a conversational interplay between its multitude of instruments.

Sun Dogs is out November 15th on Whited Sepulchre and Full Spectrum Records. Pre-order is available now. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Listen/Watch: Armel Dupas - "Loup Solitaire"

Photo by Aleksandr Balakin
Since meeting French pianist/composer Armel Dupas completely by chance, I have been taken by his unique approach towards music making in general, originally trained as a jazz pianist and enlisted as a common collaborator in a number of trios, quartets, film music composer, and touring musician, Dupas' first full length album Upriver presented interesting development of a style that remains distinctly indefinable. A blend of electronic and acoustic sounds that never overwhelm Dupas' gifts for delightful melodic songcraft or the seeming ease of his playing, it was a testament to Dupas' ability to conjure music of a sort of a romantic or impressionist mode without being wholly classical.

But Upriver was simply a beginning of sorts and since then Dupas has released two other albums in A Night Walk performed with Mathieu Penot and Kenny Ruby , and Broderies composed by Lisa Cat-Berro but recorded and arranged by Dupas. All the while developing a series of modern day salon concerts Dupas calls Home Piano Live that sees Dupas' touring and broadcasting these concerts through Facebook and Instagram Live. 

The success of these concerts have no doubt had their effect on Dupas' creative process and the result is Automne 2019 Languère Song(s), a solo album recorded live in the garden at his home in France in one-take, and without any traces of electronic experimentation of Upriver or A Night Walk. "Loup Solitaire", the first single of sorts from his upcoming album, is a dreamy reverie not entirely unlike the introspective nocturnes that composed A Night Walk, the key difference being Dupas opting for absolute intimacy. There's no layers of synths, no other performers, just Dupas' whose melodies seem to tumble out of him unencumbered. "Loup Solitaire" is a beguiling piece that steadily builds on itself - slowly unfurling, Dupas' timing is truly what makes the piece work: his rubato passages creating a sense of a conversation among itself. 

While initial establishing himself as one of the rare artists able to seamless blend electronic and organic sounds, Automne 2019 Laugère Song(s), offers a different version of Armel Dupas, one that thrives in live solo performance and one that few people get to see if they're not based in Europe where Dupas' tends to tour. In a way with both Home Piano Live and Laugère Song(s), is giving listeners a chance to experience Dupas' music in a brand new way, stripped back and intimate but still innovatively crafted and brimming with the confidence of a skilled player with a clear artistic vision. 

Automne 2019 Laugère Song(s) is out November 15th on Dupas' Upriver Records. Pre-order is available now. 

Monday, August 19, 2019

Listen: Christopher Tignor - "I, Autocorrelations"

Photo by Ebru Yidiz
With his previous album Along a Vanishing Plane, violinist/software engineer Christopher Tignor essentially took years and years of refined techniques of electronically developed composition and chucked it all out. That might seem a bit dramatic but the result, an album played and recorded live with absolutely no samples, loops, or click tracks grounded Tignor's composition in an unmistakable human element. The heightened risk of imperfection somehow crystallized his technique and emblazened the actual heart of his emotions and led to an impressive array of extended techniques aided by Tignor's engineering capabilities.

A Light Below, the follow up to Tignor's Along a Vanishing Plane, explores the newfound freedom in Tignor's organic rooted compositional framework. "I, Autocorrelations", the first single from the upcoming record is an explosion of sound - a truly mindboggling rush of multitudinous layers that bely the fact that they're all being delivered by a solitary man. On "I, Autocorrelations", Tignor is firmly at a stylistic peak - shifting effortlessly through repetitive bowed phrases and pizzicato all at a positively dazzling pace all the while providing enough space for the various phrases to sing and resonant firmly with the listener. Tignor weaves an effortless tapestry, of dynamic shifts in tone and blend of textures between his own playing and subtle touches added by his software.

"I, Autocorrelations" feels like a continuation of Along a Vanishing Plane but trades the langorous yearning for a more spirited presentation of the liturgical melodies without shedding any of their emotional grounding. It's a sort of musical world building that's properly thrilling, subtler than reoccuring figures or leitmotifs but no doubt rooted in the same sense of elevated storytelling. It's enough to make me properly excited for the rest of A Light Below even if Tignor's proven time and time again to supersede the most wildest of expectations.

Christopher Tignor's forthcoming album A Light Below is out October 11th on Western Vinyl. You can pre-order the album now.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Listen: Sur Back - "Nostalgia in Motion"

After the release of her follow up to her debut EP Kitsch last year, the appropriately titled Kitsch II, singer/songwriter Caroline Sans notably marked almost half a decade of intensive creative labor with a surprising amount to show of it. Several of the EPs songs had existed for several years since the very formation of her project Sur Back, surviving delays, setbacks and reworkings, and though Sans has been offering work at somewhat more consistent speed than before, hers is delicate work that benefits from the passage of time.

Like much of Sans' oevre, "Nostalgia In Motion" has been a work in progress several years in the making, meticulously thought artfully sculpted over a period of about three years while Sans was still based in Florida. From its fluttering start, "Nostalgia In Motion" is bright and expansive with elements of Sur Back's darker baroque pop turns - enriching it into a multifaceted piece of layered electronic pop.

