Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Quick Hit: Violetera

July 31, 2020

Violetera‘s A Landmark, Not a Beacon is high quality post-rock. The trio takes a tightly defined palette and works it to its maximum results: drums, electric guitar, and distorted bass guitar. They rip through gnarly, nearly post-metal tracks (“Callisto”) followed up with ambient, earthy interludes (“Not Nothing”); they deliver elegant moments of beauty (“Opaque”); they get mysterious (“Exchange Value”); they do the quiet-loud-quiet thing (“15”) or not (the quiet-quiet-quiet of “Vestiges”). They even have a track that’s kind of a dance-rock track (“Statistician”) before dropping down to a twee glockenspiel line.

If you like twinkly lead lines, there’s plenty to go around. If you’re into atmosphere, this whole album is one long atmosphere. If you’re into muscly, acrobatic work, they do that too. Basically everything you could want in a post-rock record is here to some degree. That level of diversity keeps the record strong, as they don’t overdose on any particular part of the post-rock palette. If you’re into guitar-based post-rock, you’ve got to listen to A Landmark, Not a Beacon. 

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Quick Hit: New Dog

July 30, 2020

I spent a lot of time rapturing about Gabriel Birnbaum’s Nightwater for its slice-of-life ambient/indie efforts. New Dog‘s The Last Birds to Sing is in that vein as well, as each of these twelve pieces (named “I” though “XII”) are little moods that hover around two minutes long. (The closer is 3:34; the rest are 2:38 or less, with “I” being just 80 seconds long.) These pieces float along in a more melancholy vein than Birnbaum’s work, reliant on pedal steel, keys, and synth textures. I don’t usually quote the liner notes at length, but they’re so descriptive that I feel I should: “Twelve short, sparse vignettes, each — except the closer — composed of two alternating chords, followed by two more. The former represent morning, the latter evening. Some days are light, some dark.”

Of these, the pensive “IV” and “VI” stand out. “IV” includes the found sounds of footsteps, giving the piece an organic, woodsy feel. The warm textures and cascading pedal steel add to the organic vibe, although there’s a hint of darkness around the edges of the tune as well. “VI” opens with the sound of rain and expounds on that sonic idea of the rainy day excellently. Bass guitar makes an appearance in this one, giving heft to the tune that distinguishes it from the others while remaining delicate overall. The sonic palette that New Dog uses here is more constrained than Birnbaum’s; the pieces largely live in the same sonic world, as opposed to giving multiple lenses. This makes the album a consistent listen overall, but it may be a bit more gloomy than some are looking for. By the time the very sad “IX” comes around, it’s a relief to get the relatively cheery “X,” but it’s still a quiet, contemplative, dusky affair that fits the record. For those interested in subtle, affecting, melancholy music, The Last Birds to Sing is a good place to go.

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Escaper goes into orbit with glee

July 29, 2020

While Muse’s last record was basically an unapologetic EDM record, the ur-text for Muse (the one I mean when I say “it sounds like Muse”) is 2009’s The Resistance: a record so audacious that it includes a three-part symphonic suite, a tune called “United States of Eurasia (+Collateral Damage)”, and the absolutely unhinged bombast of the title track. I applaud such self-aware attempts at transcending the pop straight jacket, even if they escaped so effectively that they pretty much left earth and went into orbit. Escaper carries that mantle from Muse. Apotheosis is similarly an ambitious record that throws genres in a rocket and sends them to space. There’s no point classifying Escaper as anything but a band: rock, jazz, funk, space-rock, ambient, dance-rock, jam-band, and more are all part of this collection. And, unlike (uh) some Muse records, the work is all distilled into a singular vision and served as a consistent offering.

