Press "Enter" to skip to content

Category: Review

A Whale of a Split: Make Sure and Ezekiel Songs

Today I am absolutely thrilled to bring you news of an EP split between Make Sure and Ezekiel Songs. Longtime followers of this blog will certainly know Make Sure (and its predecessor band Fiery Crash, and its side project Summerooms), whom I cover often. This is the first time I’ve covered Ezekiel Songs, but not the first time I’ve covered the musicians behind the project: Kevin and Chris Skillern (Scales of Motion). But my reIationship with the Skillerns goes back even farther than covering Scales. I don’t get personal on this blog too often, but some things require a bit of backstory.

Back in 2002, my friend Brent said “I am starting a band and I play guitar.” I said, “Well, I can learn to play bass.” We recruited a drummer and called ourselves Tragic Landscape. (Throughout the history of this band, I kept trying to change the name, but to no avail.) After a brief Coldplay/The Fray period, we settled into an art-rock/post-rock/post-metal amalgam that was extremely out of step with everything else in the Tulsa scene. The band consisted of an emo singer who played bass riffs out of Ben Folds songs, an art-school guitarist, and a metalhead drummer. We also later recruited a jazz keyboardist/clarinetist. The guitarist was also a saxophone player and would sometimes swap the guitar for the sax and duet with the clarinet. Over metal drums. We were weird.

Around this time, emo was cool. Very cool. Lots of good emo bands running around (and one good post-rock band called the Programme, who were way out of our league). One of those good emo bands was Scales of Motion. I admired Scales of Motion because among all our peers, they seemed the most like they would actually like our music. They were also Christians and that meant a lot to me, as a Christian playing music. So, I put on my best music networking face and asked Scales of Motion if we could play a show together.

They said yes.

I was delighted out of my mind. We did the show and had a blast. Scales even did at least one more show with us where we were separately put on the same bill. It was awesome. I have always had a spot in my heart for Scales because they, among pretty much everyone else in the Tulsa music scene, kinda took a flyer on us. And Scales, as I mentioned above, was the brainchild of Kevin and Chris Skillern.

And now, all-time IC fave Make Sure is doing a split with the Skillerns under their Ezekiel Songs moniker. Where Scales of Motion was a noisy-but-thoughtful rock band, Ezekiel Songs is quiet-and-thoughtful indie-pop outfit. The patterned distorted electric guitar riffs have been traded for patterned acoustic guitar work. The backdrop has shifted to a peaceful, comforting frame: “Author of Love” is a bright, autumnal piece featuring snare rim-hits, shaker, sleigh bells, muted kick, and gently thrumming bass guitar work below the acoustic guitar and delicate electric guitar work. Kevin Skillern’s high tenor vocals gently soar over the mix, capping off the track in a delightful way. The lyrics are a plea for help, healing, and justice in a troubled time; what could be more beautiful?

Skillern then covers Make Sure’s “Getaway Car,” amping up the dreamy qualities of the track. The track shows how excellently matched these two artists are: the autumnal, acoustic-and-banjo approach is a highly complementary as well as complimentary fit with the original. There are also subtle differences: there’s some more staccato elements interspersed and accentuated in this track than in Make Sure’s (the banjo will do that to you, no matter how kindly you tap the strings). Yet the overall vibe feels dreamy due to inclusion of melodic percussion (marimba?), the vocal choices, and subtle arpeggiator work. It’s a great track.

Make Sure’s new contribution to the EP is “Hearing Yourself,” which is a very punchy track that is on the louder side of the Make Sure oeuvre. It’s not quite pop-punk, what with the twinkly top lines, but there’s a good amount of charging guitars that give this heft. The bridge is quiet and relaxed, giving a good break from the loud proceedings. The track seems to be an “outgrowing this town” song, which is a good fit in a pop-punk-esque frame. (The ka-chunk at the end of the track is very pop-punk.)

Make Sure’s cover of Ezekiel Songs’ “Coming Home” has a solid groove to it, as Josh Jackson ties stomping percussion and winding acoustic guitar together into a fun line. It has some ’90s-era chill Switchfoot vibes: rock approaches without actually going all the way to rocking.

All four of these tracks are highly entertaining, excellently developed pieces of autumnal indie-pop. You’ve got quiet and loud versions of the form here, so there’s diversity throughout. But overall, the quartet is highly consistent and much more cohesive than most splits are. As a bonus: you’re getting to support the Skillerns, whom I highly respect as people and musicians. Highly recommended.

This split comes supported by Renew the Arts and officially drops on December 4.

Singles: Give Thanks!

1. “Nightlight” – Suss. A relaxing, pastoral piece from the ambient-country pioneers that truly floats somewhere between ambient and country. The pedal steel weeps, but quietly. The ambient melodies stretch, but not so far as to become shapeless. The acoustic guitar holds it all together. It’s a country version of an Album Leaf song, and I love it.

