Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Nina de Vitry’s Sweet Treat: Trust a Dream

November 20, 2017

Nina de Vitry’s soulful voice, jazzy composition, and creative lyrics make her breakout EP, Trust A Dream, a sweet treat for the ears. De Vitry’s soothing vocals are reminiscent of an early Norah Jones (think “Come Away with Me”) mixed with a neo-soul/India.Arie influence. The EP’s instrumentation provides the perfect backdrop for de Vitry’s beautiful voice to shine. Each track off the album contains a playfully unique combination of percussion, acoustic guitar, brass, and stand-up bass. For me, what stands out most on this EP are the thoughtful lyrics that drive the music forward.

Through examining the lyrics, it becomes clear that this EP represents a journey of discovering oneself. Even though that may sound like a cliche, Trust a Dream doesn’t feel cliche at all; it’s too inventive. The first track starts off the EP with question over question: “Can you trust a dream?” “Does it melt your mind?” “Do you feel at home?” and “Do you feel it in your bones?”. Yet, the opening of the chorus– “O, there’s plenty of time, my darling, to be rigid as a stone”– shows that the speaker already has a solid foundation to help figure out some of the answers to these questions. Perhaps the questions are more for the listener to know the kind of weighty things that this collection will explore. Particularly the repeated, “Can you trust a dream?” feels akin to Langston Hughes’ “What happens to a dream deferred?” from Harlem. As we know, Hughes already has an idea–he just wants to make sure his readers are thinking about the same things he is.

When track two comes around, “Baby in the Shade”, we see that the EP contains a lot of hope and optimism, with the repetition of “it’s gonna be ok, gonna be ok, cuz it’s always ok” in the bridge. The playful brass, bass, and keys further reinforce the track’s whimsical nature.

The third song feels like a jazzier version of Randy Newman’s Toy Story classic “You’ve Got a Friend in Me”; but instead of the “you” being a person, de Vitry is addressing the land in the title of the song, “Golden County”. The creative wordplay of the lyrics particularly stands out, for example: “But fear not Golden County, they’ll be silver while the gold is still ours” and “I’ll be out chasin’ freedom, leavin’ sun and takin’ moon as my guide”. “Darling” then carries the whimsy along, while “Broken Cities” diverts the journey of the album to look at the other side– those who have been robbed of their hope and optimism.

With the EP’s fifth track, “Broken Cities”, de Vitry takes an honest look at cities, opening with the lyrics: “Broken cities empty fast when lights are more than day”. The lyrics of this track are more socially focused than the other songs off the EP. A prime example is Broken cities disinfect, then cauterize our minds / Clean em’ out, then close em’ up, in hopes that we don’t find / We just wanna fly away/ We just wanna find our way”. In case you don’t know (I also had to look it up), “cauterize” means “to burn with a hot iron”. So, here de Vitry is saying that “broken cities” burn resident’s minds with a hot iron in the name of disinfecting, all the while really just wiping them clear in order to make residents forget that they too can dream and have hope.

“Live like Water Lives” could not close out the EP more beautifully. The peaceful strumming of the acoustic guitar reflects the tranquil focus of the lyrics. The chorus repeats the title “live like water lives” and throughout the song, the verses expound and give light to what that really means. A few snippets of what it means to “live like water lives” are: “Fall soft like the rain,” “Be bold like the storms,” “Kiss like the mist, caress like the sea,” “Run brave as a river,” “Be open like the ocean’s plain,” and “Shift free like the waves”. Here, it seems the artist shares her words of advice that perhaps helped her attain the hope she shares with her listeners in the other five songs.

