Killa Maus is one of those Arizona artists that defies genrefication. Part blues, part jazz, part spoken word with a big swirl of desert strut might be the best way to describe the music. The eleven songs from Killa Maus and The Desert Rats are a ticket to sonic paradise.
The man behind the art, Jesse Morrison aka Killa Maus, wrote and co-produced the album with Tony Brant. Brant is also an engineer at Highland Recording Studio, tackling the mixing board on this complex record. Billy Sutherland joins on stunning guitar, with Killa Maus adding bass, keys, guitar and his signature vocals. Ethereal, funky, and jazzy each describe the soundscapes that are achieved here. Opener “Picture” struts in with that throwback vibe, but just teases out groove to slide on into the next track.
“Magnificent” flows with its horns and heavy bass line. The jazz oozes here, laced with the trademark Killa Maus falsetto. This feels like a New Orleans party until the abrupt end. Slipping into “Such A Mood,” featuring vocalist Haley Green, the tension builds to perfection here. The narrative seamlessly flows through follow-up “Hano Culture” featuring Human. These two tracks reflect Maus’s ability to create a completely relatable narrative experience.
“Hold Strong” featuring Laura Hamlin shifts gears, revealing the depth of musical talent lurking in the desert. This sweet sonic treat with an Americana flair defies the notion that this album can fit into a box. Expectations are blown out of the water on this bit of brilliance. Tracks like this highlight mixing as a craft, and Brant handles the changes masterfully. With its tone of defiance, “L.W.Y.D.” hits the 80s rock vibe superbly, intentionally or not. This is one of the most lyrically meaningful tracks as well.
The next section of the record is a sonic party, and sequencing plays an integral part of the listening experience. “Loosey Goosey” leads the chill out conga line. The angsty build leading up to “Sunshine Dayz” featuring Cori Rios slips a Caribbean cool in as well. Simple, like hitting the pool, the “Good Cookin’” party is back with horns. “Moonshine” seems reminiscent of the sonic palette of Pink Floyd’s Animals. Its ethereal rock mix fits here. Saying goodbye to a new friend can be difficult, as “Sonia” soars with its strings. The sweetly simple lyrics of love surround a chorus with subtle instrumentation.
Firmly nestled in the list of “best things I’ve heard in 2021” (even though the album came out in 2019; but who’s counting?), Killa Maus and The Desert Rats is brilliant! —Lisa Whealy
1. “This Train” – Opus Kink. Opus Kink has a delightfully fractured sense of pop music, splicing in all sorts of weird things to create their own unique mix. This one includes “Tusk”-esque horns over hectic punk energy poured into a wiry post-punk/indie rock scramble. The vocals are equal parts calm doom and frantic hurtle. It’s one of the weirdest, best songs I’ve heard in a long time. The lyrics are a blast (and put people on blast). Highly recommended.
2. “Methuselah Theme” – Unweather. Look pretty much anything can be a banger if it gets you going, and this piece gets me going. I love 8-bit-influenced video game soundtrack music, and this is an A+ version of that style. It’s beautiful in a very specific way.
3. “Orbiting Mercury in a Dream” – Joseph Sannicandro + Stefan Christoff. This is one of the tracks where the whole review is right there in the title. Do you want to know what this ambient track sounds like? It sounds orbiting Mercury in a dream. If that sounds appealing to you, inquire within.
4. “Akinuba / The Heart feat. Yusef Lateef” – Web Web x Max Herre. Adventurous and accessible, this jazz cut has two distinct sections (as the title notes). The first is a subtle, laid-back, winds-led piece; the second is a more interrogative, urgent groove that burbles with energy under insistent spoken word poetry.
5. “Kuyina” – Cameron Knowler. Just a lovely little flight of fancy on a guitar, a ray of sunshine 105 seconds long, a piece of the sky.
6. “Norweigan Dream” – Oslo Tapes. A five-minute psych-rock odyssey that churns and churns and churns. It’s woozy and groovy, yet also locked-in rhythmically.
7. “Tseudo” – Zahn. Some great guitar-soaring going on here in this rippin’, spacey rock track. The video is just dudes headbobbing to the track in the back of a car, which is honestly pretty perfect for this cut.
8. “Bedside Love Song” – Frank Moyo. Just an old-fashioned love song, celebrating healthy love.
9. “Amidst” – Jason Van Wyk. A murky, fuzzy, amorphous ambient piece with dark undertones and lots of static. The album art is a distant light surrounded by blackness. You know who you are.
10. “Previous Tape” – Giancarlo Erra. If creepy ambient isn’t your jam, the soft, mournful, mesmerizing tones of this ambient flutter might be.
