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Month: August 2021

Emily Hopkins, Harp Coolness-er

So ever since I discovered Andreas Vollenweider (thanks to Teen Daze including one of his songs in a DJ mix), I’ve loved hearing harps do weird things. I don’t know how I hadn’t heard of Emily Hopkins, given this specific interest of mine, but now I know about her work. She attaches guitar pedals to her harp and makes things get weird. This particular video has her playing around with a Rainger FX Snare Trap pedal and then linking that pedal to a Bit Crusher pedal for more coolness. It’s like lo-fi hiphop, but harp.  Incredibly fun to listen to:

She also has a video that turns her harp into an ambient/goth production outfit, one that turns out Sigur Ros sounds, and another that is like some twinkly-emo/glitchy combo. And tons more. Friends. You need to listen to this. It is fantastic.

Three Singles

There’s no denying that visualization and digitization have changed the global music scene. Forty years have passed since MTV’s August 1, 1981 beginnings. Do you live for curated playlists from trusted sources or hit YouTube Music’s improved sonic experience algorithms to influence your ears or move your soul? Today, the vibes your friends talk about are the ones sending us towards tracks like the jazz/trip-hop fusion brilliance of French-Canadian Caravan Palace’s “Melancolia”.  

“Fashion” from Berlin’s Flowers 15 (off their upcoming release Friends Team) is aligned with the avant garde artistic feel of Italy’s PINHDAR. Suggesting that Flowers 15 is only “flower pop” ignores its depth as social commentary unified with emerging visual arts. The latest singles “Twitter” and “I Hate Instagram” could fall into preconceived ideas of what the songs might mean, but there’s more there.

“La Reputación” – El Italiano. Alejandro Giannini’s El Italiano tells his own story of an Italian heritage whose family emigrated from Calabria, Italy to Argentina in this track. A songwriter who composes in Spanish, “La Reputación” tells the tale of love and its eternal pull, like a matador’s desire to battle to the death in the running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain. —Lisa Whealy

Crépuscule by Rêves sonores reveals unique treasures

Crépuscule by Rêves sonores is a beautiful, intriguing record. Stefan Christoff’s piano and Nick Schofield’s synthesizers form the basis of the ambient-adjacent works, with contributions from Ari Swan (violin), Devin Brahja Waldman (saxophone) and Nick Kuepfer (field recordings). The descriptions of the main instruments doesn’t tell the story of the record, though: the album is a wide-ranging sonic adventure that moves through many different states.

Opener “Alight” sets the tone through a complex set of electronically manipulated string runs, accentuated by an elegant base of slow-moving strings. The tension of speed and still that is depicted here runs throughout the album. Highlight “Mondial” builds out a fascinating piece from a speedy saxophone pattern, pizzicato violin, a dancing lead violin melody, and gentle synthesizers. It’s not ambient, because it moves; yet it’s still very peaceful despite its motion. It is a unique, wonderful piece.

“Soliloquy” contrasts the joyful “Mondial” with a slow-moving, ominous soundscape. Distant piano, eerie synths, and suspense-movie violin create a harsh, yet intriguing, space for saxophone to play around in. It sounds like someone having a good time in an empty lot at midnight, preferably under a single streetlight. “Seers Theme” and “Spirodon” continue this noir vibe, but they strip out even more action; these tunes approach ambient music via economy of notes, if not in lush washes of sound. (See “Svalbard” for those interested in as close as this album gets to “lush washes.”)

The rest of the album lives between these two poles of dancing movement and stark economy. “Swan Song” pits the motion of “Mondial” against the emptiness of “Soliloquy” and “Seers Theme,” creating a distinctive, unusual vibe that draws me in over and over. “Hearken” and “Lucidity” flow together neatly as a single track, with “Hearken” being an acoustic section and “Lucidity” being a distorted electronic version of the same noir-ish moods (if not quite the same theme). Closer “Reprise” is conceptually similar to “Alight” but for a minor-key song instead of a major-key one.

Crepuscule is a difficult record to describe but an easy one to enjoy. I’ve listened to it many, many times in the past few months, and its intrigue has not failed me yet. It’s not a grower, an album that originally doesn’t click but opens up after multiple listens (“it grew on me”). Instead, it connected easily with me at first, and then revealed further treasures on repeat listens. It’s a truly lovely and interesting work of art. Highly recommended.

