Brown Calvin’s “P e r s p e c t I v e 4 4” is a mellow, exploratory, subtly mysterious slice of life that brightens the room. It’s heavy on the “slice”: the two-minute piece starts without preamble and ends without warning, ambling magnificently through my ears between those times.
Brown Calvin (aka Andre Burgos) deftly brings many ideas together: hand percussion and an approximation of a snare form a loose backline for the piece, while ambient synth whorls, jazzy keys, and other unidentifiable instrument sounds warp and wander into each other over the walking-pace rhythm. The piece’s mood is “good vibes” on the surface, with mysterious ones underneath. The track is warm and friendly, and yet there’s some ennui hanging out in the background of some of the chord changes.
It’s hard to pin down “P e r s p e c t I v e 4 4” to any particular genre or space. It’s mellow, for sure, but not lo-fi; it’s jazzy, but not trying to make traditional jazz moves. It matches ambient approaches with steady percussion. It’s unique, interesting instrumental music that makes me excited for the full record d i m e n s i o n // p e r s p e c t i v e, which arrives August 26 via AKP Recordings.
“Dogwood Tree” by The Deer’s Cry is a folky yet distinctive blend of sounds from throughout the world. Traditionally Irish vocal rhythms and tones, spiky Americana banjo, and shuffling rhythms from the African calabash (see interview below!) form the core of a speedy tune that moves in interesting and unexpected directions.
Just when it feels like the song is going to go fully in one direction for a while, it clambers down a different path via the addition or subtraction of instruments. First it opens with indie-folk vibes from Patrick Atwater’s prominent upright bass and Bryan Brock’s assured percussion. Brock and Atwater’s seamless performances ground the song, encouraging the complexity that follows. The entrance of Karen Ballew’s vocals pulls it into an Irish folk vein. The aforementioned banjo (from Will MacLean) introduces the Americana feel strongly. But suddenly, the whole tune pulls back into a wordless aria supported by subtle instrumentation. And from there it’s off to the races again, in another direction; there are a ton of musical ideas crammed into this 4:26.
The lyrics speak to hope, through renewal of life in the dogwood tree of the title (in verse one) and through spirituality (prayer and grace) in verse two. These lyrics tie together renewal of the land and soul with traditional spiritual themes like “living water.” The words form an elegant clutch of lyrics to set to a speedy, complex folk track, but The Deer’s Cry–along with Nick Bullock (Producer, Engineer) and Ethan Howard (Assistant Engineer)–makes it all work together seamlessly.
Band members Karen Ballew (vocalist, harpist) and Will MacLean (banjo) spoke in detail about the song:
What prompted you to write this song? What was the inspiration behind it?
Karen Ballew: The seed for this song was planted in 2018 when my husband and I moved from a house we had been renting into our new home. We moved from Dallas to Nashville in 2017 to explore new opportunities, but we weren’t sure if we’d end up staying here. Purchasing a home was a sign that we were going to stay here and continue the next chapter of our lives in this place. My mom flew out to help us move, and as she and I were taking the last load to the car, she suddenly stopped underneath the dogwood tree in the front yard. There was a moment of awe as we remarked at the beauty of the sun shining through the white blossoms, and it felt as though the tree was sending us a farewell blessing, a message of hope as we embarked on our new journey. Three years later, amidst all the uncertainty in the world, I remembered this moment and began to write “Dogwood Tree.”
How did this song come together when you wrote it? What was the songwriting process like?
KB: I had been listening to Dick Gaughan’s recording of “Now Westlin Winds” by Scottish poet Robert Burns (1759-96) and was so enamored with the cadence and rhyme scheme of the verses. When I decided to write “Dogwood Tree,” my first instinct was to revisit “Now Westlin Winds” for inspiration. The melody for “Dogwood Tree” was very much informed by Irish sean-nós (old style) singing. I’ve taken some classes with Irish singer Éilís Kennedy, and I remember listening to her album “Gan Tionlacan / Unaccompanied” to help me get into a good headspace to brainstorm melodic ideas. Éilís’s singing is so beautiful, and I love the songs on this album!
When you recorded this song, what kind of vibe were you going for? Did it end up sounding like you expected it to or did it come out different from what you thought it would be?