With "Nostalgia In Motion", Sans continues her winning streak, crafting a song of arresting beauty that conveys meaning less through lyrical content and more through its production. Sans vocals are as richly colored as her brass riffs, her stutter-stop drums. "And I keep calling you back to show I'm not your nostalgia in motion" Sans coos and though the lyrics read as a sort of kiss off, Sans delivers them with a gentle caress, like sun steaming into a bedroom window. It's not meant to be a harsh wake up, but a soft rousing to exist in the present.

The lyrics all seem to build to this titular moment, the production following suit, and it's evident the idea means a lot to Sans; of not merely functioning as a walking, talking embodiment of good times past but wanting to be an active participant in life for better or worse. To weather whatever storms live may bring despite uncertain or a lack of control. "I can't hold on like I'm used to" Sans sings with an aching tenderness before "I'm not your nostalgia" hits like an ocean wave.

Sur Back's new single "Nostalgia in Motion" is out now. Sans is playing a single release show with Den-Mate, NOIEA, and Rare DM at Alphaville in Brooklyn on July 18th. Tickets and details available here.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Listen: Harry Burgess - "Disarm"

One of the pitfalls of creating such a cerebral, fully realized project as art pop quartet Adult Jazz is the fact that there's a lot of time and energy put into seemingly every aspect of creating. Since the release of their debut album Gist Is in 2014, Adult Jazz has spent a lot of time facilitating not only their own creations but those of the constellation of their collaborators. They've subsequently released a follow up EP Earrings Off!, two years after their full length debut and while their next release seems to be forthcoming, they've eased the wait by engaging with other projects.

Most recently, Harry Burgess, Adult Jazz's frontman and member of experimental electronic duo Offer, played a solo set late last year, recorded it, and is releasing the results as Live Scraps/Fall of Troy, a cassette release bundled with an essay Burgess wrote about the death of his family dog who inspired the Adult Jazz track "Bonedigger". Unlike Adult Jazz's meticulously layered production or Offer's digital pyrotechnics, Live Scraps offers Burgess in an oft seen light: bare bones and simply offered. One of my favorite qualities of his growing number of projects has always been Harry Burgess' voice so it is essentially a treat to get to witness it this way, unadorned and unmanipulated.

But even as Burgess peels back the layers, his experimentalism still shines though. "Disarm", the first taste of his three song release, might just be Burgess' voice and guitar but it's not your standard fare. Burgess approaches his playing from a place of minimalism, focusing on repetitive two note chords and weaving vocal melodies around the sparse accompaniment. It's a transfixing work of art, utterly engaging in its simplicity and a testament to the strength of Burgess' vocal prowess.

Live Scraps/Fall of Troy is out July 12th on London based label Don't Delay. You can pre-order the digital album or the cassette/essay bundle now.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Listen/Watch: Ziemba - "Ugly Ambitious Women"

Photo by Marcus Paul McDonald
I was introduced to the layered electro pop of singer-songwriter Renè Kladzyk's project Ziemba during a night at Elvis Guesthouse curated by SoftSpot's Sarah Kinlaw back in 2015, and immediately noted both the artistry and precision of Kladzyk's loop based art pop. While I've done rather a poor job of following her career since then (she's released her debut full length Hope Is Never since then), most recently she released the third part of a series of concept records entitled ARDIS based around an utopian vision of Earth and the steps Kladzyk invisions need to be taken to get there.

Though she just released the third part earlier this month, this week saw the release of the video of "Ugly Ambitious Women" from the first part of the project. Inspired by a Youtube comment "Ambitious women can't help being ugly", Kladzyk turned the sexist comment into an artistic statement both on the nature of misogynistic attempts to control and define femininity and her own self reflection of what womanhood is as society defines it. "Ugly Ambitious Women" is both a radical reclamation and cheeky derision of what other people decide. "Ambitious women can't help being ugly, look at me" Kladzyk sings with a smile and an eyeroll. Her lyrics are mostly mocking, barely concealed distate with the antiquated notions of womanhood and femininity: "hysterical, too quick to cry, built to break, delicate rose, got a complex, silly old bleeding a mess". Kladzyk lists a series of stereotypes and her contempt is evident despite a notable lack of bile. And that in itself is her playing into another stereotype of the calm, placid feminine - her voice an angelic chirp even when voicing obvious displeasure.

Visually, Kladzyk leans fully into her anima, embodying the various roles men expect women to play and women are told they have to conform to - she's the radiant, nuturing goddess, the bubbly, fun one, the voluptuous beauty. But Kladzyk also gets to fulfill the roles she wants - clad in a power suit, fierce and fashionable, wearing ornate head pieces and costumes. There's a certain power in appealing to the stereotype - to deceive, to Trojan Horse your own particular point and that's essentially what Kladzyk does here - lampooning society's definitions of femininity through dressing up in its various costumes. Femininity may be a prison but Kladzyk wears it as her armor as she attempts her jailbreak. 

Watch the video for "Ugly Ambitious Women" directed by Veronique Halbrey:

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Listen: Wilder Maker - "Love So Well"

Photo by Annie Del Hierro

Though Brooklyn based indie rockers Wilder Maker released their album Zion last year, ahead of a tour they're releasing a couple holdover tracks from their Zion sessions.