Trust A Dream is a powerful collection of soulful tracks. Nina de Vitry’s EP contains a level of depth that is not found in a lot of music today. And its playful yet soothing sound leaves listeners relaxed and ready for more. If you happen to live in the Lancaster, PA, region, de Vitry’s CD release party is on December 20th. I’m sure it will be wonderful.–Krisann Janowitz

Fear Not: An album of immense scope and distinctive vocals

November 16, 2017

Cameron Blake‘s previous album Alone on the World Stage was aptly titled: the music was mostly Blake’s voice accompanied by a single instrument, while the lyrics were often internally-focused. Fear Not is Blake at the opposite end of the spectrum: a crew of almost fifty musicians rushes from Tiananmen Square to Jerusalem to Baltimore to rural farm country to send the titular message to all of humanity. It is an album of unprecedented scope for Blake. The risk pays off in spades, as this is Blake’s most distinctive, accomplished work to date.

Blake’s voice remains front and center through it all. His low, drama-laden voice is a singular one that I can pick out instantly wherever I hear it. Blake’s vocal performances are the type that’ll grow on you; his tone is often-brash, he pairs a love of unexpected chord changes with unexpected vocal melodies, and he is unafraid to roar. Those who love atypical vocal presentations like those of Frightened Rabbit, Damien Rice, The Walkmen/Hamilton Leithauser and others will find much to love in Blake’s voice.

One of the big transformations in this record is Blake’s comfort level with the vocal lines he writes. He’s never been afraid to go for a soaring line, but here he is clearly in the zone. Between the rock-solid pop lines of “The Only Diamond,” the thrilling theatrics of “Old Red Barn,” the powerful emotion in “Tiananmen Square,” and the subtle inflections in the delivery of “Philip Seymour Hoffman,” Blake shows that he can confidently use his voice in a wide array of situations.

It’s good that his voice is versatile, because this album is a whirlwind of moods. “Sandtown” is a ten-car pileup of thrashing drums, skronking jazz horns, and vocal howls that seems to accurately describe the chaos of a Baltimore police raid. On the other end of the spectrum, the title track opener is about as delicate as the album gets, with an angelic choral backdrop and cello supporting Blake’s voice and piano. “Queen Bee” is a train-whistle folk-rock rave-up, while “Old Red Barn” is a jubilant dixieland track. Several of the tracks slot into his core sound of dramatic singer/songwriter tracks with folk influences (“Tiananmen Square,” “Wailing Wall,” “Monterey Bay”), but the diversity here is huge.

And yet, as much as “Queen Bee,” “The Only Diamond,” and “Old Red Barn” are a blast, it’s “Tiananmen Square” that is the standout here. The hugely emotive song is based on fingerpicked acoustic guitar, filled out with trebly piano keys, noodly lead guitar, solemn cello, reverent vocal melismas, and thoughtful drums.

Blake’s voice swings from calm to booming in the huge conclusion to the song, as the strings ratchet up and the drums push hard. The reason for the drama is the story of Tank Man, who defied Chinese tanks in 1989. Blake draws the listener into the story, then poses and answers a central question to the listener: “Was I born for this? / I was born for this.” The global scope of the incident and the personal nature of the questions in light of that important event are expertly juxtaposed. This tension between the lofty and the minor is balanced in the lyrics throughout the record.

Cameron Blake’s Fear Not is an intense experience of great scope and depth. It is an album that is in turns wrenching and fun. Its impact is in clear relationship to its scope: there’s a lot to hear here, and a lot to think about once you’ve heard it. If you’re into adventurous work from a thoughtful writer, Fear Not should be on your must-hear list for the year. Highly recommended.

Fear Not comes out tomorrow.

Premiere: townsppl’s twigs

November 8, 2017

The ukulele had a moment in the late ’00s: between “Hey Soul Sister,” “You and I” by Ingrid Michaelson, and a host of other ukulele-toting bands, things were getting downright cheery all over the place. Vibes have obviously changed in the culture and in musical scenes; ukulele is way less used today. However, the instrument’s ability to create a warm, sunshiny vibe is the same–it’s just waiting there for someone to champion it.