KB: It’s always a joy and adventure arranging songs with my bandmates! Because of our diverse range of interests, you never know what’s going to bubble to the surface when we collaborate. In general, we were going for a roots vibe, a meeting of Irish and American roots. Once we got into the studio, the song went from what the four of us could produce in real time and morphed into a wider soundscape. Our producer, Nick Bullock, encouraged us to record multiple tracks of melodic and rhythmic ideas. We ended up with several bass lines, auxiliary percussion textures, accordion, and backing vocals. To me, these additions helped elevate the mystical experience of the song!
Will MacLean: From my perspective, I was shooting for a bluegrass type but with the minimal amount of bounce or swing in the beat. I tried to bring in a Ron Block influence to the banjo solo with the bends and blues ideas.
Any great stories from the studio when you recorded this one?
KB: This song kicked off the rehearsal sessions for the new album and was also the first song we recorded in the studio. We recorded a scratch vocal with bass, African calabash, and banjo all at the same time to capture that energy and communication we have when we play live! That’s the core of the track. I’ll always remember how special it was to listen back to our different takes in the control room as everything was coming to life. It was so exciting and a bit surreal!
What do you hope listeners get from the song?
KB: There is so much uncertainty in the world, and many people are going through stressful times. I hope this song encourages listeners to take a moment to breathe, dance, and be in awe of the beauty of our earth and the mystery of life itself.
WM: I hope they get some sort of energetic charge from this tune. It’s got a dance type of groove and a lot of intensity, so I hope it’s something people could use during a workout or something like that.
“Dogwood Tree” is a rare tune that combines elegance, enthusiasm, and expertise, resulting in a nuanced, multifaceted gem. The tune releases Friday. It lives on Heal the Heart, which lands September 30. You can find the band at their website, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.
1. “Night Bunny” – Alister Fawnwoda, Suzanne Ciani, Greg Leisz. Pedal steel, synths, and what sounds like ocean noises come together to create a space of ambient bliss. Highly recommended.
2. “Training Montage” – the Mountain Goats. This indie-pop/indie-rock track is a return to Beat the Champ-era guitar grandiosity mixed with Transcendental Youth-era paranoiac lyrics and Heretic Pride-style melodic arrangements in the chorus. I haven’t been this excited for a tMG album off its first track since I heard “The Legend of Chavo Guerrero” blast out of my speakers. My wife and I danced around the kitchen to it. Highly recommended.
3. “Sunrise (Rumble) ft. Yonatan Gat” – Medicine Singers. A spacious, windswept track that merges slowcore/low-slung rock electric guitar with Pow Wow vocals and insistent drums to create an interplay of varied traditions. Very exciting work. Highly recommended.
4. “Prep Cook in the Weeds” – Fresh Pepper. Ooooh, the vibes here are impeccable: there’s some Windows 95 vaporwave, some ’80s-NYC-style downtown funk, smooth jazz, and casual sing-spoken lyrics that land somewhere between Paul Simon and CAKE in vibe (not in tone). This is a unique experience, y’all. I love it. Highly recommended.
5. “Birthday” – JoJo Worthington. Songs about friends are always going to get me because there are so few of them in comparison to songs about lovers. This one is a delicate indie-folk track that would make Seven Swans-era Sufjan jealous. Worthington’s breathy vocals fit the proceedings beautifully.
6. “So Close” – Aviva Jaye. A subtle, evocative indie-folk track that wisely lets Jaye’s low vocals contrast against the treble of the guitar. The production is spacious and smooth.
7. “For a Chisos Bluebonnet” – Cameron Knowler & Eli Winter. Knowler and Winter know their way around an instrumental folk cut, and this one is an exemplar take: the interplay of guitars is perfectly done that it points it sounds like one impossibly fleet single-guitar effort. The melodicism is impeccable, and the subtle sensitivities in volume and tone make the piece shine.
8. “When You See It” – Pill Super. Slowly unfolding low-key techno that moves from drones to structure to flourishes on the structure. It’s a headbobbing experience.
9. “The Ecstatic Dance” – MISZCZYK feat. Bile Sister. This one explodes borders: it’s a mix of trip-hop, gothy/culty vibes, ’80s electro, VHS visuals, modern dance, and more. It’s not what I’m usually into, but I kept listening to it too often to not include it here.