With rambling love song "Love So Well", it's not hard to see why the band held it back. Zion was one of those marvelous albums that managed to create narratives out of the band's New York City experience - and "Love So Well" is a decided break from the fivesome's attempts to navigate city life both real and imagined in favor of the open road. It's beguilingly tender even as it's essentially about that epiphanic moment right before you break up with someone. For Wilder Maker, that moment just so happens to coincide with life on the road. Hardly surprising considering hours behinds the wheel or as a passenger are bound to lead to some introspection. And yet, the most surprising thing about "Love So Well" is how gentle and loving it all is. "I love so well when I am leaving" Katie von Schleicher sings as the song opens but the various ways that a lover's face or laugh are recalled is positively drenched in love.
Wilder Maker are masters of subverted expectactions and their epiphany is lovelorn but resolute and layered in its spectrum of emotion. They may be steadfast in their decision to break uo but that doesn't mean they're not effected by it or seek to strip the love out of it. Wilder Maker toe the line exceptionally well and embrace the complicatedness of the emotion experience with a deft hand and an impressive softness.

"Love So Well" and b-side"Rose Room" are out now. Make sure to catch Wilder Maker out on tour

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Listen/Watch: Quetico - "Jeanne"

After the release of Man Alone, the debut album of experimental electronic jazz project Quetico last month, Durham based percussionist and keyboardist Yan Westerlund has released a music video for one of the album's first two singles "Jeanne".

The basketball themed video arrives just in time for the continuing NBA playoff finals and features a veritable who's who of North Carolina musicians as would be basketball professionals playing an intense game of ball that takes a turn for the surreal after Westerlund takes a tumble mid-game. From Sylvan Esso's Nick Sanborn as the referee, musical collaborators Mark Paulson and Phil Moore from Bowerbirds and Zach Hegg, Matt Peterson and Matt McElroy from Canine Heart Sounds as the players, it's a downright family affair.

"Jeanne" with its sense of carefree breeziness but also bright coloring makes it just the sort of soundtrack for the feel-good sports movie Westerlund and friends essentially make. Purely instrumental, the tracks on Man Alone rely mostly on the feelings they invoke both in Westerlund and the listener for maximum effectiveness and "Jeanne" is one that exudes an effortless sense of ease, positively radiating calm and is equally suited to the music video's more serious game-focused opening and its celebration of love and friendship at its end.

Man Alone, the debut album from Quetico is out now. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Listen: Boio - "Ball"

Photo by Jonah Rosenberg
My introduction to Brooklyn based experimental pop duo Boio happened, very much like Boon, in two parts. Firstly through our two bands being booked to play together. I was taken by their brand of energetic, infectious songs but there was very little in terms of consumable output post-show, an EP with four songs and outtakes entitled Sleep appearing and subsequently disappearing from the band's personal Bandcamp as they geared up for an actual release, and though I meant to keep up with the band, it wasn't until a year later that I saw them again.

Boio was already a strong project capable of delivering instantly catchy melodies but in the year since I've seen them, the band had made some changes namely in the presentation of those same songs that had won me over so easily. Already high energy, the duo somehow ramped even that up so that their live shows were something that had to be experienced to be truly understood. Finnegan Shanahan previously juggling guitar, violin, and viola, instead focused solely on guitar and the various sounds he could pull from it while Robby Bowen elevated his drum kit to a full on percussion laboratory with a number of different knick knacks and homemade tools providing a broader sonic palette to match Shanahan's array of sounds.

Last week, Boio released a new track "Ball", one that hints of a future album in the works and one of my person favorites to watch them perform live. Another one of their avant pop jams - it's an encapsulation of their experimentation, their pop sensibilities and their talent as musicians. "Ball" like much of Boio's oevre treats lyricism as both a jumping off point and a brush by which to paint their diverse aural tapestries and timbre exploration. It starts simple enough with effected guitar, chugging drums, and Bowen and Shanahan's mellifluous harmonies. It's a particularly scenic track that establishes the duo's hamonic language and textural interplay from the forefront and essentially sees how these two constants persist under duress even as Bowen and Shanahan are the cause and pursue it doggedly. The chorus "You drive the pool around the world" becomes an experience not wholly akin to semantic satiation but a phrase with no real meaning whose repetition imbues it with such. It persists through its various utterances and dynamic delivery - spoken, sung, shrieked, split up, and reconfigured, enjoying as rich of an exploration as Boio invest in its instrumental elements and insuring this particular ear worm burrows deep. But then "Ball" is such a delightful five minutes, listeners are sure to welcome its insistent catchiness.

Listen to "Ball":

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Pitstop: Quetico

Since art pop collective the Bowerbirds essentially went on extended hiatus after the release of their third full length The Clearing following the building of an at home recording studio and the birth of Phil Moore and Beth Tacular's son, I've often wondered what the other members of the duo turned moresome. The most obvious was Moore's casual glide from The Clearing's synthier moments into the electronic pop of his Tushka moniker. Perhaps the most delightful surprise was the discovery of drummer/percussionist Yan Westerlund's new project Quetico.

Outside of his work with Bowerbirds, I've largely been familar with Westerlund as a backing member of a number of other Triangle area bands like Lost in the Trees, Mount Moriah, the Rosebuds, but also Westerlund's collaborative project Canine Heart Sounds (who also make up the backing band for his fellow drummer brother Joe Westerlund's Grandma Sparrow project), Quetico was my introduction to a project with Westerlund fully at the helm and his debut album Man Alone are the fruits of that particular labor.
With percussion based projects on the rise and those in particular that blend percussion with electronics like Ian Chang, Greg Fox, and Max Jaffe, Westerlund's subverts expectation through neither relying too heavily on electronics or purely on what he himself can do. Westerlund handles a great deal of what you hear from electronic and standard drum kit, various electronic keyboards, and piano but also enlists Matt Douglas on baritone and alto saxophones, clarinet and bass clarinet with Matt Peterson from Canine Heart Sounds and fellow former Bowerbird Mark Paulson assisting live.