Six-minute opener “Vista” is the perfect example of their work: ambient waves of reverbed clean guitar notes cascade into rhodes keys and a massively funky bassline. The percussion starts as a four-on-the-floor bass kick before introducing a high hat pattern with interspersed snare (dance-rock!). Hand percussion also appears (jam band!). The guitars come back in, making this some of the most elegant, chill dance-rock you could imagine. They’ve just made it to 2:30 in the 6:22 runtime. There may be only six songs here, but there are ideas for days. Follow-on “Open Sky” filters all of that into a spacey, Steve Miller Band-esque vibe and turns out … a pop song? A damn fine pop song, thank you very much. The chorus is catchy and fun without compromising their chill-space-jazz-funk thing. “Superhead” goes full jazz, letting the bassist pop off excellently while the rest of the outfit contributes supporting efforts. Also big-band horns and heavy distorted guitars appear, why not, they hadn’t covered all the genres ever yet.

“Apotheosis” is Escaper at is absolutely most Muse-ian, layering the romantic/classical keys performance with big rock guitars, chanted vocals, and jazzy breakdowns. Matthew Bellamy would probably be jealous of the glorious racket that occurs about 5 minutes in to this one. “Res Magna” returns to space-jazz-dance-funk with some tightly coiled percussive energy; this one is for the jam fans (7:21! Hopefully longer when performed live!). “No Strings” closes out the collection with a straight-up funk blast (well, as straight-up a blast as a space-jazz-dance-funk outfit can create), complete with iconic vocal patterning / delivery. It doesn’t quite reach the heights of the rest of the record, but those are very high bars. It is no discredit to the record, but I’ll take “Open Sky” and “Superhead” first. If you’re into bass (so much bass, so much excellent bass), chill-space-jazz-dance-funk, or Muse, you’ll love this record. 

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Quick Hit: Khruangbin

July 28, 2020

Khruangbin‘s Mordechai is an even-more distilled version of their vision for maximally-chilled funk / dub. Where 2018’s Con Todo El Mundo could have quite a lot of pep in its step, 2019’s Hasta El Cielo (Con Todo El Mundo in Dub) was a truly laidback concept that sent bass to the front and the guitars way to the back. Mordechai takes that latter approach for the majority of the trio’s effort here: opener “First Class” features reverb-heavy, lightly jazzy guitar; simple percussion; prominent bass walks; and distant, laconic vocals. Follow-on “Time (You and I)” picks up the pace by bringing the lead vocals back into lead status and focusing in on a more traditionally pop structure. It’s still almost six minutes long, so it’s not exactly compressed, but it’s more recognizably pop.

These two tracks next to each other frame the approach of Mordechai: dub tracks laidback to the point of deconstruction (“One to Remember,” “Father Bird, Mother Bird”) and focused pop structures with melodic lead vocals (the excellent genre-mashing single “Pelota,” the beautiful almost-disco of “So We Won’t Forget”). I’ve been leaning heavily toward instrumental work these past few years, but I have to say that I found myself gravitating toward the more focused pop structures. Still, this is the sort of record that you can put on during a lazy day and have it reflect the room perfectly. It can also help you get chill if you aren’t chill. And even the chillest Khruangbin is better than no Khruangbin.

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Ezra Feinberg creates a major achievement

July 27, 2020

Ezra Feinberg‘s Recumbent Speech is a brilliant instrumental record that charts its own course. The mostly-peaceful songs dance around the edges of folk, ambient, deep listening, new age, neo-classical, post-rock, and prog without putting both feet firmly anywhere.

Feinberg’s strength is his ability to meld unique concepts into a single unified vision. Opener “Acquainted with the Night” starts with a rolling, pastoral, fingerpicked acoustic guitar pattern that turns into the ostinato base of the track. Feinberg melds this vision with that of spacey, exploratory, new age synth work that moves the work into a different lane. Bass comes in and grounds the piece, subtly moving it once again. The overall piece is hypnotic and zen-like, but with much more motion than a traditional ambient track would have.