10. “Dynamo” – Benny Bock. An ambient-adjacent piece that operates in the space between pressing forward and lagging back, with subtly insistent beats competing against languid synths. The song opens up into a full-on instrumental downtempo indie-pop track midway through, complete with piano work, bass, and rhythm.
11. “Heat Haze” – SUSS. The ambient country outfit leans much more toward ambient than country here, convincingly squeezing their usual Western soundscapes into a form that convincingly represents the too-bright, fatigued, liminal space that is a high heat day. (Source: I live in Phoenix.)
1. “I’ve Felt Better (Than I Do Now)” – Gold Panda. The cheerful, quirky sounds of Gold Panda are back! This one has a subtle disco beat feel, the chopped vocals that are his trademark (and evoke similar artist Pogo), and a patience that puts it in line with Teen Daze. Just a lovely piece of chipper dance music. Highly recommended.
2. “Brookside Hybrid 23” – Ott. Chillout electro with world music vibes thrown into the mix. It’s like Ulrich Schnauss on an around-the-world cruise.
3. “For Now” – Lutalo. Low-key indie rock filling in the spaces between Damian Jurado and Make Sure; easy shuffle and real talk.
4. “Look Outside” – Dylan Gilbert. “It’s my choice what I think about / so why am I torturing / myself?” Gilbert sings against a solid guitar strum and dissonant background guitars. I feel that message; I feel that message a lot.
5. “I Will Be Glad” – Jess Jocoy. Jocoy’s vocally patient and instrumentally relaxed approach to folk turns out a beautiful rumination on family and death.
6. “what’s the use, the real use?” – phoneswithchords. An Elliott Smith-style rumination that is both feathery and gloomy. Hope is out there in the distance, just beyond the intimate vocals and calm guitars. Touches of Sufjan’s quietest moments hover in there as well.
7. “We Are The Creatures This Desert Makes Us” – droneroom. Maybe living in the Phoenix desert has gotten to me, but I can’t stop listening to ambient country. droneroom’s latest is a spacious rumination that depends on guitar tone, space between notes, and subtle drone to create an ominous-and-inviting mood. The vast, unforgiving desert has its own charms, and this track depicts some of the emotions that come along with them excellently.
8. “Wide Corners” – Space Between Clouds. Truly ambient and truly jazzy, this piece seeks to layer the elements on top of each other instead of mix them. The result is a ten-minute piece that has quite a lot going on for being a drone.
9. “Kings (Orchestra vers.)” – Jose Pavli. A much more formal choir-and-orchestra soundtrack piece than I usually cover, but it caught my ear with its consistent energy and strong melodic lines.
10. “Elegant Demise” – Once Upon a Winter. The post-metal here makes equally good use of double-pedal kick and violin. Fans of pg.lost will find much to like in the heavy rock approaches, while fans of more moody post-metal will find the soaring lead lines and the classy breakdown section to their liking. A powerful post-metal piece.
One of the great joys of running a blog for 19 years is seeing the long scope of a musician’s work. Independent Clauses started covering Michael Nestor’s work with The Seldon Plan in 2007. 15 years later, we’re covering Nestor’s fourth record as/with Underlined Passages, Neon Inoculation. It’s an honor, really.
On to the record: Don’t be fooled by the title suggesting very timely ruminations on current state of affairs and perhaps some ’80s electro vibes. The record does have some synths in it (“Drone,” “Lng Ago, Fr Away”), but put in the service of the band’s wistful, rainy-day indie-rock that is often about relationships.
“Couples Therapy” is the standout here: a sturdy kit backbeat matches a melodic, early-00s-indie acoustic guitar line and allows the vocals to soar. It’s evocative of Death Cab for Cutie’s early work and early ’00s twinkly-guitar emo. (This is a high compliment, in case there was any confusion.) “Lng Ago, Fr Away” has similar vibes to great effect. But it’s not all rain-streaked windows and winsome longing. “Lng Trm Xposure” kicks up the energy with higher tempos and some distorted guitar crunch. “I Was Wrong” introduces some ’90s Brit-rock flair via patient verse instrumentation that blossoms into churning, big-arrangement rock choruses.