Quetico is rooted, by admission of its genre tags, in r&b, hip hop, and jazz but there's moments like the soaring "Jeanne", the emotive expanse of "Father Lenny" or cascading "The Dark Waters" that seem deeply invocative of Westerlund's folk foundations. Man Alone essentially seeks to marry these folk and electronic dalliances with hip hop and jazz inspired rhythms and the result is something not entirely classifiable through genre alone. The fact that Westerlund felt the need to speak through so many different instruments in his compositions is pretty indicative of the complexity of influence, inspiration, and aspiration. Purely an instrumental project, piano serves as Westerlund's primary vehicle for establishing melodic ideas with synths more as means for exploration of timbres.

Though it's not entirely clear how long it took Westerlund to compose and record what would end up as his debut album as Quetico, it's a record that rests strongly on the merits of its musical ideas. At times recalling classical minimalism, while almost always imbuing each song with the sense of open air freedom reminiscent of folk, Man Alone is a testament to Westerlund's ability to navigate his various musical hats and offer up the ones most resonant with his selected style of delivery.

Man Alone, the debut full length album of Westerlund's Quetico project is out now. You can listen and down it via Bandcamp.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Listen: Toebow - "Bed In Breakfast"

Photo by Dave Herr
Last year the release of their debut Spirit Mane EP saw Brooklyn based quintet Toebow offering their self described brand of "cartoon rock" to more than those lucky enough to see them play one of their spirited live shows in their adopted hometown and now almost a year later the band are releasing their debut full length album Themes.

Since my discovery of them through word of mouth, their from-the-ashes association with the Vermont psych pop collective BOBBY, and as many live shows as I could possibly manage in the year between their EP and eventual album release, I have come to know Toebow as an incredibly reliable band with a unique vision. Part of the fuel for that lies in their collaborative nature and ability to follow almost every musical idea that comes their way to some sort of conclusion. This method of collaborative composition has led to guitarists and vocalists Martin Zimmermann and Nate Ulsh joking referring to themselves as an idea band.

Though she has since moved on, both to form her own project Uni Ika Ai as well as becoming a member of The Dirty Projectors, Maia Friedman is featured the first single as well as elsewhere on Themes. Considering how heavily group harmonies and intricate instrumental interplay factor into the band's core dynamic, "Bed In Breakfast" is a bit of a curveball; a mellow sunrise greeting number. Yawny and languid without remaining utterly static.

While "Bed In Breakfast" is a bit surprising in its restrained energy, some of the elements I've come to know from the band's live set are present: the harmonies, the vocal hand-offs, and the springy twang of Zimmermann's guitar occur in the subtler slow jam.

"Bed In Breakfast" much like the songs on Spirit Mane exists in a world of the band's own creation. The lyrics are presented without much exposition or extrapolation. With songs like "Starfucker" or "I'll Be Gone", Toebow is building its own mythology and the references don't receive much in the way of explanation. To Toebow's credit, they don't really need them. Much of Toebow's brand of playful, vibrant colored psych rock is about capturing a particular mood than narrative fortrightness and "Bed In Breakfast", with its bedhead lethargy feels like a downright lucid dream.

Toebow's debut full length Themes is out May 24th on Imaginator Records. You can pre-order it now. 

Listen: Offer - "Offer"

Photo by Gareth Kime
Late last year when Harry Burgess of Adult Jazz and Jack Armitage aka Lil Data premiered their collaborative project Offer with the pastoral hymnal reminiscent twelve minute debut single "Day Away", they teased more music on the horizon. Now nearly five months later, they've loosed eponymous single "Offer" which trades the meticulous unfurling craftsmanship of "Day Away" for a much more insistent slice of cacophonous experimental pop.

Where "Day Away" was narratively focused and every element of it's composition served to heighten the track's sense of drama, "Offer" is all lyrical coyness  and compositional grandeur. Trying to wrestle against and distract from its vulnerability with ear-catching pyrotechnics. Burgess quickly dispenses with the lyrics early - presenting nearly every iteration of bridge-hook-chorus before the song is even half over and that's when things truly get unpredictable. Armitage sets out a flurry of spectacular effects, previously building throughout the tracks verses and first and secondary choruses and Burgess' voice becomes but an other instrument for him to direct. They're pitched up, doubled, spliced, and otherwise affected to form a part of the track's sort of disorienting tension and compulsory catharsis. "I don't wanna offer it up to you, don't wanna offer to you" Burgess sings, trying to tramp down his feelings but Armitage's stellar production works as the response to Burgess' call as sounds zip and ping and are otherwise loosed. They never quite reach all out chaos but there's a measured sense of disorder: a lack of control without letting everything get completely away from them.

"Offer" and "Day Away" are complimentary, similar in theme if not tone and essentially having their development happen inversely. Where "Day Away" is a gentle crescendo into it's climactic moments - starting from nothing, peaking, and then ebbing away slower and slower until it's brassy fanfare brings things to a close, "Offer" is immediate, frenetic in its presentation without losing the polish on its production. "Day Away" aspired to folk ballad stature with each of its sounds intending to recall something more or less organic, "Offer" doesn't hesitate to utilize effects and sounds that are in no way meant to recall man-made ones.