Freya Lily‘s Something Calming is a lovely EP of elegant piano music. The solo piano works here are uniformly beautiful, with each of the six songs pointing out a slightly different take on elegant beauty. “Shiver” is an insistent, urgent song pushed along by a speedy right hand; but while it feels like it is nearly tripping over itself, it does so without anxiety or major dissonance. It manages to feel dramatic and exciting without being stressful.
“3s and 4s” is more pensive, led by a set of cascading, melancholy treble runs. The gentle low end gives some warm grounding to the piece to balance out the gloom. “When All Is Quiet” is a wistful, nostalgic piece that slows the tempo down considerably. “Damp Leaves” is a peaceful piece with a hopeful cast; the low end and mid-range keep things moving while the treble holds an ambiguous, delicate line. All told, the title is spot-on: this is uniquely interesting, but also calming, music.
1. “Escalator” by FLDPLN. Pronounced “field-plan” (although I was hoping for flood-plain, I miss the rain), this solo artist’s latest electro-pop cut hearkens back to the early days of chillwave: blown-out lead vocals, ping-ponging spoken samples, big washes of synth, heavily reverbed percussion. The screamin’ saxophone solo is new, though! Highly recommended.
2. “Everest” – JuffBass. JuffBass is back with another downtempo tune of intertwining basslines, bass effects, and kit drums. “Everest” is anchored by a notably excellent drum performance, as lines lope and play over the tight rhythms. There are some late-era Red Hot Chili Peppers vibes throughout, which is always a big plus.
3. “Start Sumpthin Up” – J3PO. Instrumental hip-hop with funk-inspired basslines, dreamy keyboards/synths, and jazzy piano runs. What’s not to like?
4. “Orlo” – Timo Lassy. Kickin’ kit drum, flashy jazz saxophone lines, and disco-evoking strings meld together into a clever, punchy cut that leaves me wanting more.
5. “12.14” – Among Leaves. This tender piano rumination with birdsong sounds like that moment in RPG video games when you step out of the long cave into the inexplicably light-dappled, cavernous, open space. It’s beautiful, mysterious, and even reverent regarding the natural world.
6. “Love Exists Everywhere” – Blue Reality Quartet. This spacious jam manages to sound totally comfortable and ominous at the same time. While the drums hold down a steady pace, the saxophone is mournful and eerie. The flute drops in and out. The melodic percussion lends (paradoxically) an air of dreamy miasma and earth-bound connection. The whole piece is enigmatic and yet comforting.
7. “I Am Multiple” – Farewell. A pensive, thoughtful composition that plays like ending credits to a good movie. The vocals here do an excellent job infusing emotion into the piece without going over the top.
8. “Jeu Sur La Symphonie Fantastique 2” – Ballaké Sissoko feat. Vincent Segal and Patrick Messina. Fantastic symphony, indeed. This exquisite kora, flute, and cello performance imagines a Hector Berlioz piece in a celebratory style. It’s smile-inducing and remarkable. Highly recommended.
9. “Tranquilo” – Tim Kobza. Some smooth, guitar-led jazz that goes down easy but still has expansive, adventurous keys performances. The sort of thing that is delivered so precisely and perfectly that it sounds like it’s easy but in reality it is extremely not.
10. “Simple Beauty” – Leo Motta. A rainy-day rumination that has nostalgic low-fi drumming, vintage-sounding keys, and overall good vibes. This one polishes the standard elements of lo-fi instrumental hip-hop to an even finer gleam than usual.
Change agents come in all forms, connecting us to ideas of what can be. Merging his creative flow with filmmaker Jonjames Oxberry-Hogg, Jody Bigfoot’s Duszt is both an album (with German producer Tandaro) and a feature film.
Bigfoot’s story as an artist revels in the connection between the existential and spiritual. UK born, his global travels led to an awakening while in Japan. The thematically-rich, socially conscious hip hop flourishes with Buddist, Daoist, and Zen philosophies. The album in its cinematic form flows as an immersive artistic experience from Japanese directors Kitano Takeshi and Akira Kurosawa. Filmed entirely in Japan, vibrant visuals elevate each note.
At roughly 6’6” tall, Bigfoot’s choice to film his existential commentary is visually stunning. His presence as a towering figure adds an odd perspective to the lyrics. The product is a ying/yang soothsayer’s commentary in twelve songs, a tightly constructed performance piece narrating transformation. “Where is the Style?” feels like a commentary that could live in a film noir classic, ripping apart the dark bits of society. Criticizing technology with “Temples” seems perfect, especially when paired with the film’s visuals. The musically rich “Stars’ shines, as the universal story creates a meditative experience with saxophone.