August Singles 1

1. “maladaptive daydreams” – shn shn. I like ambient music that creates a meditative, calming state while still having more motion than is strictly necessary for an ambient piece. This calming word builds off floating pad synths but has percussion bopping around after 45 seconds of intro to keep things moving. shn shn’s vocals are beautiful and breathy, engaging the listener with a repeated question of “why don’t you stay here?” It’s a triumph. The visual is also amazing: harrybyharry creates a mashup of magazine collage, vaporwave visuals, and human poses to reflect busy, cluttered (maybe even maladaptive) daydreaming. It too is a triumph. Highly recommended.

2. “June” – Gerycz/Powers/Rolin. “What if bluegrass, but weird?” has a lot of answers. Balmorhea’s was “yea, post-rock!” Gercyz/Powers/Rolin’s answer is “post-bluegrass”; pastoral vibes still exist in spades, but the guitar tone has distinctly post-rock overtones. The feel is unique and interesting. Highly recommended.

3. “Skylarks” – Immersion with Ulrich Schnauss. I love Schnauss’s lush, wide-screen electronic landscapes. Paired up with Immersion here, you can feel Schnauss’s work pulling the precise, almost pointillist melodies into more open spaces. An excellent partnership. Highly recommended.

4. “Feted” – Falcon Arrow. Falcon Arrow’s distorted-bass-and-drums post-rock never fails to be acrobatic and impressive, but this time they add in an enormous amount of sludgy, doomy low-end to the mix. Falcon Arrow just always knows what’s up, and this time is no exception. Also, their album art is always fantastically evocative sci-fi stuff, and this piece of art is perfectly tuned to the sludgy musical content. Highly recommended.

5. “Planet B” – Steven Bernstein’s Millennial Territory Orchestra. “Planet B” offers us a jazz cruise through NYC. Richly visual, Bernstein’s composition seems the perfect enticement to his album Tinctures In Time (Community Music, Vol. 1) dropping September 3. Kit Fitzgerald’s visuals capture the varied essence of this track, adding new textures to the slow jazz groove. As the first of four planned releases on Royal Potato Family, Bernstein soars with his first original compositions in twenty years. —Lisa Whealy

6. “Balafô Douma” – N’famady Kouyaté. Whoa. This is a invigorating, surprising blast of balafon (a traditional wooden African xylophone), horns, percussion, and soaring vocals. This is maximalist work in the best way.

7. “Always” – E.VAX and Ratatat. Evan Mast (E.Vax) gives collab credit to his old duo here, and it makes sense: this one is a little more beat-heavy (like Ratatat’s work) than opening E.VAX single “Karst.”

8. “Aliso” – FLDPLN. Somewhere between Teen Daze and M83, FLDPLN is making evocative, immersive pop that makes me want to write phrases like “Cruiserweight creamy wave” and “saxophone dream state.” No apologies, no regrets.

9. “Momento Presente” – Mas Aya. Stuttering, fluttering, and chirping, this amalgam of beats, flutes, and shakers is a gentle whirlwind, an enveloping cloud, a chaotic puff, a punchy softness.

10. “I pulled the sheet back over my head” – The Chairman Dances. If you fuse the lyrical sentiments of The Mountain Goats circa The Life of the World to Come with squiggly indie rock guitar lines and a rattling rhythm section, you’ll come out with this left-field pop gem.

11. “Spooky Action” – Charming Disaster. The Brooklyn-based Charming Disaster are the goth folk duo of Ellia Bisker and Jeff Morris. Their latest single embodies the essence of pandemic, with desire for connection oozing through each lyric. Examining the role of connection in our lives, this sweetly simple acoustic beauty written during lockdown soars, vibrating with its embedded morse code. –Lisa Whealy

12. “Pretty” – Turn Zero. Turn Zero captures the essence of innocence in this 80/20 Records release featuring Nick Barker. This indie rock track connects grabbing the vibe of some of Warped Tour’s greatest such as  Paramour’s Hayley Williams.–Lisa Whealy

13. “Hidden – Merimell Remix” – Matthew Creed. Sometimes you just need a big, stomping, industrial-tinged techno cut to get things going. This is that pounding, fun cut.