Keys play a prominent role toward the end of the record. “Quaalz” is a moody, ambient-adjacent synth-and-drums track that showcases a very different side of Underlined Passages. Closer “Circles-Sand” demonstrates high drama through a pile-up of organ sounds. Nestor’s experimentation with different sounds works well here within the context of the record and the established Underlined Passages sound.
Underlined Passages’ Neon Inoculation is a welcome entry in the Underlined Passages discography. It fine-tunes the best of Underlined Passages’ core sound while pushing the band in interesting new directions. This fan of early ’00s indie rock had his ears perk up on hearing it, and I think you may as well. Especially check out “Couples Therapy.”
I absolutely love the jubilant, boundary-pushing The Prophets in the Cityby The Bogie Band featuring Joe Russo. It’s hard to be jubilant and boundary-pushing, but the prodigious talents of Stuart Bogie (saxes, flutes), Joe Russo (drums, percussion), and the rest of the 10-member outfit do both. These songs are ostensibly some sort of jazz, but the music transcends boundaries quickly. The enthusiasm of a marching brass band, the artsy vibes of a flute-led jazz combo, a composer’s ear for contrasting multiple parts together, a rock musician’s party vibes, and more come together in sonics that sweep me away into the story.
And even though this is instrumental work, there’s a narrative here: the moods vary throughout the record, and the titles give context to the variations. 8-minute opener “The Prophets in the City (Arrival, Balance, Discipline, Joy)” sets out the emotional range and the religious context of the record. The song moves like a block party: urgent flutes lead the way, a choir of horns follows up, a sax solo emerges, all underpinned by tuba bass. (I love tubas.) It’s a workout for the musicians and outrageously fun for the listener. Follow-up “The Witnesses” displays the frenetic response the prophets get: angry dissonance mixed with curiosity and adventure. “We Met Them By The Water” is a mellow, sonorous piece that (I imagine) shows what the curious did: sneak off to hear the Prophets more. “Walking with the Holy Fools” is an (appropriately) strutting piece with a unique emotional energy. I won’t spoil the narrative for you; it’s a worthy journey.
There are joys all throughout this amazing, impressive record, but it would be criminal to not mention the roaring, soaring, pounding “We Organize.” Another 8-minute barn-burner, this one takes the listener through a lot of different emotions before hitting the high point where everything is going at once–5 minutes in. Then there’s a coda, then another coda, then another one, then another one … it’s brilliant.
I feel bad trying to describe this record with words. It’s the rare album that makes words almost a hindrance rather than the clumsy tools they usually are. If there’s anything in here that made you think “I might not be into that,” then lookit here: my words were insufficient and you are likely into this. This is top-shelf music, no genre labels needed. The Prophets in the City is adventurous, immersive, outrageous, and all around brilliant. Listen to this one immediately. Highly recommended.
1. “Please Send To J.F.” – José Medeles w/ Marisa Anderson. J.F. is John Fahey; Medeles’ project here is a tribute album to the guitar legend by way of new compositions indebted to and honoring his sound. This is one of the highlights of the record, a bright, sprightly, spontaneous-sounding jam that just feels like a sunbeam and a half.
2. “Sunset” – Medicine Singers. Fuses Pow Wow singing with jazz, post-rock, and electronic flourishes to create an urgent, pounding, brilliant work. This is truly unique, and powerful. Highly recommended.
4. “Secret of the Megafauna” – Cool Maritime. Somewhere between chillwave and vaporwave, Cool Maritime is making idiosyncratically elegant pieces that turn kitsch into beauty.
5. “Walkin’” – Fresh Pepper. A low-key Ratatat tune morphs into a horns-and-bass funk tune partway through. It’s like driving across the boundary of radio stations in a car; one moment you’re chilling, the next you’re chilllllllllllinnnnnnnnnnnn.
6. “Super Lucrative” – Anna Butterss. Erratic without falling into chaos, glitchy without being abrasive, emotive without being on-the-nose; this little (1:39) electronic piece operates in a unique space and does its own thing.
7. “George the Revelator” – Revelators Sound System. Low-key jazz with tight kit work, smooth keys, and crushed-red-velvet-curtains horns. Vibes on vibes on vibes.