Enter twnsppl. twigs by townsppl is easily one of the most gleeful, charming, carefree albums released in 2017. For a year that’s been full of divorce albums and incisive protest music, twigs offers a heaping helping of respite.

The title track is the opener, and it’s a great tune. Bandleader Alexander Stanton’s tenor voice is smooth and clear, delivered over the aforementioned ukulele and some bouncing bass. The chorus shifts from straight-ahead indie-pop to Graceland-influenced pop with the addition of “whoa-oh-ohs,” African-harmony background vocals, and chanted “heys”. The vibe is spot-on, the recording is perfectly done, and the whole thing comes off like a million bucks. It’s a “sit-up-and-pay-attention” opener for an indie-pop fan.

“so so-so” slows down the tempo and introduces ukulele fingerpicking, which is lovely. The majority of the album lives in this mid-tempo indie-pop realm, exploring many different ways to chill with a ukulele in your arms (or ears). Both “so so-so” and “i’ll be home soon (can it wait till I get there)” have can’t-get-it-out-of-my-head chorus vocal lines, while “cut magazines” and “don’t blink” show off Stanton’s arrangement skills primarily. (Not to malign the great vocal melodies in those tunes.)

“don’t blink” is a highlight: sounding somewhat like a Sufjan Christmas take in both enthusiasm and warmly comforting mood, the tune hums along with an effervescent grin. The delicate closing piano line bowled me over the first time I heard it–it’s a simple thing, but it’s executed perfectly. In other words: #nailedit.

The tunes here are mostly chipper and bright, but one stands out from the pack as being more reserved: “the road to end up” is a somber, serious pop tune reminiscent of Blind Pilot’s vocal melodies and Ivan & Alyosha’s electric guitar use. It’s a strong counterpoint to the rest of the tunes, subverting expectations just enough to add a good break in the sound. The album concludes with the solo performance “sparks,” which is also a little more serious than the rest of the tunes. But even that can’t sustain a straight face for too long before bringing in a lo-fi arrangement to brighten the corners. It’s a great conclusion to a relentlessly appealing album.

Having reviewed music for 14.5 years, I’ve learned to be reserved in my initial response to a record. But some albums cause me to break my rules. I have enjoyed every track on this record unabashedly. It’s a dinger–there’s not a bad track on the whole thing. Each track of twigs is clever, thoughtful, and deeply enjoyable. It will easily land on my top ten albums of the year. If you’re into indie-pop, this is a must-hear. Highly Recommended.

You can check out townsppl at the twigs Album Release Show on Friday, 11/10, at Club Cafe in Pittsburgh. If I were anywhere near there, I’d be headed up. It’s bound to be a blast.

Trevor James Tillery makes an artistic statement about social media

November 3, 2017

Each day is a reinvention. For Nashville’s Trevor James Tillery, the process has been performed in front that fickle demographic that has been labeled millennial. To say that this has been a bad thing would be unfair to a creative talent like this songwriter, who is set to release Together, Alone November 10, 2017 (pre-order).

It could be said that the artist, who lists both Los Angeles and Nashville as home base, embraces that duality within his songwriting: a mirror for personal experiences with themes exploring a range of perspectives on the isolation within today’s climate of disconnection. This lyrical expression of disconnect as a result of social media, religion, sexuality, and interpersonal relationships was produced by Joshua D. Niles between the winter of 2016 and the summer of 2017. Though the artist is proud to say that this is a collaborative album, there is a strong identity for listeners to hear, a foundation that is carried throughout the ten song album.

The album cover art comes from London-based photographic duo Stefano and Alberto Scandeberg. Elegant and lyrical, the album art encompases the ideas that pull this artist’s work together, making each element of the release part of a greater whole. For an album decrying social media’s effects, there is a subtle irony in the artwork: Tillery connected with the artists via Twitter after seeing their work, which has been published in Vogue and elsewhere. Small world, big possibilities.