Listen to the second single "Offer" now:

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Listen: The Dodos - "The Surface"

photo by Andy De Santis
Considering Bay area duo The Dodos released not only their seventh studio album Certainty Waves but  singer/guitarist Meric Long's own solo album Barton's Den as FAN last year, I thought it'd be quite some time until we've heard anything even remotely new from the band. And yet after touring behind Certainty Waves last year, Long was feeling particularly inspired and, with a brand new Recording King acoustic guitar, set about chasing said spark of inspiration while it lasted. "The Surface" is the result of one of these post-tour writing sessions.

The appeal of "The Surface" essentially lies in the fact that while one of the most consistent recording acts, the band revisited and challenged their own mythology on Certainty Waves. The result was a record that freed them from the confines of the band they thought they were - that other people had elected as their narrative and allowed them a freedom to experiment with form, instrumentation, and substance. And after a record of exploration, "The Surface" arrives to establish The Dodos likewise flourish under the simplest means as they do their most experimental. While the duo challenged their acoustic guitar and percussion persona on Certainty Waves, "The Surface" returns right to it. Beginning with a langouring prelude punctuated by bursts of chords and which self reference Long's bouts of writer's block, the entrance of Logan Kroeber's drums snaps everything into sharp focus; from cynical self-doubting melancholy to a more spirited probing inquiry. It's a rousing piece of percussive guitar pop not unlike many in The Dodos' oeuvre and yet, there's a freshness to it as it revels in it's own simplicity. It's a testament to the effectiveness of good songwriting and ode of sorts to introspection. "Where do we go from here? The question, it's not the one to answer." Long offers and while it may be incredibly demonstrative of The Dodos' own creative self-inquiry, it's almost universally applicable. What kind of question you ask frames the argument; yields different answers. "The Surface" doesn't intellectualize it to much but captures that very spirit of it

"The Surface", currently a one-off single, is available now as a digital single from Polyvinyl:

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Listen: Son Step - "Saucy"

I was introduced to Philly synth pop duo Son Step when I attended a fundraiser show for American Immigration Council they put on at Threes Brewing last May with Renata Zeiguer, Wilder Maker, and Zula. I went exceptionally familiar with Renata Zeigeur and Wilder Maker and had at least heard of Zula but Son Step were a total unknown to me and their set absolutely surpassed any possible expectations I could've formed. Jon Coyle and Joel Gleiser were essentially sat adjacent synth setups and created an immersive wash of kaleidoscopic melodies that held me completely transfixed until even after their set's final notes. They had mentioned that both the setup and the songs were mostly new and I was incredibly intrigued. Their songs were incredibly lush despite the fact that they were essentially stripped down. Though I haven't been able to see Son Step live again since but at the very least the duo have announced their third full length album Fossilillies, introducing it with "Saucy" recorded with former members Chris Coyle and Matt Scarano.

"Saucy" is an absolutely resplendent piece of multi-textured bliss pop. It's a buoyant, jubilant ode to thoughts and feelings that are utterly indescribable. And the duo don't really intend to try. Their lyrics evoke quiet little moments to create emotionally resonant echoes in lieu of actual explanation. Coyle and Gleiser's vocals are effortlessly intertwined into radiant harmonies, absolutely in line with the song's vibrant coloring and light-centered lyrics. Their vocals weave serpentine swaths, stratospheric arcs, and glance like skipping stones on sun dappled waters all the while they create effortlessly dreamy layered soundscapes to accompany them.

Fossilillies, Son Step's third full length album is out May 17th on Grind Select. You can pre-order the record now.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Listen: Renata Zeiguer - "Chega de Saudade"

photo by Katie Vogel
Despite releasing her debut full length album Old Ghost just last year, singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Renata Zeiguer has already hard at work on its follow up. While the product of that particular effort remains to be seen for the time being, Zeiguer is offering up an EP called Faraway Business featuring two covers and two alternate takes of Old Ghost tracks "Gravity" and "Wayside".

"Chega de Saudade" is a cover but holds such a place in Zeiguer's musical DNA that not only has an English translation of one of its lyrics inspire the title of Zeiguer's interim collection of songs but she returned to it as a way to sort of center herself musically. Originally written by Antônio Carlos Jobim and Vinícius de Moraes and popularized by João Gilberto as a single and also by his album of the same name, Zeigeur tries to achieve a similar intimacy of the original while also experimenting with Ace Tone drum machine from the 60s. For old and new fans of Zeigeur alike, "Chega de Saudade" provides a raw glimpse of Zeiguer's musical influences and tendencies stripped free of Zeiguer's stellar layered arrangements. While Zeiguer's musical history in classical and jazz can be gleaned in her approach both to her own project and involvement in others, her sparse rendition of a bossa nova classic really snaps into focus how much musical styles that are widely characterized by their subtlety has informed Zeiguer's own approach to both songwriting and arranging.

Faraway Business is out April 12th on Northern Spy Records and is available for pre-order now.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Listen: Boon - "Jasmine Seeds"

When I was introduced to the now Philly based duo Boon, it was more or less during a transition period for them. The band had moved from Brooklyn to Philly and effectively shifted direction due the logistics of having half of its band members in different cities: in fact after my initial introduction to them, the following times I saw Boon the sets mostly consisted of Brendan Principato and Drew Sher creating an almost impenetrable mesh of vocal and guitar harmonies and workshopping songs that would eventually become their forthcoming record All Of Us Laughing.