8. “Eight Below Zero” – Benny Bock. The keys and pedal steel here drive the piece to dance along the line between sad and happy (given that the key is only perceived by my ear as lightly minor; there are a lot of offramps toward the major partner). The liminal space offers a lot of openings for exploration, which Bock & co. take with aplomb. Could have gone on a lot longer than it did, but I’m happy for the three minutes we got!
9. “SHIVERS” – Kety Fusco. Refusing to let the harp be circumscribed, Fusco uses the harp and a pedal board to create all manner of sounds. The resulting soundscape has lead lines that will resonate with any lover of harp, placed into a sonic space that approximates electronic music. It’s an exciting, invigorating exploration of unique sonic concepts.
2. “To Catch Light I” – Mat Ball. Icy, subtle, and evocative, this piece for solo electric guitar calls to mind Low, slowcore singer/songwriters, Ryan Dugré, and other folks interested in mournful yet inviting pieces.
10. “Twin Lakes” – Blurstem and Elijah Bisbee. Tender, delicate, and friendly. This warm rumination is the sound of peaceful evenings in a hammock. Better yet: it sounds like this looks.
11. “Unmoored” – Fog Chaser. You can always get me with pizzicato strings, and Fog Chaser’s latest elegant composition pairs lithe piano with ghostly pad synths and those pizzicato plucks. It’s gorgeous.
12. “Thousands of pianos floating on the moon” – David Gómez. This is a delicate, beautiful piano-led piece that has a truly fantastic title. It sounds more like one piano floating on the moon, but that title wasn’t as evocative.
Runar Blesvik‘s Restoreis a lovely album of piano-driven compositions that melds the highly patterned work of mid-century modernism (like “Canto Ostinato”) to the intimate emotional appeals of Ólafur Arnalds. Pieces like “Home” do this explicitly, letting the piano run off ostinato patterns while acoustic guitar, effects, and keys melodies dance and spin around the central theme. Highlight “Measures” offers similar joys. Even in pieces where the tension is less foregrounded, Blesvik’s skill throughout is making formal elements and romantic elements work together excellently: the deconstructed, elegaic, strings-driven “Fade” still maintains the central tension of the work. Restore is a strong, compelling album of usually-intimate, always-effective work.
High & Lonesome by The Howard Hughes Suite is an ambient country record, heavy on the ambient. The multilayered pedal steel textures here are deeply abstracted, controlled, and sculpted. The results are free-floating, ethereal, even celestial sounds that are deeply peaceful to listen to. Pieces like “Reverie” could easily be confused for a synth-created work, as the shimmering waves of sound seem almost impossibly other (there’s no way a guitar could make this happen, right?). “Transcendental Medication” allows the pedal steel to have a little unprocessed melody that grounds the piece, but amid great clouds of sound that sound (yes) transcendental. It’s always good for ambient music when the Pillars of Creation come to mind. FFO: Suss at its absolute most abstract, Lucho Ripley, big ambient energy.
I’ve been listening to Openby TapaniRinne & Juha Mäki-Patola for months. It is a gracious, open-handed record: the jazz/ambient fusion offers much but does not make many demands on the listener (as much jazz, rightly and properly, can). Instead, Rinne & Mäki-Patola develop a consistent sonic space that relies on careful background layers, subtle piano, and fluttering saxophone. To wit: “Open, Pt. I” at the beginning, “Peak” in the middle, and “Hover” at the end are each exemplar demonstrations of the particular concept they explore in this record. All of them describe a landscape and then gently traverse it; the landscapes are similar but not distinctive enough to feel the subtle changes: the foregrounded piano of “Open, Pt. I”, the thicker/more prominent background layer of sound in “Peak,” and the pulsing mood and almost lyrical saxophone performance in “Hover.” Rinne and Mäki-Patola make it easy for the listener in Open, but those who listen and explore will find subtle treasures throughout.
1. “C’mon Armageddon” – Fantastic Cat. This is a perfect alt-country barnburner that evokes the sounds and lyrics of Bob Dylan, Josh Ritter, Langhorne Slim and many more. Also, the jokes in the credits are specifically for anyone who has ever been in a band; I couldn’t stop laughing about the jokes for a half-hour. (You have to watch the whole video to get the jokes, though.) Highly recommended.