With an eye on the attack of social media and the alienated repercussions of that separate-but-together existence, “In Your Atmosphere” is a taste of brilliance. “Silver Sea” features a landscape of sound enveloped by authentic lush vocals. “Lonely With You” has that echo of Grizzly Bear: a bit less dark and haunting, and more accepting of the isolation. “Numb” may be the standout track of the album, as it encompasses everything thematically. It is hauntingly disjointed, with an almost rave-like tempo and a falsetto kicking in on the chorus.  

Creating a different feel within the songs, “Immortalize” could feel out of place if not for the way that the album was released: Tillery chose to release the album one single at a time. Dripping out each song on its own gave the tunes a chance to breathe and find their audience. Like many people today, Trevor agrees that most listeners are unable to commit to immersing in an entire album at one sitting. While admittedly critical of the lack of patience that listeners have when sitting down, embracing, and digesting an album in one listen, there is a method to Tillery’s madness with Together, Alone.

The space trip of “Equilibrium” is an invitation for the listener to contrast much of the rest of the record. It is a little jarring, but that may be the point. Throughout Together, Alone, Trevor James Tillery is urging his listeners throughout to stop, wake up, and connect on a real plane. —Lisa Whealy

Quick Hit: Glen Phillips’ Swallowed by the New

October 27, 2017

I’m pretty worn out from divorce records this year, but Glen PhillipsSwallowed by the New is a divorce record so good that I’m breaking my moratorium on the form to tell you about it. Phillips is the former songwriter of Toad the Wet Sprocket who has turned himself into a songwriter approximately like Glen Hansard crossed with Alexi Murdoch while living in America. In other words, these are rich, fully-developed singer/songwriter songs that can be hushed or roaring with equal emotional impact.

The highlights of the record are the emotionally-wrung-out opener “Go,” the gospel-inflected major key of “Grief and Praise,” the Brill Building popcraft of “Reconstructing the Diary” and the stomping neo-blues rave-up that is “Held Up.” The rest of the tunes are strong as well, showing off Phillips’ oh-so-perfect vocal tone and smooth songwriting (“The Easy Ones,” “Baptistina,” “Leaving Oldtown”). The whole thing is about as warm and lovely as the thoroughly attractive album art. In other words, it doesn’t drag you through the dirt to get to the gold–at least, not too much.

Jeremy Tuplin and non-trippy outer space stuff

October 26, 2017

I Dreamt I Was an Astronaut by Jeremy Tuplin

My last review, of Jason van Wyk’s work, sounded like it could easily score a film about outer space. I Dreamt I Was an Astronaut by Jeremy Tuplin one-ups that by actually including songs about outer space and the universe (“Astronaut,” “Albert Einstein Song,” “Robot Love”) and putting an astronaut right there in the title. Beyond the space elements, it is a strong singer/songwriter album that establishes Tuplin’s formidable songwriting and vocal skills.

The most compelling component of this music is Tuplin’s baritone voice. His round, compelling tone leads the way through almost every one of these songs. The performances can be heartbreaking (“In Front of Me All This Time”), heartbroken (“Robot Love”), inviting (“Kathleen”), or some of all of that (“Did We Lose the Fight”). He uses vibrato more than I’m used to, but he uses it well; it doesn’t get annoying. Instead, it feels honest and real, like he’s not trying to make his voice something it’s not.

The songs that his voice leads through are singer/songwriter tunes that draw on indie influences; “Did We Lose the Fight” reminds me of Once, “Oh Youth” feels like a stripped-down Funeral-era Arcade Fire tune, and “Modern Life / Modern Love” has the earnest pluckiness of a St. Even song. All throughout there’s a wide-open feel that will connect with fans of Gregory Alan Isakov, although the two artists are quite different.