Firmly settled, the band has gone from quartet to duo and back to quartet again and I was interested to see how that would effect their sound which seemed to thrive during this period of displacement. Where previous album effort There's No Saving This House was a beguiling mixture of atmospheric multi-layered drone folk, the Boon I encountered live eschewed both their slow burning tendencies and noisier elements in favor of simpler but no less luxuriant presentation. "Jasmine Seeds", the first single from All Of Us Laughing, finds the sort of middle ground between these two stages of the band. It's a vibrant harmony laden reverie that entrances through its resplendent amble but with drums to keep the pace. It's a song that can seeming go on forever as you're drawn in both by ease of Principato and Sher's vocal harmonies but also the emotiveness they reach during the song's peak but the duo steer the song through minimalistic changes until they finally bring everything to a cacophonous stand still. It's a lovely return from the band and one that ultimately captures the spirit of their creative problem solving and musical talents.

All Of Us Laughing is out March 29th on Boon's own tape label Glass Orchard. You can pre-order the record now.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Listen: Truth Club - "Not An Exit"

photo by Logan Murray
My first encounter with Raleigh pop rockers Truth Club, then a trio but since expanding into a four piece, was in Neptunes on the 2nd night of Hopscotch Music Festival in 2017. I was instantly taken with the band's dynamic - churning around vocalist Travis Harrington with an energy both frenetic and breezy and ability to shift tempos and moods with an impressive amount of ease. It was the strength of that set alone that marked them as a band to watch in my mind even as they seemed relegated to being one of the Raleigh music scene's best kept secrets. With "Not An Exit, the first single from their upcoming debut full length of the same name, the band are making a splash on a much larger stage. 

Their first release since 2017's two song release Interest Meeting, "Not An Exit", with it's sightly off-kilter jangle, quickly establishes itself as an inescapable ear worm before guitarist Travis Harrington's vocals even enter. And when they do, they're a kind of unassuming half mumble that make it all the more effective when certain phrases leap out at you. Harrington is the kind of songwriter that doesn't assume everything he has to say is profound and with that freedom ends up creating some pretty stirring turns of phrase. "Not An Exit" essentially deals with the body as a prison. No matter how confidently you grew up or how normal or cool of a life you've lived, we've all had at least one of those moments that were so jarringly awkward that you've contemplated an escape from your own body; to wink out of existence. Harrington locks onto that in "Not An Exit" but also offers that regardless of how much you might want to escape its inescapable confines, the body is your home. While "Not An Exit" draws its inspiration from the anxiety of post-adolescent youth, it's charmingly mature even avoiding some cliched "it gets better" ending. No, Harrington's closing remarks: "There's not an exit from a form and there's never gonna be" is much more true to life while also striking an uplifting chord. You can't escape your body or its flaws but you can get more comfortable with them and hunker down for the long haul.   

Listen to "Not An Exit":

Truth Club's forthcoming debut full length album Not An Exit out May 3rd on Tiny Engines. You can pre-order the record now on digital or limited edition colored cassette.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Listen: Big Thief - "U.F.O.F."

With the release of their brilliant sophomore album Capacity in 2017, Brooklyn based indie rockers  Big Thief found themselves at a crossroads of sorts: they were sitting on a treasure load of new songs (some of which they would sneak into setlists of their album supporting tours), they had plans to record and release them but also many of its members had aspirations of their own. Big Thief has always been a band made up of the sum of its parts and many of its members are active participants in others bands like Mega Bog and Twain. That the band somehow found time between touring, writing and releasing new material for their other projects, to also complete the writing and recording of a new Big Thief album so soon came as a bit of a shock to me and probably anyone else who has been paying attention. And yet, considering they released their debut album Masterpiece and its follow up Capacity a little more than a year apart, the announcement  that Big Thief latest album U.F.O.F. would be out this year is certainly a welcome surprise.

And maybe that's why Big Thief's return "U.F.O.F." sounds so refreshed. With Adrianne Lenker, Buck Meek, and James Krivchenia releasing markedly different albums last year, the band's return to form of sorts is far from more of the same. "U.F.O.F.", the second and title track from the band's upcoming third record and first on 4AD, arrives in a dreamy hush. Hardly surprising given it's subject matter is about extraterrestrial contact. And yet, Lenker's imbues it like she does all of Big Thief's songs with an inspired sincerity. There's a subtle electronic thrum and yet, the song pulses with a pastoral warmth, Lenker's wistfully tender vocals caressing vivid nature imagery and maintaining the human element. There is no fear of the unknown but a full on embrace of it and a sense of familiarity with the other.

U.F.O.F., the third album from Big Thief is out May 3rd on 4AD.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Listen: Flock of Dimes - "The Sisters"/Madeline Kenney - "Helpless"

photo by DL Anderson
I was introduced to now Durham based singer/songwriter and former member of Oakland collective Trails and Ways Madeline Kenney as a solo artist last year due largely in part to the role Jenn Wasner of Wye Oak/Flock of Dimes had in producing her sophomore album Perfect Shapes. Her lead single "Cut Me Off" was a such pitch perfect piece of vibrant guitar pop that I was instant on board and made sure to check in occasionally to see else she had up her sleeve.

