Press "Enter" to skip to content

Month: September 2022

Quick Hits: tino / Cool Maritime / Alister Fawnwoda and Greg Liesz

tino’s interpreting clouds peppers washes of ambient synths with keys, occasional guitar, and found sound recordings and sonic manipulations to create evocative tracks that have the qualities of dreams. “For the Stratus Family” plays a warm, ostinato keys pattern under chatter reminiscent of a family dinner; it feels for all the world like a memory of Thanksgiving (I can pick out the phrase “the joy of community” from the voices). It resolves into the sound of wind, taking the memory away. “With Distractions on the Dash” feels like a hazy Teen Daze introduction that never picks up a beat, then gives way to sounds reminiscent of radio channel switching. “Turned a Slomo Firework” works that in reverse, transforming radio chatter and stuttering into an elegant drone. It’s lovely work throughout, for fans of Hammock.

I love vaporwave. I think that wasn’t ever really the goal of vaporwave, to have anybody love it, but lo: I love it. Cool Maritime takes everything appealing about vaporwave (the unusual keys sounds, the faux-seriousness mocking new age music, the digital vibes, the relentlessly optimistic and unintentionally mysterious melodies) and builds on it.

While opener and title track “Big Earth Energy” is essentially a contribution to a vaporwave storehouse somewhere, follow-on “Amphibia” adds in arpeggiator as a base and birdsong as a garnish to the proceedings. The subtle changes make a big difference, and the results are very appealing. “Temporal Dryft” and “Apex” are about as maximal as a vaporwave-inspired electro track can get without introducing real percussion of some type; the zinging counterpoints are melodically excellent. The mysterious “Avian Glide” sounds like it could have been a soundtrack to Myst in another life. This album probably hits a very specific niche, but if you’re in that niche, you’re gonna get hit by it. Big Earth Energy is a fantastically great album that makes serious work of goofy source material. Highly recommended.

Milan by Alister Fawnwoda and Greg Liesz (and featuring Suzanne Ciani on every track) is a vast ocean of ambient country. Composed of feathery synths, pedal steel, and electronics, these tracks feel Western (via the floating pedal steel) but also oceanic (in that they feel liquid and malleable, rolling gently like waves). Opener “Night Bunny” is the perfect example, as the tune seems to just wash over me with delicate notes, over and over.

“Sweetheart” does the same, with a bit more consistent delivery. “Delayed” relies more on melody than the first two, with the pedal steel confidently traversing its landscape. These pieces play out like movements of the same suite: the record is best listened to as a whole, preferably with headphones while laying in a hammock OR while floating in a float therapy pool. Hazily beautiful, beautiful haze.

September 2022 Singles 4

1. “MONSTERA” – Gold Lamé. A unique and wonderful fusion of folk, prog, and indie-pop that results in a tune riding a dart that landed in the space between Fang Island, Anamanaguchi, and This is the Kit. Highly recommended.

2. “Cheesecake” – Lazerbeak. Maximalist electro that fuses Pogo, R&B, gospel organ, and Anamanaguchi for a truly weird and wonderful track.

3. “Polytunnel” – un.procedure. Jazztronica that combines acrobatic drums, athletic saxophone playing, and a solid base of synths to create a hectic, frantic footrace.

4. “Ventre I” – PALMER GENERATOR. Low-slung, gritty, even gnarly (as in the sense of “gnarled tree wood”) post-rock with strong contributions from all three members of the trio. Special shoutout to the impressive drumming.

5. “Panda Village” – Theon Cross. I never tire of Cross’s tuba-led jazz explorations. This is Cross doing his thing par excellence: going full blast with tuba in hand and band accompanying, while still sneaking in some emotive moments.

6. “401” – Youritz. I’m always here for grungy, melodic, fried techno in the spirit of Daft Punk’s TRON remixes.

7. “Oracles” – ATŌMI. Combining classical vocals, drones, post rock-style surges of sound, and subtle electronics, this commanding piece garners a strong impression.

8. “Land and Sea Boundaries” – Ivory Fields. Feels like ODESZA and The Flaming Lips got together for an exploratory electronic jam session, in the best of ways.

9. “Running” – Rival Consoles. Restrained, subtle electronic music here that slowly unveils the full concept part by part. Ultimately, it’s a clicking, popping, whirring, punchy electro jam.

10. “White Shadow” – Beatenberg feat. Msaki. Lots of subtle touches from various influences result in a unique and interesting indie pop track. Fans of Belle and Sebastian, Paul Simon, Vampire Weekend, and alt-pop crooners will all find things to love here.