But it’s “Albert Einstein Song” that is the highlight here. The thoughtful, probing lyrics are the most memorable of the lot, referencing the titular scientist, physics, the universe, and David Bowie. The carefully developed arrangement of toms, strings, tiny piano, and guitar is both grand and intimate, which is a unique statement. The rest of the songs here are good, but this one is great. It points to impressive things to come, on top of solid things already presented here. I Dreamt I Was An Astronaut is a strong debut album of a singer/songwriter who is clearly developing his own specific voice.

Jason van Wyk – Attachment and Opacity

October 25, 2017

Attachment by Jason van Wyk

When I get burned out on breakup songs, it’s comforting to turn to music without lyrics. For all I know, the songs of Jason van Wyk‘s Attachment and Opacity spawned from a failed relationship—but there’s only piano and atmospherics to convey that. I can imagine that these are songs about exploring a distant area of space, if I so choose. The subtle emotion infused in the melodies of these piano-centric, minimalist instrumental albums allow for the first interpretation (should you so choose), while the careful use of negative space and the icy sheen provoke the second interpretation. Both albums are comforting, enveloping listening experiences.

Attachment is technically a re-release of a 2016 album, but it’s new enough for me. The album’s compositions focus on minimalist (but not abstract or structural/12-tone) piano work; there are pad synths and other background noises, but van Wyk’s piano playing is central (as in highlight “Before”). In other places the ambient mood shares time with delicate piano patterns (“Stay,” “Found”). Closer “Depart” signals a direction that he would follow on Opacity, as the strings and synths that compose the bulk of the tune create a misty, ethereal landscape for the listener to explore. The piano does (gently) reassert itself before the tune ends, because this is a piano-centric album. The focus on piano allows melodies to be developed, giving many of these songs individual character.

Opacity by Jason van Wyk

Opacity is less piano-centric; songs named “Shimmer,” “Glow,” and “Weightless” give a sense of the vibe van Wyk is going for on this album. “Shimmer” holds up to its name, as the composition is a gauzy, slow-moving aura. “Glow” is a sad kind of luminescence, more like Gatsby’s light than a Christmas tree; “Beneath” is also a sad, slowly pulsing idea with little piano.

The focus on the rest of the composition outside the piano gives this particular album less forward motion than Attachment, but plays up the coherence of the whole work. As a result, Opacity is more moving to me when I listen to it all the way through; it is a brooding, icy, yet exploratory work. I can easily see it as the soundtrack to a lonely-space-exploration film.

These two albums work together to show off the impressive compositional skills of Jason van Wyk. If you’re interested in contemporary composition (a la Nils Frahm), minimalism, or just “relaxing music,” these two albums will do a lot for you. Highly recommended.

Gifts or Creatures, or, just in case you ever wanted to hear a song about fur trapping

October 24, 2017

Fair Mitten (New Songs of the Historic Great Lakes Basin) by Gifts or Creatures

After a summer where I’ve been worn out by heavy breakup albums, it’s really nice to hear an album that is about something completely different. Gifts or CreaturesFair Mitten (New Songs of the Historic Great Lakes Basin) is exactly what the parenthetical announces: a bunch of songs about the history of Michigan and points surrounding. It’s a deep dive on a region for people who really hoped that Sufjan was going to do all 50 states, encased in unique indie-pop/indie-rock sounds.

It’s only appropriate to address the lyrics first. If you didn’t grow up in the Old Northwest, you’re going to have dig deep into whatever you remember of your high school American History course: Pontiac’s Rebellion! Fort Dearborn Massacre! Canadian Shield! Fur trapping! Thankfully, GoC gives a lot of context in these tunes without turning this into Schoolhouse Rock. The focus is on the emotions of these places and events (“Grand Rapids Brakeman,” “Pontiac’s Rebellion,” “Conquest of the Old Northwest”), but the duo knows enough to give their listeners a leg up on what’s going on in the otherwise-oddly-specific tunes of this concept album. As I mentioned at the beginning: if you’re looking for something fresh for your ears, this is real fresh.