Considering how closely they worked together: with Kenney living with Wasner out in Durham as they engineered Perfect Shapes, it's hardly surprising that two would stumble upon a kindred enough connection to collaborate further and the two wrote and recorded a split 7" together. The 7" is essentially a conversation of sorts between Wasner and Kenney as they navigate their positions as women in a male dominated industry. Wasner, an industry veteran for more than a decade, who at one time was so averse to being tokenized as the "woman guitarist" crafted a whole Wye Oak album without it to demonstrate her other talents and strengths, offers us a gauzy, obfuscation in "The Sisters". It is multitudinous in its production as driving bass lines, lithe guitar riffs, Wasner's aching, craning vocals, and a synth sheen are all blended into a hazy miasma of melancholy. 

Kenney's part of the dialogue, "Helpless", is a sort of tongue-in-cheek but certainly no less sincere bit of roleplay. Vulnerability is the mark of any gifted songwriter but seems to be expected of any/every female songwriter and Kenney casts herself in that role: "Look me over, I am helpless" she coos and if her songwriting on Perfect Shapes' didn't reveal her as versatile songwriter/guitarist equally capable of vulnerability and fearlessness in equal measure, it might be easy to take the 7" track as characteristic, partially added by Kenney more or less playing her role straight. The lightness and ease that define much of Perfect Shapes is present with Kenney relying on lyrical specificity rather than verbosity. "What if they see me or worse believe me?" Kenney sings before a layered outro begins where verses are stacked upon each other and essentially are left to battle for dominance in a surprisingly orderly fashion. And it seems a worthwhile indication of Kenney's struggle in accepting the role of the helpless woman trope with her being perceived as truly a damsel in distress as the worst possible case scenario. It's a track of beguiling simplicity with Kenney's featherlight vocals providing an interesting contrast to Wasner's more grounded ones.

"The Sisters"/"Helpless" digital 7" is out now and with physical edition available from Carpark Records on April 16th. You can pre-order now.

Listen/Watch: Aldous Harding - "The Barrel"

From the release of her debut self-titled album, New Zealand singer/songwriter Aldous Harding has made a career out of carefully plotted tales of love and all its disasters. With sophomore album Party, released by 4AD in 2017, Harding made a slight pivot from the creeping folk of her self-titled to a more polished production rooted more concretely in pop. The result was an absolute stunner of an album that didn't trade accessibility in for Harding's excellent though furtive lyricism.

"The Barrel", the new single from Harding's upcoming third album Designer, is the latest in her surreptitiously plotted oeuvre. Preferring poetic lyricism over narrative clarity, "The Barrel" leaves a lot to the listener's imagination in both its words and its accompanying visuals directed by Martin Sagadin and Harding. "The wave of love is a transient hunt" Harding offers up as bread crumb of the song's intent. Ultimately, though Harding's a deft hand with particular turns of phrase, Harding's real skill is encompassing a feeling that she doesn't feel the need to rely on narrative structure to convey. Her intent seems not to tell you anything you can't get a feel for from her words and her song's twinkling, dreamlike svelteness. And in that regard "The Barrel" succeeds: holding you in thrall with as Harding's vocals wash over you like siren song. For all the drama she can invoke with her vocals, Harding maintains a enchanting hush and in the video - maintains firm eye contact and a subtlety of motion. Ever choice seems tailor made to mystify while Harding seems to assert a sense of independence. "I'm not getting wet", "I'm not getting led along". "The Barrel" might be a love song of sorts but Harding quickly establishes it's not one where she's getting sweep along in the rush of it. She's clear eyed and, while not all together apprehensive, intends to be in control.

Aldous Harding's third full length album Designer is out on 4AD and Flying Nun on April 26th.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Listen: Wye Oak - "Evergreen"

photo by Shervin Lainez
Though diverging life paths have found them almost on completely opposite sides of the US, Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack have hardly let that deter their work together as Wye Oak. While they released their fifth full length album The Louder It Calls The Faster It Runs just last year, that's hardly kept them from offering up more new music and much like Civilian preceded their previous Adult Swim Single "Spiral", Wye Oak are offering up a new track for the Adult Swim Singles Program in the form of "Evergreen". A mere few weeks old according to Wasner, the track tackles a period of seasonal depression as Wasner struggles to align what she knows in her mind and how she feels in her body. Wasner concerns herself with the bits and bobs of holiday preparation and post holiday recuperation. "Evergreen" is essentially a rallying cry - gentle but firm with herself, that trying is the only thing you can do. Force isn't an effective strategy in matters both emotional and psychological and Wasner, armed with that hard won knowledge, sets about building herself back up slowly but surely purely by trying. "Evergreen" is a placid tug of war between the churning maelstrom of depressive thought and the shining beacon of self awareness and self worth. Much like "Lifer" or "It Was Not Natural", it's a delicate piece of emotion-laden songcraft that succeeds by virtue of sincerity and patient composition even as Wasner and Stack chase dynamic highs and lows.  

Listen to "Evergreen":

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Listen: Emily Reo - "Strawberry"

photo by Brian Vu
It's been awhile since we've heard from Brooklyn based singer/songwriter Emily Reo and part of that is intentional. Since the release of her debut full length album Olive Juice in 2013 and the release of a 7" single for the enchanting "Spell" in 2016, Reo has been hard at work both working on an engaging follow up as well as lending her talents to a number of bands like Orchid Tapes labelmate Foxes in Fiction, Nadine, and Speedy Ortiz offshoot Sadi3. She's been incredibly vocal about the long and somewhat arduous journey between Olive Juice and now and how "Spell", the halfway point between, addresses Reo's mental health. "Strawberry", the first single from Reo's forthcoming album Only You Can See It, seems in tone to be the anthesis of "Spell", where "Spell" luxuriated in synth tones eventually allowing Reo's digitized voice to swallowed up in a wash of noise, "Strawberry" is a downright pop confection. Where Olive Juice was inspired by video games, pastels, and feelings of love, "Strawberry" instead is rooted in the very real concerns of the modern woman. But Reo is enough of a pop connoisseur and a skilled songwriter to know that the bitterest pills go down easy with a tiny bit of a distraction. Reo lists a multitude of things that not only she but pretty much every woman have to endure on a fairly daily basis - from the dangerous to the merely irritating: from street harassment to mansplaining.

