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Month: November 2022

Premiere: Dances Across Borders, Vol. III

I’m really picky when it comes to electronic music. No matter what variety of electronic music it is, the work must balance the intentionally-repetitious grooves with enough variance to keep listeners attuned. Furthermore, the balance between texture and melody has to be spot on: too much texture and you get amorphous clouds; too much melody (at the expense of other elements) and you get thin tracks.

Dance Across Borders, Vol. III is a deeply impressive collection of techno cuts that hits the sweet spot where grooves, variation, melody, and texture come together–six times in a row. It’s the lot of most compilations to be wildly uneven, but curator Jean Grünewald has avoided that pitfall here. The results: all aces.

This collection is the third comp from Dance Across Borders, a “platform bringing together music artists against borders and state brutality, originally based in Montreal (Tiotia:ke in the language of Kanien’kehá:ka people) and now beyond.” Grünewald further noted that, “this project is to remind that this music, embodied in spaces, is above all political – and made to unite across all types of physical or abstract borders.”

The six pieces themselves live primarily in moody, minor keys, setting a unified tone for the collection. Opener “2 FRITES 1 COKE” by Esse Ran & S.Chioini (each of these six tracks are multi-artist collaborations) leans heavily into mood: subtle synth touches, carefully applied glitches, and meticulous arrangement of parts allows the techno piece to have a complex, forward-pushing beat and intriguing melodic elements.

“SPAZIO LIBERO by Kazuho and Ottoman Grüw opens by melding industrial clanks and groans into a pattern of dense thuds (a la Traversable Wormhole). A sudden, surprising shift into ’90s big beat vibes (without abandoning the dark’n’stormy underpinnings) makes this an unexpectedly diverse and fun piece.

The opening arpeggiator of “SCINTILLATION” by CMD & VIGLIENSONI makes a path into Tron Reconfigured vibes: this punchy track is equal parts “chase scene through an ’80s-style digital city” and energetic dance floor cut. “RETOUCHE” by Brusque Twins is a cold, stark cut that leans toward the industrial side of a techno/industrial mash-up. The breathy vocals and restrained arrangement keep it in the same mood as the other tracks, while the dour lead vocals push it toward the industrial side.

“Sublime” by LACED & NO AIRBAGS is my favorite of the set, as it matches rat-a-tat backline, four-on-the-floor bass hits, and ghostly synths for a piece that defies clear boundaries. The synths alone would be a lovely ambient piece; the rhythm and bass are highly busy and technical, almost footwork-ian. The tension is productive and exciting.

Closer “BUILT TO SIN” by H E L_H A X & 2 PIGS UNDER 1 UMBRELLA combines the approaches of many of the tracks into a solid closer. Distorted, ominous, industrial-style vocals sit over an adventurous techno cut that is equal parts Tron-style lucid synth action and Traversable Wormhole bass work. The piece flies by, barely letting the listener get settled in before its 4:00 runtime is up.

The six pieces here are all high-quality work. It’s rare that a compilation can produce such exciting and consistent work over so many artists. Furthermore, getting them all into a similar enough space that the collection is deeply listenable without massive tonal shifts is a triumph. If you’re into dark’n’stormy electronic music, Montreal Dances Across Borders, Vol. III is a must-listen collection. Highly recommended.

All profits from the compilation will be donated to Solidarity Across Borders, a Montreal-based non-profit organization that works to protect human rights. For those of you in Montreal, there’s a release rave-party in a church basement on November 18th. All the profits from that event will be donated to Milton-Parc food bank and to Solidarity Across Borders.

Introducing: Abraham Alexander

Abraham Alexander redefines what a significant singer-songwriter can be in these wonderfully divisive times. The first single and title track from his release Heart of Gold is the first song Alexander ever wrote,  “Heart of Gold” is the perfect introduction to this latest addition to Austin’s Ten Atoms family. 

Alexander’s American story begins in Greece. Born to Nigerian parents, he immigrated to America as an 11-year-old. His mother died shortly after. But music empowers the soul to survive. Adopted at 16, the gift of his father’s guitar allowed him to channel the love that shaped him through tragedy and change. His sound is revealed in “Stay” (featuring Gary Clark Jr.). The song fires fiercely with restrained emotion. Longing, impassioned hope and desire reveal a sultry smooth soul wrapped around the soaring guitar. 