Quick Hits: Void Patrol / Brown Calvin / Grassy Sound

Void Patrol is a wild experience. Colin Stetson (saxophones), Elliott Sharp (strings, electronics), Billy Martin (drums, percussion), and Payton MacDonald (keyboard, percussion) draw on their disparate experiences to create a sonic palette unlike many I’ve ever heard. Stetson’s apocalyptic saxophone playing has graced these pages many times, and Stetson is in full form here.

Yet instead of creating great heaving masses of looped saxophone notes, Stetson here can let the trio behind him do the work of creating structure. Opener “Antares” sees MacDonald, Martin, and Sharp develop a strange yet locked-in groove via drums, woozy keys, and marimba for three minutes before Stetson arrives and just wails for five straight minutes. The grumbling, rumbling discontentment of “Rigel” allows all the parts to bang up against each other to see what might happen. The ominously fluttering saxophone parts of “Sirius” call back to Stetson’s New History Warfare Vol 2: Judges, my personal favorite of Stetson’s work. Overall, these pieces have a little bit more free-jazz chaos in them than Stetson’s solo work, but the emotions and moods in both are similar. Fans of adventurous music should sign up for this adventure.

Brown Calvin’s d i m e n s i o n // p e r s p e c t i v e has perfect artwork. This ten-song release collects warm, woozy, detailed, ambling electronic pieces. These songs never lose their sense of melodic structure so as to become soundscapes, but rarely resolve the melodies into recognizable song structures. Instead, we get a tour of Andre Burgos’ appealing stream-of-consciousness sonic explorations. Opener “D i m e n s i o n (0-∞)” moseys on for almost 18 minutes, offering snatches of keys, blurting synths, peculiar percussion, and a goodnatured attitude throughout. Follow-on “P e r s p e c t I v e 1 1” gets a little more sound-sculptural, but never loses the hazy melodies that float above the proceedings. This is the sort of record that happens to you; you experience it. There’s a refreshing lack of pretense or structural concern here; Burgos thought of some music and played it. We get to listen in. It’s a great record.

The Sounds of Grassy Sound by, uh, Grassy Sound is a unique little record. Combining elements of surf-rock (“Skylark,” “Astronaut”), vintage popcraft (“Another Blue Moon,” “New Harbor Light Boogie”), and ’70s soundtracks (the spy movie montage of “Flitzer,” the walking-in-the-park vibes of “Lu Fran”), the duo of guitarist Nick Millevoi and the keyboardist Ron Stabinsky warp historical sounds into subtly new forms.

The duo doesn’t subvert these genres’ expectations as much as they play with them: the duo clearly love this type of music and wanted to make their own versions of the stuff. Making new versions of things popular in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s in the 2020s will naturally result in some unique developments. There’s also a cover of “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” by the Meat Puppets (the only track here with vocals). Why not? The whole album is a big “Why not?” that pays off, really.

September 2022 Singles 3

1. “Will Davenport’s Tune” – Joseph Decosimo. Boy, this song has a story (check the notes at the bottom of the linked YouTube video). Beyond the amazing background, this banjo piece is accompanied by mesmerizing pump organ (one of my favorite instruments) and evocative hand percussion. This feels about as close to getting in touch with the spirit of folk music as you can get. Highly recommended.

2. “Aesop Mountain” – Andy Thorn. I love banjo-led instrumental Americana. There’s an emotional expansiveness and warm-hearted approach to the melodies that sell me on this great jam.

3. “Kielo” – Olli Hirvonen. Lovely folk/Americana guitarwork here, complete with solid drumming and some rad melodic tapping.

4. “Clouds over Sintra” – Deniz Cuylan. Classical guitar composition with a mysterious bent. Very peaceful and engaging.

5. “Mørkevandring” – Kosmos Trio. Piano-led work that sits in the spaces between post-rock and jazz, for fans of GoGo Penguin. Smooth, lively, thoughtful, creative.

6. “Tahmila Huzam” – Karim Nagi & Ensemble. Huzam is a “Arab maqam musical scale that starts and ends on a microtone,” and Karim Nagi’s work here is a celebration of Arab culture via its distinctive musical tradition. The piece is composed of fish skin riqq Arab tambourine, oud lute, nay flute, and Arabic-tuned keman violin; it sounds joyous, mysterious, and intriguing.