Also fresh is the indie-pop/indie-rock songwriting. Three instruments are prominent: a specific dreamy keyboard, a lightly distorted electric guitar, and drums. With this unusual palette, the band wrings out all sorts of textures, from the pensive (“Trout of the Pines”) to the poppy (“Fort Dearborn Massacre”) to the icily expansive (“Manitou Passage”).

But it’s in tunes like “Canadian Shield” the true power of their duo comes to light: there, the electric guitar and keyboard are so tightly meshed together that it sounds like one instrument. This is both an impressive sonic trick and a satisfying experience, as the sounds generated are attempting to reach an ideal the likes of which I have never heard or imagined. Again, if you’re looking for something novel, Gifts or Creatures have come up with it.

Fair Mitten is an unusual experience at first, as Gifts or Creatures’ goals are hugely different than that of your run-of-the-mill indie band. In a way, they hearken back to the ideal of indie rock from the ‘80s: “sing your song, man. It doesn’t have to be about the same things as our songs, or sound like our songs; you’re part of us because it doesn’t sound like our stuff.” This isn’t stuff you’ll hear on the radio, and that’s great. It’s fantastic, unique, original work. Highly recommended.

Nathan Partain: A reverent, transcendent acoustic folk album

October 23, 2017

A Lovely Wait by Nathan Partain

The last time that Nathan Partain checked in, he was purveying crunchy Southern rock and worshipful ballads on Jaywalker. On his new recordPartain has stripped out a large amount of the crunch and embraced delicate acoustic folk almost entirely. The songs still meet the goal of being fit for congregational worship, but A Lovely Wait is a reverent, quietly-intense album much more reminiscent of Rich Mullins’ work or Sufjan’s Seven Swans than a contemporary worship album.

Opener “You Were Not My People” is that rare opener whose instrumentation and lyrics set the stage perfectly for what’s to come in the rest of the album without stealing any of the thunder of the later tracks. The performances are crisp in their precision, but remain delicate: the mellow keys, acoustic guitar, drums, and vocal performances all contribute to this careful tight-rope act. Partain’s voice doesn’t strain or push—instead, he calmly lays out the engaging vocal melody with a female counterpart. The mood this and further pieces create is similar to the quiet awe of Seven Swans, a rare compliment from these parts.

That reverence carries over into the lyrics of “You Were Not My People.” Partain’s words reflect a depth and scope that is also rare in contemporary worship music since the death of Rich Mullins. Instead of focusing on a specific characteristic of God or on worshipers’ response to God, Partain takes listeners on a tour of the whole Bible from God’s perspective: the many ways that people have ignored, turned away from, attacked, and even killed God—and the astoundingly merciful and kind responses that God gives to people in response. The fact that this can happen in under 5 minutes is impressively concise writing. The idea of the song is one that comes from a unique voice in the world of Christian music.

The reverent arrangements and unique lyrical perspective shine throughout the rest of the album. The gentle pitter-patter of “One Thing I Have Asked (Psalm 27)” shows off the instrumental prowess in creating worshipful moods, while “In the Strength You Give” is a spartan tune that accentuates the clear-eyed confessional lyrics. “Deliverance Is a Song of Peace” is a fantastic, expertly-developed folk tune. The catchy “All You Do Is Good” and the folk-rock of “Your Ways” are two tunes that are clearly focused on congregational settings; still, they are both great songs in their own right that don’t fall outside the sonic scope of the album.

While those last two are clearly congregational, it’s a testament to the maturity of Partain’s songwriting that all of these songs work as folk tunes and could clearly work in worship. To then craft and sequence a top-shelf album out of songs that are already serving dual purposes is another challenge that Partain conquers. A Lovely Wait is an impressive acoustic folk album that transcends its place in the Christian music world while still creating music to serve the people of Christ. Highly recommended.