I first heard Abraham Alexander perform an opening for Shakey Graves at the Rialto Theater in Tucson, Arizona, and I will never miss an opportunity to catch Alexander performing again. You can grab tickets here

Nov. 11 – Denver, CO – Ogden Theatre*
Nov. 12 – Salt Lake City, UT – The Commonwealth Room*
Nov. 14 – Missoula, MT – Top Hat Lounge*
Nov. 15 – Boise, ID – El Korah Shrine*
Nov. 16 – Seattle, WA – Neptune Theatre*
Nov. 18 – Portland, OR – McMenamins Crystal Ballroom*
Dec. 2 – Fort Worth, TX – Birdie’s Social Club

*supporting Lucius —Lisa Whealy

Quick Hit: Love Remains by Nimrawd

Nimrawd‘s ethos is ’90s big beat. His previous work proved that this man knows his way around a big bass line, punchy kit beats, and fuzzy synths. Love remains builds on those skills by dialing back some of the raucous party vibes and adding in mystery. Tunes like “I Know You” work with the same basic sonic palette as before, but in a minor key and with legato melodies. Even “Dee Dee,” which has a squiggly lead melody and charming vocal snippets for color, leads with breathy synths that tone the punch down. It’s less a kick in the face and more of a sneaky approach.

The results are gleeful head-bobbing (“Ends with Blue”) and introspective pondering (“Robinhood,” “Empty Well”). Some goodhearted moments of goofy fun remain amid the streamlined, cooler grooves, but I won’t spoil the sonic punch lines of “Knuckles” or “Klaus” for you. Love remains is a late-night jam instead of a blown-out house party, and you gotta have both in your life, you know? Highly recommended.

Premiere: inifinitikiss’ “in the same vibration that pothos green grows” (and Fort Lowell Records interview!)

In 2014, Fort Lowell Records took a leap of faith and asked me to do something that I had never done before in 12 years of being a blog: premiere a record. (I still have my vinyl copy of the Good Graces’ Close to the Sun framed and hanging on my wall to mark the momentous occasion.)

When I dramatically changed the genres I review and listen to in 2018, I noted that “I’ll probably be a pretty bad premiere partner for the near future, as I don’t quite know how to talk about the stuff I’m geeking out on yet.” So it’s with astonishment and gratitude that I present to you one of the first ambient premieres I’ve ever done–for none other than Fort Lowell Records.

“in the same vibration that pothos green grows” is the first single from infinitikiss‘ ambient music (yes, it’s really called that–I can’t make up this amount of serendipity).

The track itself is an expansive piece drawing on the subtle tensions between a roughed-up arpeggiator pattern and the round tones of a bright acoustic guitar. The programmed and gently distorted synth puts forward pressure on the track; the lazy, expansive, elegant acoustic guitar notes slow the track down. The space between those motions is the heart of the song. Even with the texturing on the arpeggiator, the piece is warm and sunny, evoking hammocking on back porches and laying in summery fields.

If the song above piques your interest, the album will be pressed on chartreuse green translucent vinyl via Fort Lowell: you can order it here. (Look at that snazzy mock-up! You know you want one.) The album releases February 17, 2023.

A man with a black and gray beard, a large straw cowboy hat, and a white bandana around his neck, staring off to the left of the camera. He is wearing a white shirt and is against a white background.
James Tritten and a nice hat.

And while, usually, my premieres would stop there, this one was too astonishing to let go at just that. So I took it upon myself to talk with James Tritten, the label head of Fort Lowell records. I wanted to know: how did y’all end up listening to ambient too? And how did you come across infinitikiss? James was so gracious that he not only gave me answers to those questions, but he made a Spotify playlist of his favorite ambient tracks. (The interview has been condensed for clarity and length.)

Stephen (IC): infinitikiss is an ambient record. How did that come about, and how did you get involved in ambient?

James Tritten (JT): It starts with The Band and the Beat [ed: James and his wife Tracy Shedd’s electronic duo. We’ve covered them too.] So basically, Nic Jenkins is infinitikiss. We met him when we were living in Raleigh, around the time we were touring around the region. We were booking a leg all the way through Florida and back, and I just picked up his name between the Charleston and Columbia, South Carolina.