Accented by multi-instrumentalist Tandoro’s aesthetic as producer, this unique album is a vehicle for activism. Nuanced and subtle, Bigfoot’s vocal tone vibes with this creative universe, each note resonating with purpose. The richness of this release is matched by the talented artisans that brought the artistic vision to life. It has easily found its way into my top three for 2021. Definitely add Jody Bigfoot and Tandaro’s Duszt to your consciousness.–Lisa Whealy
Ben Seretan‘s Cicada Waves is a brilliant, low-key album that pairs delicate, improvisational piano with field sounds of a remote corner of Georgia (US). There’s all sorts of bugs, birds, trees, rain, and general outside-noise mixed only a notch below the level of the piano, giving the record a gorgeously agrarian feel.
I lived in the deep South for a while and miss these sounds; the beautiful melodies on top of these sounds only accentuate what is an unexpectedly emotional album for me. Every track is wonderful. The highlight is “Fog Rolls Out Rabun Gap,” which features a duet of sorts with a particularly vocal bird. Highly recommended. (RIP that piano though.)
I like my techno self-aware and somewhat self-conscious: I want to hear the artist fighting against techno’s conventions while also acknowledging that some of the conventions are pretty darn fun (which is why they’re conventions). Phraktal‘s Nightwalk does that: there’s a clear throughline of dusky, minor-key techno bits that would allow this out on a dance floor, but there’s a bunch of low-key reservations against the big, blaring EDM-esque techno that give this character. The titular track takes about 45 seconds of concept and dribbles it out over a nearly 7-minute span; it’s conceptually akin to deep house, but the elements of the track consistently fade away or disappear. It’s like dissolving paper, in the best way; it keeps you on your toes with interest not waiting for the drop, but waiting for whatever happens next (whatever it may be).
“Head V Heart” and “Hypnophunk” have some more traditional four-on-the-floor techno elements, but subvert them in some way. “Head V Heart” even includes a fragmentary female vocal sample (talk about conventions) but does the same fade-all-the-way-out trick from the title track. “Hypnophunk” keeps the listener off-kilter with a floating synth that is just outside the vibe of the song, slowly pulling the center off-balance. By the time “Cabal” comes around, it’s a relief to get a straightforward techno cut with some Daft-Punk-in-Tron ominous vibes. Ultimately, this a record that those pining for the dance floor will recognize, and those who like their dancefloors a little weirder will embrace.
Myles Cochran‘s Unsung is an instrumental acoustic folk-style record with some serious verve. Cochran’s approach is not traditionalist in form, content, or title. As soon as I saw “Love Is As Beautiful As Pizza” on the tracklist, I knew I had to review it. (That one is a wiggly, introspective, early-’00s, Parachutes-style rumination; which, why not?) The album is composed mostly of thoughtful, mid-tempo pieces that are long on mood and timbre. There’s a lot more texture here than pickin’–this record bears more resemblance to Balmorhea than bluegrass.
“Crab of Many Shells” accentuates unusual guitar rhythms above a moody miasma, while the walking-speed “The Window” is sort of like a dark Mountain Goats track with the piano playing John Darnielle’s voice. “Churrito” is a similar vibe, with some added Latinx influence from the title and the guitar style. Closer “It’s Like This, It’s Like That” is one of the more eerie tunes, giving the listener a weird vibe on the way out (just for fun). The arrangements are tight without feeling constrained, the melodies are vibrant without feeling traditional, and the whole work comes off like a charm.
Editor’s note: This is the 3000th post on Independent Clauses! Thanks to everyone who has been with us through 3000 posts. Here’s to 3000 more. –Stephen Carradini
Stephen Carradini and I present Independent Clauses 2021 Spotify Playlist, Vol. 2. It features a diverse representation of genres covered over the past few months. The musical selections represent a global soundscape calling out humanity’s strengths and weaknesses as individuals and as a community.
While developing this playlist, the soundtrack from Questlove’s groundbreaking documentary Summer of Soul connected 16-year-old Stevie Wonder to the latin rhythms of Tampo’s “Keumgang.” Sly and The Family Stone vibed with Pauli The PSM’s “We Got the Beat,” transcending time and place with its universal groove.
Artists featured in this playlist include, in no particular order: @JodyBigfoot – @Killamaus – @Kaleo – @iamsupergrover – @broscomatose – @bonesofjrjones – @questlove – @hplemke – @JustinJohnson11 – @paulilovejoy – @bencosgrove – Avalon Skies – The Fierce Brothers. – Lisa Whealy