Polyrhythmics: An Origami of Musical Beauty

October 12, 2017

Diamonds are born from vast amounts of pressure. The pressure of being a talent from the Pacific Northwest may be the explosive element for many bands trying to find a form. “A caldera is the term for what’s left after a volcano erupts,” explains Polyrhythmics guitarist Ben Bloom. This is a precursor to the music found on Caldera, which is easily described as mind blowing. The band combines the talents of Ben Bloom (guitars), Grant Schroff (drums), Nathan Spicer (Keys), Lalo Bello (Percussion), Jason Gray (Bass), Scott Morning (Trumpet), Elijah Clark (Trombone), and Art Brown (Sax and Flute).

Polyrhythmics’ fourth release, Caldera, follows the success of Octagon. Here listeners are invited to take a trip musically around the world all at once, and to find substance from the unusual fluidity that is their music. Melding stylistic elements from jazz, blues, afrobeat, and funk with some rock flavor, the music from the Seattle-based band is an evolution. This album, written at the base of Mount Hood in rural Oregon, shows that the combination of all elements can create a unique form.

Fighting busy schedules, the band chose to get together and write at Stargazer Farms outside of Portland, Oregon. The result was being trapped in two feet of snow after the coldest winter snap in a while. Following the Stargazer writing sessions, the band headed into Gray’s Seattle studio and recorded nearly everything live as a band, just the way they’d been writing and experimenting out on the farm. The consensus that there was no way to capture the dynamic magic of live sound of a band of this size any other way than by doing it live.

An origami of musical beauty unfolds with each track of this twelve track masterpiece. It is an emotional journey from start to finish. It seems unfair to say one performance stands out or to focus on any one artist in the collective. Caldera is a multifaceted gem of a record that glimmers and shines with layers of musical beauty from all directions. The high-energy Polyrhythmics performance is a collection of world influences that each musician brings to the table.

Leading with the the smooth vibe of “Goldie’s Road,” a visceral connection is made. The easy flow is augmented by Brown’s flute coupling with Lalo Bello’s percussion. It is solidly followed by the sixties vibe of “Spider Wolf.” This song is a moment for Bloom’s guitar to start the conversation back and forth between the horns. “Marshmallow Man” is beautifully funky, starting off with an ethereal keyboard and grounded in solid horns that soar in, bringing a new shape to the song. Tight and precise, the song is magnificent in its formlessness. Capped off with a solo from the trumpet of Scott Morning that would make Louis Armstrong stop and listen, the tune is wrapped up with a stellar keys solo, thanks to Spicer.

The strange thing about Caldera is that many of the songs feel as if they are a reincarnation of something else. This most notably happens on “Au Jus” about half way through the album. With the solid framework and interconnection that has been built, the freedom to flow really takes place here. It creates a beast that defies containment. That animal who is Art Brown, and his saxophone rips into the heavens like Coleman Hawkins. Taking the horn section to that same place is “Lord Of The Fries” with its calypso beat of beauty. This is music of life, passionate and real with hips swaying in rhythm.

“Bowling Green” feels like laid back jazz, as alternating horns create a formless spiral of sound. “Dragon Lotion” finds true dance, blending afrobeat and Brazilian funk to push the limits on any expectations of what the music could be. The band pulls in some stellar keyboards from Spicer and is enveloped in guitar work from Bloom. Finding a piece of the heart of this album, “Journey To Caldera” is one of the best examples of the band’s songwriting collaboration. Each musician shines in their own moment, soaring into a moment that is classically understated brilliance.

“Vodka For My Goat” offers a taste of bass blended with guitar and sax into a drum-wrapped delight. Jason Gray’s bass stands out here. “Stargazer” is ethereal and all-encompassing; each piece of this musicianship is beyond description. To say that songwriting for Polyrhythmics has not always been a collaborative effort is hard to imagine. What makes Caldera pop for listeners is that it has been written collaboratively. Polyrhythmics limit the indefinable, connecting mind, body, and soul.–Lisa Whealy

Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.

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