He lived between the two cities, and so I reached out to him. And we ended up playing a couple of shows with Nic. Nic and Tracy and I, but specifically Nic and Tracy, really, really hit it off. Like, they were brother and sister immediately. They were just kindred spirits.

infinitikiss. photo by M. Elger.

I think it was like the first night we played with him, it was the end of the set. She got him after the show and she’s like, Nic, I wanna record a record with you. And that would’ve been probably 2015 or 2016. So then fast forward that conversation: when we decided that we were gonna record another Tracy Shedd record, Nic was it. If you look at the credits on The Carolinas record, it’s Tracy, me and Nic Jenkins.

So, Tracy and I took a little trip across the US this last May and we spent time with Nic. He’s now in Albuquerque, New Mexico. We got there, we spent a couple of days with him, which was beautiful. Somewhere in that conversation I must have spoken about the first ambient record that Fort Lowell had the privilege to release, and that’s the La Cerca record: A Nice Sweet Getaway. That came out in 2020. I remember recommending it to Nic at some point. It was later that he made a note [on Instagram] like, “wrapping up an ambient record,” and then I reached out to him then to say, “Well, hey, could I hear it?” That’s all it was. Could I hear it?

So we, Tracy and I, we just fell in love with it within–I don’t even think I was halfway through the record yet, and I was already like texting him, “Hey, can we talk about putting this out?”

Also infinitikiss. Lower resolution version.

This is a true statement when I say that I literally start every Saturday and Sunday listening to that La Cerca record. And we’ve been doing it for two years now. And the minute I got Nic’s record, it’s now both records. They’re just both of ’em side by side. It’s just such a beautiful way to start a day. It’s so just peaceful and it just, it just brings you into the day.

IC: So, tell me about this playlist!

JT: I literally spent my entire weekend making this playlist. I’m so excited. I’m really proud of it.

Ambient music starts with that, at my core, I’m a shoegazer. Tracy and I, we grew up with shoegaze. Like we were going to the club when it was like, “Here, let me introduce you to a band called My Bloody Valentine. You know, they just put out an EP.” And it’s really weird. It’s really noisy, you know?

So as a shoegazer, the goal was always to just get your guitar to sustain as long as it could. You know, one strum and then just this ever-sustained echo or whatever it was–reverb, whatever. This would’ve been like ’92, maybe ’93. I had four Roland Space Echoes. Four. Not one. Four.

IC: Just in case.

JT: No, I played through every one of them! That’s how obsessed I was with sustaining the guitar. Four of them. And I’d even loop ’em. I knew how to cover the erase head and you can create loops out of it and stuff. So I just became obsessed with these things. They were very much part of my instrumentation, as much as the guitar was. Well that led me to Brian Eno’s Discreet Music. So it’ll be the first song on the playlist. In my opinion, that is just the utmost epitome of ambient music.

And then I purposely, you know, I gave you La Cerca right following that because I just, I think it is on par with what Brian Eno does. And I know that’s a bold ass statement to say.

IC: Hey, you know, shoot your shot!

JT: I think it’s great. These examples on the front end that are these shoegaze bands that we were listening to. I mean, at the end of the day, ambient music is shoegaze minus the rhythm section. I mean, really! It’s true!

So that is where I just started aggressively collecting music like that. My dad ended up getting me introduced to bands like Tangerine Dream and Synergy, some of that older stuff, you know, the Barry Cleveland I’ve got there. Harold Budd, you know Harold Budd. Obviously you can kind of tie that into Brian Eno. But you can quickly see how it goes from this world of shoegaze stuff into this world of like old seventies-ish electronic music.

IC: I see … I love Johan Johansson. I see that on here. I love Spiritualized, Squarepusher, AphexTwin. American Analog Set. I love that you have–this is the more guitar-oriented ambient, right? The way I came into ambient is the opposite direction from the more synthesizer-heavy stuff into quieter and quieter and quieter and quieter until I ended up at ambient.

This is really fascinating for me. It will be really exciting for me because a lot of these were not in the path that I took to get to Brian Eno and then points beyond.

JT: I appreciate that actually, because I purposefully did that. I felt like, “I really need to tell my story with ambient music.” And I’m coming at it from a guitarist point of view. That’s the truth. You never would associate a band like American Analog Set with the word ambient.