Reo dresses her points up in buoyant, swirling synth tones and minimal amount of vocal effects, delivering her lines with a pitch perfect mix of righteous indignation and wry humor. "The days I've patiently waited while things I know are clarified or debated". Though her list of offenses are plentiful, "Strawberry" isn't just Reo griping about men but instead a call for women to be treated as equals. She also addresses how women are put down in the music industry - consistently asked if they're just someone's girlfriend at their own shows. "Strawberry" is a song about basic dignity and respect. To the point that Reo devotes a break down to it: "What do you deserve from me? N-O-T-H-I-N-G.". But while "Strawberry" is certainly an antithesis to "Spell", the building up of chorus and adlibs and verses and the layering of them all at the song's climax certainly recall Reo's previous single with Reo's "I can't feel anything" instead transfigured into an apt "I don't owe you anything".

Emily Reo's upcoming album Only You Can See It is out April 12th on Carpark Records. You can pre-order the record now.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Listen/Watch: Bayonne - "Drastic Measures"

photo by Jackie Le Young
Austin multi-instrumentalist, composer, producer Roger Sellers has been creating music for practically his whole life while actively releasing it for the better part of a decade. Originally releasing his intricate minimalism-inspired loop-centric pop under his own name, when he re-released his album Primitives under the moniker Bayonne, things really started to take off for Sellers. In a way that has certainly left a mark on the man as his upcoming album, his second under the Bayonne moniker, Drastic Measures is about life on the road and balancing that with some sort of sense of healthy, normal life. While previous singles "I Know" and "Uncertainly Deranged" focused on what time on the road does to your creativity and relationships, "Drastic Measures" strikes a similarly bittersweet chord as the track bursts with exuberance all the while serving as an apology of sorts to Sellers' hometown friends and family that he never has a chance to see. It's incredibly clear Sellers is enjoying his life as touring musician - seeing sights he might not see if he was simply confined to Austin but as exciting as a drastic and constantly changing world is, Sellers pines for the simple comfort of home: of being surrounded by his loved ones. It's not a particularly new feeling - singer/songwriters have been tackling this subject for ages but the feeling is new to Sellers and he imbues in the track a refreshing sense of self - kaleidoscopic colors, heartfelt vocals, and instantly ear-catching melodies, all hallmarks of his work as Bayonne and beyond but handled with the deft touch of a deeply talented multi-hyphenate.

Appropriate given the subject matter, Sellers' music video for the track, directed by RUFFMERCY is awash in vibrant colors - placing a performing Sellers among a collage of varying places, constantly changing, rearranging. Nothing is particularly static but Sellers is the constant - performing with a sense of jubilant satisfaction with a backdrop of dizzying visuals meant to invoke Sellers' experiences on the road and intense touring schedule.

Drastic Measures, Roger Sellers' sophomore album under the Bayonne moniker, is out February 22nd on Mom + Pop. You can pre-order the album here.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Listen: Thelma - "Take Me to Orlando"

photo by Grace Pendleton
Though I was introduced to her both in name and moniker at Waking Windows Portland 2017, it wasn't until almost a year later when she appeared as one of the openers  at the Brooklyn date of Molly Drag's Thumper album release tour that I was actually able to experience the bold, idiosyncratic stylings of Thelma's Natasha Jacobs. Immediately I was reminded of Regina Spektor and Fiona Apple, not necessarily because Jacobs has sought to sound like them but because of the particular way Jacobs ensures her vocals are indelible piece of her songs' multitudinous layers and exploratory timbres. "Take Me to Orlando", the first single from her upcoming sophomore album The Only Thing, is an excellent introduction to Jacobs' impressive vocal control as she performs flutters, leaps, shrieks, and squeaks. Jacobs employs the full range of her voice - switching between a coquette-ish whisper and a fuller voice - even if Jacobs never entirely changes registers. It's simultaneous furtive and confident - the sort of playful seduction employed when you're already attached.
Inspired by Virginia Woolf's Orlando, Jacobs' wrote "Take Me to Orlando" with both her own isolation and imagination in mind as she recovered from thyroid cancer and managed the chronic pain of her Ehlers-Danos syndrome, Jacobs writes and sings to an imaginary lover, her very own Orlando. Jacobs' plays with a theatrical sense of grandeur, aided in part by the inclusion of a string section, as she imagines a relationships build on mutual trust and understanding, pure in its illusion but aware of its design. Jacobs is able to conjure up an incredibly engaging dream world with surprisingly little effort - and not entirely exhausting a hell of a lot of her vocabulary to do so. Instead doing so through composition and omission. The core of "Take Me to Orlando" is not any of the details like how or why but instead just the feeling of wholeness and wholesomeness Jacobs' effortlessly portrays.

Thelma's sophomore album The Only Thing is out February 22nd. You can pre-order it through her Bandcamp here.