2. “All of the Women” – Allison Russell. This politically timely song from Canadian songwriter Russell’s late May 2021 release Outside Child screams in its banjo-driven roots vibe. Subtle, angry brilliance oozes from Russell’s vocals. Highly recommended. —Lisa Whealy
3. “Jenny and James” – Wes Collins. This is storytelling folk in pure form: Collins’ smooth vocal delivery spins a tale of people trying so hard. The arrangement is just about as picture-perfect as it can get, too. Highly recommended.
4. “Sirena” – Lisa Morales. Morales celebrates her cultural heritage in this reverie, an homage to the sirens of the night. Braving the dance of love, Morales shines, letting her nimble vocal style fly. She weaves a stunning contrast to the intricate Spanish guitar work that is the foundation of her EP El Amor No Es Cobarde. —Lisa Whealy
5. “While We’re Here” – M. Lockwood Porter. Alt-country songwriter Porter returns with an earnest assessment of personal and professional meaning, in light of his father’s death. The heartbreakingly honest vocal delivery fits wonderfully atop the restrained and lovely arrangement.
6. “Dog Stay Down” – Opus Kink. Opus Kink are at their unhinged best here, throwing down a near-chaotic mix of folk-pop, funk, punk, Nick Cave, Gogol Bordello, and … wrestling. You’ve not heard anything like Opus Kink before.
7. “Flow Clasico” – Ankris. Columbian duo Ankris create the mood of true love and its dance of misplaced passions. Despite its light musicality, nuanced production choices drive the narrative here: Hot and cold, burning with spoken word desire and a Latin beat. Haven’t we all watched that special someone slip out of our lives, cold as ice? —Lisa Whealy
8. “Humble Heroes” – Demon and Lion. Demon and Lion might be known only as the Las Vegas act that sings in English, Italian, Spanish, French, and Portuguese. But this original song’s beauty, beyond its message, is the vocal tone that results from the blending of accents. —Lisa Whealy
9. “CHEERS” – Jordy Benattar. I love a good protest song, and this low-key acoustic-pop tune really is one (albeit an unusual one). Benattar rails against Gen Z / late Millenial ennui, taking the state of normal life to task in this surprisingly fresh and subtle tune.
10. “I Want More” – KALEO. KALEO might have earned rock supergroup status, but they did so by ignoring conventions. Instead they sing folk songs in their native language and perform in Iceland’s Skálholt Cathedral, one of its most holy and historic places: the center of ecclesiastic power for nearly 700 years. They chose to film a stripped orchestral performance with JJ Julius Son solo.This video’s magnificence is the strings, that include violins (Sigrún Harðardóttir, Ásta Kristín Pjetursdóttir, Guðbjartur Hákonarson, Chrissie Guðmundsdóttir), violas (Karl James Pestka and Þórunn Harðardóttir) and cellos (Unnur Jónsdóttir, Hrafnhildur Marta Guðmundsdóttir, and Júlía Mogensen). —Lisa Whealy
11. “Hangover Game” – MJ Lenderman. Lenderman throws the listener right into the sordid details of an athlete’s life (and death?), set to a scuzzy indie/garage rock shuffle. Hits the spot right between Pavement and the Mountain Goats.
The Belgian surrealist Rene Magritte once said that art evokes the mystery without which the world would not exist. Denmark’s Jacob Faurholt invites us into the garden with his hypnotic “Madness on the Rise” from Raw Onion Records.
Sonically simple, the song is the best example of production restraint to come along in some time. Emotive, controlled vocal delivery coincides with each heavy bass line that overwhelms the darkness. Faurholt’s lyrics are a descent into the mental twists of this songwriter’s genius. But that is just the start. Partnered with Trine Omø delivering ethereal backing vocals, the merging of Monty Python-esque cut-out animation and child-like wonder sets these surrealist visuals in motion. This is the stuff of nightmares, with its own haunting soundtrack.
Faurholt’s 10th studio album When the Spiders Crawl features twelve songs written and self-produced at the artist’s home studio, often capturing the essence of his music in the wee hours between sundown and dawn. The surreal “Madness on the Rise” and its video’s visual aesthetic complement the birth of the upcoming release.