“Letter to My Mind” continues this theme of melded visions, beginning with an ambient keys intro that morphs with the inclusion of another lovely acoustic line, delicate electric guitar leads, and tasteful percussion. The lay-back-in-the-pocket jazz drumming (from Tortoise’s John McEntire) accompanies thrumming bass guitar, which makes this track feel more like a post-rock track than the previous deep-listening track. “Palms Up” introduces a playful marimba into the mix as the ostinato base, giving the work a mid-century modernist feel before expanding into another cheerful, bass-heavy post-rock jam about 1:30 in. “A Spider Painted Over” continues the marimba inclusion, and the rhythmic patterns move toward the jazzy and syncopated. The core ideas of melodico-rhythmic base to build on continue, but this variation has a much more expansive view. The jazzy guitar leads further the effect.

The nine-minute “Ovation” is both the outlier and the soul of the record. It includes everything that has come before it (except the marimba), but puts it in the service of another vibe: mystic new age. The hazy, flute-laden, choral “ahs” approach gives the piece a connection to Andreas Vollenweider’s exceptional new age work. Around 6 minutes in, a surging, skybound electric guitar gives this a distinctly British-prog vibe to go along with new age mystic tones. “Ovation” is a bit outside the tonal focus of the record, but the approach is thoroughly consistent with the rest of the tunes.

The titular closer is also 9 minutes long, and it is an absolutely beautiful piece. It begins as a delicate electronic dance and slowly builds to a beachy, tropical vibe complete with dreamy pedal steel. This piece, with its staccato electronic heartbeat, is less organic than the other pieces–the acoustic guitar is mostly color here, instead of central. But regardless, it’s a peaceful, carefully considered track that puts Feinberg’s new age / deep listening / ambient / folk melange on full display. There’s not a bad track on the six-song collection; each of the pieces tell a part of the whole and add to the overall experience. Feinberg’s Recumbent Speech is a major achievement–it’s a strong record that clearly marks his voice. Highly recommended.

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Quick Hit: Liam Mour

July 26, 2020

Liam Mour‘s Ode to Youth is an EP of ambient / lo-fi electronic work that shows Mour’s vision starting to form. Mour has performed with Gold Panda and Four Tet, which are good markers of where his sound starts: hazy, warm, lithe textures that can snap into focus stay drifty with the inclusion of a very small number of elements. “Give Me Your Light And I’ll Drive” starts out ambiguously (somewhat warm, somewhat ominous) before turning toward the dark with the introduction of electronic and live percussion. Just the addition of the percussion tones shifts the vibe. It’s these delicate touches and deft switches that show a lot of promise. The nearly-10-minute “Are You Ready For A Change” is deeply ambient, playing with subtle note changes and graudally building volume to build an ethereal wash.

“Grainy 244” takes the darker tones of “Give Me Your Light” and adds more motion and sonic layers, evoking a darker Teen Daze. The title track pulls the “is this light or dark” ambiguity farther forward, resisting easy sonic categorization until the percussion kicks in after two minutes (it becomes a bit of a straightahead techno jam, honestly, which is fun but unexpected). Closer “You Can Only Say It Isn’t” gets pastoral, including found sound of children playing / talking with PSA-style announcements. It comes off as a maximum-chill Pogo jam–but it’s a bit of an outlier in the collection, what with its relying on vocals so much. Overall, Ode to Youth is a good EP that puts Mour’s name out there. He’s got a lot of interesting ideas, and he’s just starting to get them into the world. Very interested to see what he does next.

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Quick Hit: Closet Disco Queen

July 25, 2020

Closet Disco Queen produces instrumental riffhead magic. This album is one long collection of mighty, impressive riffs, distilled into smaller collections of riffs. If you like post-hardcore riffs, metal riffs, rock riffs, basically just riffs, you need this in your ears. The 8-song collection called Drink the Minibar – Live Recordings is exactly the sort of release I am coming to love: all punch.