7. “Bridges of Waves” – Earth Room. Ezra Feinberg is back with more sounds (and more players!) that push the boundaries of new age, drone, midcentury composition, and now jazz. This 10 minute track has (in turn) moments of solemnity, chaos, and subtle groove amid a bed of sounds that feel like a sunrise. It’s an experience.

8. “Coral” – Dawn Richard & Spencer Zahn. A lush, expansive collaboration that falls between ambient, composed music, and new age (flutes! flutes! flutes!).

9. “After Stardust” – Sophia Subbayya Vastek. Speedy yet light piano work with great moodiness. For fans of Ben Cosgrove’s excellent work.

10. “Ceremony” – Michael Varverakis. An elegant, exploratory, classic solo jazz electric guitar piece that just feels really good.

Quick Hit: Sanctuary by Paul Adams and Elizabeth Geyer

I’ve been fascinated by far-out new age music since I heard one of Andreas Vollenweider’s tracks in a Teen Daze mix some years ago. I also am very into acoustic post-rock and ambient music. So it makes sense that I would eventually come across some meditative new age music that would catch my ear. Sanctuary by Paul Adams and Elizabeth Geyer is that record.

This excellently arranged record is full of flutes, guitars, piano, and pad synths. It’s all the sounds you know and expect from new age, and done expertly. The opener title track tells you everything you need to know about this record: it’s a deeply meditative seven-minute piece that introduces melodic ideas from each instrument carefully and contemplatively. The follow-on “A Forest’s Embrace” brings more, with the field recordings of a forest (insects and birds, in particular) adding a layer of atmosphere. “Forest Light” introduces harp glissandos and dreamy melismatics from a female vocalist; “Graceful Waters” includes prominent sounds of water being walked through or boated through. Beyond these flourishes, the works each feature flowing, carefully constructed interplay of instruments to produce a deeply meditative state. Fans of new age need no introduction to these two artists, while fans outside the zone but who enjoy the works of Ezra Feinberg will find much to love here.

Blurstem and Elijah Bisbee’s Geneva is a mesmerizing acoustic experience

Blurstem and Elijah Bisbee‘s Geneva inhabits a wonderful space between ambient, orchestral composition, and acoustic post-rock. The ten pieces on the record are relentlessly beautiful. The subtle complexity of “Wildwood” incorporates distant vocals, rumbling percussion, delicate synths, graceful strings, and lovely piano for a tune that sounds far more effortless than it must have been to create. The melodic “Twin Lakes” features a memorable guitar composition, while “Lakehouse Inn” produces a full-on melancholic, ambient glow. The reverb-heavy title track sounds like Bon Iver caught in a storm of reverb before turning into a post-rock grumble. These compositions are excellent on their own, but as a full collection they shine brightest: listening for the full half-hour with headphones in a peaceful place is a truly mesmerizing experience. Highly recommended.

airport people’s elegant, creative, relaxing record is a triumph

Peaceful music is difficult to make. It’s hard to be creative and relaxing at the same time. Yet those who can produce the perfect balance can create indelible music. airport people‘s from nine mornings is a rare album that is intricate and deeply involving while also being deeply peaceful. I feel refreshed after listening to From Nine Mornings, which is a rare experience for me.

The nine mornings here (except for the “Prelude,” each track is “From Morning no. X”) are primarily piano pieces. Percussion, the occasional stringed instrument, and some found sounds appear throughout, but these tunes are all about Leon Todd Johnson’s delicate, intricate, engaging piano work. There’s a touch of ’70s smooth jazz here, in the casual yet revelatory approach to the pieces. But these pieces feel deeply authentic; there are no pretenses or postures here, just beautiful instrumental expressions. These pieces are peaceful, but they move; “From Morning no. 2” has a propulsive forward motion through the beautiful lead piano and the tasteful percussion, while “From Morning no. 5” takes its time unfurling into a subtle, warm piece with a carefully developed groove via left hand, bass, and drums.

Elsewhere, Johnson lets the piano sit alone. “From Morning no. 4” is a spartan, open affair with only minor contributions from the other instruments. “From Morning no. 3” has birdsong as one of the piano’s main counterpoints; the piece feels organic and lovely. “From Morning no. 8” is nearly ambient in its austere, restrained approach.

This is the sort of album that I feel is diminished through too much description. The joys of this record are many and wonderful. Discovering them has been a treat, and a highlight of my music listening year so far. airport people’s debut record is a triumph. Highly recommended.