IC: Yeah. But you put it in there and it makes sense.

JT: Yep. Well, I don’t know if you’re familiar with that track and what it is specifically. It was part of the Darla Records Bliss Out series. The Windy and Carl track came from the same exact series. It was a series of 12 inch EPs that they did. And my understanding is that that is what they were pushing the artist to do. I don’t know if the word ambient was being directly given to them. But that American Analog Set 12-inch is nothing like any of the albums. It’s completely different.

And so that song, in my opinion, it qualifies to a degree of ambient. There’s a couple of tracks in there where’s there’s a bit of a beat or rhythm that kind of comes in, enough that someone may challenge it.

IC: I think that’s part of it. I mean, ambient doesn’t have to be all clouds of synthesizers, right?

Thank you for talking with me about this “new” fascination that I have that goes back a decade, but is still basically new because we’ve only been writing about it for short period of time. I’m looking forward to more, more ambient records from y’all!

JT: I thank you even more for the opportunity to help promote the record and get it out. It really does mean a lot. —Stephen Carradini

Premiere: Afterlife Parade’s Belonging is a giddy, bold firecracker of an EP

So I used to do this feature called Horizon, where I would review an album that I knew had promise but wasn’t quite there. In 2011, this band I’d just heard of named Afterlife Parade got a Horizon article. I started by noting, with some amount of puzzlement, that “subtlety is not a prized element in Afterlife Parade‘s Death.” 11 years, several releases, and various side projects later, Afterlife Parade is back. I can say enthusiastically that subtlety is not a prized element in Afterlife Parade’s Belonging. Instead, this is giddy, bold, mad-rush pop-rock that shows off the fruits of more than a decade of work in a variety of genres. This release is five songs of smiling, clapping, stomping, laughing, singing, shouting, whirling, and dancing music. It’s a huge triumph.

Quinn Erwin & co. start off Belonging with an enormous group whoa-oh-oh that perfectly calls back to Arcade Fire’s “Wake Up.” The verses have a kick-clap backline that is 100% 2010s folk-pop. But these touchstones are just that: stones that add up to a bigger house. Erwin’s euphoric vocal performance, the jaunty piano, the jubilant horns, and the deeply life-affirming lyrics transform the raw materials into one huge party. I want to see this song live so bad. After 3 years of horrors, just hearing “so alive / so alive / so alive / SO ALIVE” is cathartic. Being able to scream it out in a room full of people doing the same would be even more wonderful.

The quartet crashes right into “Good Times Roll,” which is equally as giddy. (More whoa-ohs! The phrase “So alive” is in this song too!) There’s a touch of Ben Rector in here, but really this is just a big ‘ol Afterlife Parade pop-rock song. Let the good times roll, indeed. “Belonging” leans into the folk-pop tendencies that AP has always had, without neglecting the glowing background synths that give AP songs such a pop. Erwin’s vocals are a touch less roaring, but the simple and powerful chorus of “you’re here where / you belong / you belong / you belong / you belong” is as deliriously fun as it is touching. (Who doesn’t want to be told “you belong”? Who doesn’t want to be told over and over? It touches a deep vein.) The nicked-that-off-Mumford bridge arrangement (rolling banjo!) sends this song into the stratosphere. I can’t imagine how I wouldn’t love this song. “These Are the Good Days” reprises the vibes of “Belonging.”

“Togetherness (Take My Hand)” features Erwin’s most complex vocal melody of the set, matching it with an arrangement that leans more on dynamics and groove than the rest. (There are still “woo-ooo-ooo”s, don’t you worry.) It’s a love song. You might have guessed that there was going to be at least one of these on an absolute firecracker of a pop-rock EP, and you’d be right. It’s a solid closer to a soaring, triumphant set.

Belonging is the sonic equivalent of being shot out of a meticulously crafted confetti cannon. But don’t let the incredible joy of this release mask the fact that these are carefully constructed, deeply arranged, thoughtfully developed songs. Afterlife Parade has put together some of their best work ever. If you are coming out of some rough years (or, perhaps even more importantly, if you are still in them), Belonging is a roadside flare that you can pick up and run with through the night. Highly recommended.

Belonging releases tomorrow, November 10.