Okay, not exactly all punch. The collection starts out with “Ninjaune,” which spends the first three minutes establishing the sort of towering reverb mountain that post-rock bands have become known for. Then at 3:30 they abruptly cut out the reverb and drop into a menacing, thundering guitar riff. It’s go time from there on out. The drums open up, and wow does the guitar get going. “El Moustachito” ramps up the energy further, starting out with a punk strum and all-four-limbs drumming. They tease back and forth from clean strumming to massive guitar drops, then knock out the first of their many memorable riffs around 1:00. It’s melodic, heavy, fast, and winding–not math-rock, but certainly enough to make a few mathe-musicians look up. If you’re looking for the high point of the record, though, it’s “Black Sorbet” — a frantic tune that builds up the weight of a riff through changing guitar effects over multiple repetitions, underpinned by impressive kit work. The “woohoo!” at 2:26 is fully deserved, as the riff onslaught that follows is truly thrilling.

While “Black Sorbet” is the highlight, it’s actually “Délicieux” that has the most exciting riff of the whole collection. It’s a torrential rager that starts at 1:05 and goes until 2:28 in multiple variations. As I’ve written before, it makes me want to get into a mosh pit, which I haven’t done in fifteen years. It is lightning in a bottle. It is a monster.

It appears that all of these live tracks have been previously released on Bandcamp except “Le Soucieux Toucan.” Maybe they wrote it after their latest releases, because the quality is certainly high enough to release. It’s a bit more moody than the previous tracks, as it tempers the rest of the record’s pounding enthusiasm with more evocative, pensive melodies. The drums hold down their end of the deal though, carrying the energy well. It’s a head-bobber instead of a rager, but it’s still got me moving. If you’re into melodic instrumental rock of any variety and you haven’t heard Closet Disco Queen before, now’s the time to jump in and this is the release to do it on.

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July Singles 2

July 24, 2020

1. “Edwards Edward” – Arms of Tripoli. If you’re a fan of Pg.Lost and/or like your post-rock to have more rock than post-, Arms of Tripoli is here with some well-turned riff action for your enjoyment. The blistering opening salvo gives way to a tense mid-section before ratcheting up to full rager again and then introducing piano for a lovely coda over its seven-minute run-time. It’s a blast. Highly recommended.

2. “Vista” – Escaper. Throw keys-based jazz, dance-rock, spaced-out-rock, and funk into a blender, and you’ve got this deeply impressive jam. Best appreciated in a music-listening room, preferably with headphones, optimally way after dark. Highly recommended.

3. “Erickson” – Cri Du Couer. An insistent trance/deep house cut with metallic sounds, ominous synths and more layered in. Despite the eerie sonic surroundings, the beating heart of this track is the bass and percussion, keeping the rave vibe going.

4. “voyage au soleil” – numün. I’ve been somewhat aware of the term “deep listening” for a while as a tangentially related version of ambient from a different historical path, but I haven’t sought out deep listening before. numun’s track here is a pretty clear explanation of the concept: it’s an organically-built, slow-moving wall of sound that creates a dense, full atmosphere. (If I had headphones on, this would be all I was doing, in other words: I would be listening quite deeply.) It’s not a drone (too much motion), nor is it electronic; it’s not folk (although it does have acoustic elements), nor is it even weird americana or slowcoustic. It’s somber, but not melancholy. Instead, it is a dense, enveloping experience with some slight eastern overtones through an instrumental choice. It’s not surprising that the outfit is a combination of a country-ambient band (SUSS) and members of Gamelan Dharma Swara.

5. “Los Golpeadores de la cumbia” – Meridian Brothers. I am unqualified to determine whether this tune deserves its boast (or ironic claim) of being “The hard-hitters of cumbia,” but I can say that I enjoyed the squiggly, quirky, groovy little tune. It sounds like people trying stuff out for the heck of it, which is always fun.

6. “In Finite” – Jason Keisling. This grand, sweeping, royal-entry composition here, full of carefully-measured vibe that pays off the big moments when they arrive. It’s not quite a fanfare–I could see it being a royal wedding entry, with its romantic undertones.

7. “Drop Off (feat. Severin Bruhin and Loren Hignell)” – Vertaal. Funky, soulful jazz that’s heavy on textured keys, exploratory bass, and atmosphere. This would fit in a lot of different playlists from a lot of different genres.