Alisa Amador explodes onto the scene

Alisa Amador’s selection as the 2022 Tiny Desk Concert winner has exploded Amador and her Narratives onto the eclectic songwriter music scene. As the songwriter says in her debut release, however, her newfound shine may be more about recognizing the crazy world we live in. An EP like Narratives captures the human experience as simple as a songbird in the morning light.

Opener “Timing” hits every bit of hesitation we have all felt while walking through life and falling for someone special. Amador’s vocals ooze innocence and desire. Somehow she touches on that gritty angst love brings in, wrapped in hope. Simple, restrained instrumentation keeps the song uncluttered, letting the troubadour shine. 

Pandemic recordings from homes in Boston, Maine, Germany, and Argentina grace this release. These recordings capture an innocence that songbirds like a young Linda Rondstadt embodied. The six-track release, produced by Daniel Radin and Amador herself, creates a throwback jazz vibe thanks to minimalist work from engineers Radin and David Minehan at Woolly Mammoth Sound (Waltham, MA). Radin also mixed this spacious sonic masterpiece at Brighton Hills West Recording (Watertown, MA). Piper Payne at Infrasonic Mastering (Nashville, TN) brought the whole thing together via mastering. 

Amador, with her vocals and guitar, is joined by Noah Harrington (upright bass, electric bass, backing vocals) and Jacob Thompson (drums, backing vocals). The three conjure a unique blend of folk-jazz, defying any established sonic palette. Throw in Andrew Bedard on saxophone, Bastien Rieser on trumpet, Emily Baker on fiddle, and the flow grooves on with driving minimalism. 

“Alone” might be one of the year’s best songs, touching on raw emotion that rarely receives attention. The tune is supported by Jamie Oshima (keys, lead guitar). “Nada Que ver” is a window into the Alisa Amador we long to know, an artist whose personal narrative is culturally rich. Intimacy in this Spanish-language song suggests the songwriter’s willingness to be vulnerable in this song and in her more comprehensive career. Closing with “Together,” Kaiti Jones and Hayley Sabella (backing vocals) help reinforce the notion that Amador’s lilting vocal style and jazz-folk fusion is here to stay. On Narratives, she invites us into her sunlit garden filled with song. –Lisa Whealy.

Cameron Blake tours us through a distinctive healing process

A central tenet of the Mountain Goats’ work that every life, no matter how seemingly obscure or seemingly placid, has a story: dramatic, tragic, comedic, sometimes all of them. You can’t know a person fully by looking at them or even by being acquaintances. You gotta know them closely to see the real dramas going on in lives. I agree.

I’ve been covering Cameron Blake‘s work since 2011, including albums and songs that aren’t even available anymore. I know the work of Blake pretty well. But through all that, I did not know Blake deeply enough to know his backstory. With Mercy for the Gentle Kind, Blake tells a story of pain, struggle, and redemption that spans the whole chronology of his career. The story, in his words, looks like this:

Cameron’s life in music began as a classical violinist at the age of 12, a passion that brought him to numerous professional stages and culminated in a Master’s Degree from the Peabody Institute of Music in Baltimore. While at Peabody, his violin playing was nearly brought to an abrupt halt by an abusive teacher.

He put down the violin and picked up piano, becoming a singer/songwriter instead of a violinist. He’s been in the pages of IC ever since. Yet as Blake began to address the wounds from the abusive violin teacher, he found freedom to play the violin again. He even played a full violin recital recently. Stories of resurrection, redemption, and healing are deeply moving to me, so these experiences struck a chord with me before even hearing the music that he wrote amid/as a result of the process of healing.

The music strikes a chord with me too. Mercy for the Gentle Kind addresses the experience of healing through vignette narratives, depicting different stages of the process without expressly calling out the process. “Blue Note” comes closest to explaining the process, giving an account of leaving and returning. The indie-rock tune strikes an almost Springsteen-esque tone in the lyrics and chord changes, calling to mind the Boss’ stark depictions of tough lives. It gives the song an earthy, realist feel.

“Red Rose” is the most dramatic of the pieces, a song seemingly sung directly to the violin. It’s an apology of sorts: “O red rose, I’ll never leave you again / I’ll never lose you / Now I’m wide awake / I’ve found my way / I’ve found my way / Now I’ve found my way back to you.” It works equally well as a apology to a lover, which is probably the context most will find themselves relating to it in. The arrangement is highly dramatic and sounds deeply cathartic for Blake.