8. “Code A” – All Atomic. Exactly the sort of techno I like: high-energy without going hardstyle, moody and atmospheric without being dour, mysterious without being obtuse, fun without being big EDM. It’s a subtle blitz of arpeggiator, swerving synths, and vibe. Fans of Daft Punk’s Tron soundtrack will love it.

9. “Blood Pact” – Sea Wolf. The video clip accompanying “Blood Pact” from Sea Wolf’s upcoming album Through the Dark on Dangerous Records clearly sees the truth. Nobody will deny, these are unprecedented times. So, why not ask fans to contribute clips of their experience during the pandemic? Build a collective narrative of our experience as we navigate this pandemic? The result is a collection of vulnerable moments, a dance of lyricism capturing the essence of inner contemplation as we all consider the perils of this brave new world. Alex Brown Church leads the wander through the collage of snippets to the tune of this first single. There’s an essence of Radical Face’s Ben Cooper, both desperate and hopeful. Comforting in its musicality, there are no surprises, but that comfort helps as we keep walking through these strange days. Giving fans the opportunity to be part of this project is something special: an even more meaningful way of inclusion during disjointed times. —Lisa Whealy

10. “Callisto Submerges” – Project K-Paz. This outfit creates improvisational music, but you’d be hard-pressed to tell: “Callisto Submerges” is a groove-laden, laid-back post-rock piece that builds from delicate beginnings through natural progression to punchy, roaring heights and back down over eight minutes. Each of the players can be heard beautifully–this is excellently engineered work. I’m a big fan of the bass sound. If you’re a fan of dark, cinematic post-rock, this will definitely scratch your itch.

11. “Pan Am Sun Isles” – Lyonnais. Amid a collection of leftfield pop, unusual genre experiments, and generalized way-out-there creativity is this noisy, crunchy, gritty instrumental rock nugget. It clanks, screeches, wails, and crunches its way through 3:36, content to be a scuzzy, digitally-damaged, garage-rock-freak-out instrumental jam. May we all be so content and at home in our skin. The collection it comes from is Exitos Varios [Variety Hits] from the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers; proceeds from the comp will go to immigration activists at United We Dream.

12. “Sailor’s Cry” – A.M.R. I’ve been loving Silk Music’s brand of Deep House for years now, and A.M.R. fits in perfectly to their smooth, elegant, crisp output. This track has lovely feathery vocals over the top of the beats and lush layers of sound, giving the whole piece an air of floating.

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Relatives Schoensen

July 23, 2020

In the past couple years, I’ve recommended particularly genre-blending or atypical work with the phrase “for fans of adventurous music“. Little did I know that in April 2019, the phrase adventurous music came to life as Adventurous Music, a German music label for experimental sounds. The outfit has corrected my lack of knowledge and presented me with a truly adventurous collection called Relatives Schoensein

The album is a 40-song (!) compilation and accompanying 92-page (!!) book that surveys all manner of experimental electronic music. Work spans the gamut of electronic stuff. The far end is very nearly white-noise: the long, harsh, atonal “Erode” by Fail; the far shorter, more tonal opener “Leipziger Elsterbecken (Gungan).” The inverse is lush ambient: the Lucho Ripley-esque “Il Tuo Glow Infinito” by Carlo Giustini, “Still Flowing” by Gallery Six. There’s also drone (the title track by Hendecagon, “Yellow” by Nyppy), left-field dance/electro (the busy “Sunworn” by Coppice Halifax, the punchy techno cut “Entity” by Johann Eiriksson), and truly unclassifiable work (“Transitions” by Jo Montgomery, “EKEA” by TBEX). There’s something for everyone here.

I am personally drawn to the melodic ambient and left-field dance, but there was less of that than the experimental, noisier, drone-ier tracks. “UUH (Reprise)” by Signalstoerung is a lovely ambient flutter, while “Southern Hemisphere” by The Empath (feat. Cosmic Noise Crew) is an intriguingly spacey jam leaning on arpeggiators. “Behind the Wall” by Vrum turns an ambient intro into a glitchy, eerie techno stomp, which is one of my favorite turns in the record. Closer “Breakstreet” by 16Pad Noise Terrorist morphs breakbeats and ominous bass with the inclusion of hazy textures to create a strange, inviting brew: it’s as if an orchestra and a rave are happening in rooms next to you, and you’re overhearing both at once. Also there’s some sweet turntable action, which sounds great.

If you’re into harsh electronic, experimental stuff, there is a ton of it on this compilation that will thrill you. If you’re more into melodic work, there are some gems, but not quite as many. Regardless, this is a truly adventurous compilation, and it makes me interested to see what else comes out of Adventurous Music. In addition to the full work, you can download 36 of the 42 pieces here as a benefit release, with proceeds going to Firesticks, Amnesty International, Target-Nehberg, Artist Relief and Campaign Zero.

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singles: July 2020

July 17, 2020

1. “object one” – Ghost Liotta. All of the staccato drama of trip-hop, the low-key sonics of ambient, and the tense vibe of post-rock are present on this subtle-yet-solid piece from Ghost Liotta. This track shows a band in strong control of its vision and its craft, despite this being a debut single. Highly recommended.

2. “Requiem” – The Stakes. George Floyd, Dion Johnson, Breonna Taylor, and countless other deaths of black people served as the catalyst for the re-release of The Stakes “Requiem” music video. The Mikey Campbell-directed film created during quarantine captures the essence of The Stakes’ live performance. The video’s use of historical footage featuring Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. transports the listener to a touchpoint in history people remember while bringing out the stark lyrical imagery, then wrapping with the death of George Floyd.

Filmed in black and white, the clip makes purposeful use of shadows as living beings wrapping around each soaring beat from bassist Stephen Orsini. Kevin Phillips (drums) lays the groundwork for Lord Kash and ZeeDubb (MCs), while Ben Scolaro (piano) and Luis Martinez (guitar) color the framework beautifully. The song’s raw appeal strikes an emotional connection. In-your-face lyricism delivered eloquently finds stunning contrast with Marah Armenta’s vocals; the light to the darkness of the MCs’ reality. The Stakes have asked us to join them in helping keep Black and other individuals out of jail who have not been convicted of any crime by donating to the Black People’s Justice Fund. My life has been touched by this issue: I have a friend whose son was wrongly convicted of a crime he did not commit. They have fought for seventeen years for a new trial, now that there is DNA evidence. The Stakes’ clip is a further call to action for justice in situations like these throughout the country.–Lisa Whealy

3. “Default to Truth” – Spatial Relations. Here’s a peak pop-cultural sentence for you: The Antlers and Port St. Willow have collaborated to become ambient band Spatial Relations, and their first album is the soundtrack to Malcolm Gladwell’s audiobook version of Talking to Strangers. That’s a lot to take in. You can also appreciate the lovely ambient work without all that backdrop. “Default to Truth” is ambient in the truest, most Music for Airports sense of the word–it’s music that is literally intended to make the experience of something better. And the gentle, even delicate, work here would definitely do that: little tom rolls, subtle shushes, clicks, swoops, all of it is carefully calculated to be breathy, light, and yet grounded. Fantastic.

4. “Nebula” – Slowburner. Here’s a video about a jellyfish swimming in the darkness of the deep and an elegant synth composition approximating the lonely simplicity of the same with a title named after an outer space object. Like the movie Fargo: There’s a lot going on in the middle of nowhere.

5. “Moon in River” – JPH. Seems like a lot more people are jumping on the “let’s make ambient music” train, and I couldn’t be happier. JPH’s oeuvre is more fitting that most, as the outfit specializes in long, ostinato compositions that rely heavily on mood and repetition. The shift here is from organic / acoustic instruments to digital ones, and the shift is fairly seamless: the patterns of JPH’s work are recognizable while the emotional palette is extended outward through the dreamy keys. The 10-minute runtime is perfectly in line with JPH and ambient scope. Beautiful.