“Cricket’s Waltz” is specifically about playing the violin, pointing toward the emotions Blake has toward the instrument after healing. It’s a formal waltz, complete with strings (appropriately), and it shows the intriguing tension that any musician knows: playing within constraints (of genre, of the sheet music, of our own capabilities) often produces the greatest freedom. Two more pieces showcase the violin: opener “Tenderness,” which is an instrumental piece with a spoken word conversation about (appropriately) tenderness over it, and “Sicilienne,” which is a piece by 18th and 19th century composer Maria Theresia von Paradis. Both are as engaging as they are lovely.

The title track closer is an elegant piano ballad, the type which Blake is so expert at. It’s the most impressionist of the tracks, as the lyrics are a collection of experiences and emotions that revolve around emotional freedom. It’s a beautiful, resonant piece that provides an excellent conclusion to the EP.

Mercy for the Gentle Kind is a document of the complicated process of healing. We don’t have enough of these in the popular music canon; not just grief, but how you go through grief and get out the other side. While albums like Josh Ritter’s The Beast In Its Tracks do show this process after the dissolution of a romantic relationship, Blake’s story here is near-unique in being narrative of healing from interpersonal trauma. We need more of this in the world, and Mercy for the Gentle Kind is a wonderful place to start. Highly recommended.

September 2022 Singles 2

1. “The Ballad of Norm MacDonald” – Matthew Squires and the Learning Disorders. Norm Macdonald was the ultimate deconstructor of jokes: the joke is that jokes are themselves jokes with a form–joke-ness, if you will–and that this joke is not going to do what jokes do, which is funny, because it’s presented as a joke anyway. It fits that Squires channels MacDonald, as Squires’ atypical, surrealist indie-rock pulls a similar trick for indie-rock: it doesn’t quite do what indie-rock normally does, but in the voice and trappings of indie rock. A treat for folks who like not knowing what’s going to happen next. Highly recommended.

2. “The Kid Who Ran Away” – M. Lockwood Porter. This is a truly incredible, shivers-inducing alt-country song. Anyone who’s ever moved away from home, anyone who’s ever had to grapple with what their parents mean as an adult, anyone who’s had to learn to see parents as people instead of just parents–this one’s for you. (And by that, I mean: so, so many of us.) Highly recommended.

3. “Dance With Me” – Shamarr Allen. New Orleans trumpeter Shamarr Allen’s “Dance With Me” is the first single off his upcoming True New Orleans 2. Immersed in the celebration of everyday people and steeped in the musician’s jazz hip-hop fusion style, the track leads the sonic parade of notes to come with the release of Allen’s anticipated work with his band, The Underdawgs. This one lifts up the real faces of everyday people who call New Orleans home. — Lisa Whealy

4. “Conscientious Objector” – Curtis Eller’s American Circus. All will feel right in the world when Durham, North Carolina’s Curtis Eller crosses the pond with his American Circus for the U.K. shows this September. One of the great American songbook’s traditional folk troubadours, Eller’s theatrical style elevates the political content of his song “Conscientious Objector.” He was recently part of NPR’s Tiny Desk Contest with sponsor Lagunitas Brewing Company. (Learn more about the 2022 Tiny Desk Contest Winner Alisa Amador here.) Join Curtis Eller on tour: get your tickets at — Lisa Whealy

5. “Wealth of the Canyon” – JPW. This track sounds like an effortless, casual, wonderfully tossed-off take on Laurel Canyon-style West Coast folk/country. It take significant work to make it sound so easy, and so JPW’s work is your benefit, listener.

6. “Silver Lining” – Byung. Sleepy, dreamy guitar and vocals (reflecting the lyrics about sleep and dreams) are kept moving ahead via a staccato snare. The slow, warm track falls somewhere between Grandaddy and Seven Swans-era Sufjan.

7. “Goodbye” – bellwire. Desperation set to a snare shuffle and a jangly guitar. Tyler Berd’s vocals are pitch-perfect, and every part of the track is beautifully recorded.

8. “Quicksilver” – Nimrawd. Nimrawd is always good for an eclectic electro track, and this one delivers: ’90s big beat meets vocals influenced by the stylings of music from the Indian subcontinent and punchy kit drums. A lot going on here, and a lot of fun all the way through.

9. “The Door” – The Ultra Secret. 19 years ago, I glowingly reviewed Kervin’s I Think I See Evil, which was a ripping take on Rage Against The Machine-style rock. Amazingly, Kervin is back, now named The Ultra Secret. They’re still doing a ripping take on RATM-style rock, with Anupum Mehrota’s machine-gun vocals as blistering and biting as ever. I don’t cover a lot of rock anymore, but The Ultra Secret is something special.