6. “Character” – Kylie Odetta. It feels like we’ve given up on designating summer jams before the summer started as a result of *waves hands in the air in the general direction of everything* but. Imagine this is June 2019. Life is weird and kinda bad but it’s summer finally and we can jam. This track, which is mostly tiny keys, percussion, and Odetta’s voice (with some other things for color, including a very effective flute), is the easy-going, goodnatured, feathery summer pop song that we’re looking for. There are some gospel vibes and appeals to the good Lord. If there’s a key that songs can be in that’s more major than major, it’s in that key. It’s a summer jam. Here’s to whatever shreds of summer we get in this strange and difficult year.

7. “The Garden Was You, But Now Your Spirits Free!” – Celebration Symphony Orchestra. This 13-minute suite is one long love letter to the indie-orchestra style. It combines the twee aspects of Sufjan’s Illinoise, the expansive list of players that The Collection entailed on Ars Moriendi, the slightly offkilter/your-mileage-may-vary vocals of The Yellow Dress (et al.), and the drama of Neutral Milk Hotel into one massive piece. An oddly beautiful/beautifully odd piece, rich with religious context.

8. “Overpass” – Dear Blanca. Dear Blanca’s single “Overpass” serves as a preemptive strike for the admitted power-pop junkies’ upcoming third album Perched, announcing pre-orders July 3rd. Dylan Dickerson (vocals, guitar), Alex McCollum (guitar, vocals), Cam Powell (bass), and Marc Coty (drums) create a cohesive sound, lush yet discordant, that somehow works. Produced by Wolfgang Zimmerman (Band of Horses, SUSTO) in Charleston, South Carolina, I hear flashbacks to the power-pop new wave magic that Mike Chapman produced on 1979’s Get The Knack. Dear Blanca’s “Overpass” may only have an essence of Capitol Records’ history-making debut release, but still, that’s a good company to keep.–Lisa Whealy

9. “Afluente dos Lugares” – Edson Natale. This is a deft mashup of flute, nylon-string guitar, bass, hand percussion, and spoken word that transcends the parts. It transcends genre, too, landing somewhere outside of folk, Brazilian traditional music, and spoken word poetry. It’s like a South American Balmorhea.

10. “Natural (Demo)” – Jackie Mendoza. Stacks and stacks of different synths create a dense but yet still somehow floaty backdrop for Mendoza’s speak-sung vocals, like if Bomba Estereo tried writing music on the International Space Station. This impressive banger (it’s only the demo???) is the first single of Exitos Varios, a fundraiser compilation album for the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers; I’m looking forward to the rest of the tracks.

11. “AYTYKWLA Jam” – Dishwalla. Songwriter and North Carolina State University songwriting instructor J.R. Richards discovered a gem during his UK quarantine. The never-released “AYTYKWLA Jam” is a funk groove captured in a moments before the session for And You Think You Know What Life’s About, released in 1998 under A&M Records. This instrumental is spontaneous, eclectic, and jazzy, as the groove struts in this spacey cut. The free-flowing interplay of sound is more compositional than most random improvs. The resulting departure escapes the genre box Dishwalla found themselves in the early days of MTVLike Riaan Nieuwenhuis’s Bleeding Moon, Scott Alexander’s bass builds a groove-heavy framework for Rodney Browning Cravens to climb with his trippy spacey guitar. George Pendergast on drums creates a steady beat for the intricate keyboards from Jim Wood. Richards’ voice would normally soar, being among rock’s premier vocalists with Danny Elfman and of course Freddie Mercury in my opinion. Here a Wurlitzer piano seems like the place where the lead singer’s voice would soar, singing through the keys.–Lisa Whealy

12. “Amelie” – Reuel. The theme from Yann Tiersen’s score for Amélie is given a very theatrical interpretation, featuring a sped-up tune, techno beats, hand percussion, aerial silks, a piano in a giant empty room, impassioned key-hitting, and deep red overtones. It would all be a bit much for me except that the composition is undeniably fun. If you like The Piano Guys, you’ll love this.

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Stephen Carradini and Lisa Whealy write reviews of instrumental, folk, and singer/songwriter music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.

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