2. “Hard to Give Thanks” – Red Spot Rhythm. “Hard to give thanks when you’re feeling low” is the refrain on this chipper, plucky, trad-inflected, major key folk romp. The hectic piano solo matches the ever-forward rhythm-section and choppy acoustic guitar for a punchy, upbeat, infectious ode to sadness.

3. “Give Thanks” – Black Violin. A fitting follow-up to “Hard to Give Thanks,” this uplifting, peaceful arrangement of the theme from “Ode to Joy” captures the reverent, hushed vibe I get from the holidays perfectly. I love this jam, and I look forward to putting it on my Christmas rotation this year and every year.

4. “Mirror Image” – Nick Schofield. A fluttery, loopy, breathy piece of electronica that yet feels organic and rich. This is a beautiful collection of sounds, arranged in a compelling manner.

5. “The Creator Has a Master Plan” – Dezron Douglas and Brandee Younger. This bass/harp jazz duo offers a delightfully refreshing, no-frills interpretation of a Pharoah Sanders & Leon Thomas tune. The work is light without losing vitality, and the performance has a perfect off-cuff feeling. People talking in the background and shout-outs from the performers at the end of the track contribute to the vibe. I absolutely love this. I miss live music so much, y’all.

6. “Involuntary Prophet” – Shanghai Restoration Project. This electronic cut has all the drive of a cyberpunk jam, but without the grit, grime, and urban decay of more Gibson-esque cuts. There’s a sense of drive and wonder, as sounds that approximate flute and piano give the piece lift. A highly compelling work.

7. “Hidden Depths” – Archie the Goldfish. This is maximum cool crammed into 3:55, with the bass/drums/guitar/trumpet combo sidling up with a truly laidback jam. The trumpet is smooth, the guitar is silky, the drums are tight, and the bass is grooving. Just the way I like it.

8. “Call Your Mom” – Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio. Now here’s a funky, groovy, strutting slice of musical goodness. This organ/guitar/drums combo is just looking for a party to crash, keeping the vibe going without acting like anyone’s trying too hard (a little hard–the solos are very good; but not too hard). This is headbobbing bliss.

9. “Kelvin (7300)” – 808 DOT POP. This is fine, Kraftwerk-esque computer music. Lots of big bass notes, computery treble, and counter-point mids. Might be a little austere for some, but I like the charm of the aggressively old-school vibe.

10. “Ark of Horizon” – Collapse Under the Empire. I admire a good band name when I see one, and Collapse Under the Empire is vividly evocative of sci-fi epics, historical sweep, and sudden change. “Ark of Horizon” is even more evocative. Without me telling you anything more, you probably guessed this was a post-rock song with big crescendoes and lots of emotion. I will tell you that it is that (although it’s more electronic than most post-rock) and also there are some deep bwaaaa sounds because let’s go all in.

 

The Suitcase Junket delivers an eclectic powerhouse

Great songwriters weave a lyrical narrative, an intricate balancing act manifesting shared experiences through their art. Musical compositions defy conventions, with tempos dancing the waltz, tangoing as each pianissimo rises to a crescendo. Enter The Suitcase Junket’s The End is Now on Renew Records/BMG

An eclectic powerhouse that envelops the senses, The End is Now is more than the sixth album from songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and producer Matt Lorenz, who has long performed as The Suitcase Junket. Changing up the familiar sonic palette for darker tones more fitting for the times, producer and keyboardist Steve Berlin (Los Lobos) joined Lorenz (Drums, Vocals) on a richly textured doom-folk release. I feel like the multifaceted album’s heady content has been riding the same hellish trainwreck of reality as I have for the past year.

Renew Records/BMG, representing roots Americana, sets the stage to focus on artists like Lorenz. That The End is Now is the label’s first release suggests this label values distinctive artistry. Unique artistry is indeed reflected in The End is Now. The album’s opening notes of “Prelude” slide into “Black Holes and Overdoses,” feverishly whirling through a descent into addiction. Gritty, frantic, and horrifying, the rolling beat sucks us in. Many of us have watched someone we care about slip into the clutches of addiction or alcoholism: it’s insanity. “Light a Candle” aches, each beat an emotive kind of funeral march. With every note’s perfect flow, a heaviness never fully takes hold, letting the tears settle too deep inside. Brilliantly, Lorenz soars here, creating a sacred shared space to grieve. This song seems like a spiritual release for us all. Truly, beauty rises out of pain in this song, like silent tears for–well, you name it, this year.

A master storyteller, Lorenz crafts “Then There Was Fire” with an essence of the DIY spirit he is known for. Spaciously mixed, each note has room for nuance, layering as the track evolves. Alive, moments flow like notes floating on the wind, undulating in a timeless dance. “Can’t Look Away” shines as one of my personal favorites, an acknowledgment made to this trainwreck year. In the midst of a catastrophe, this narrator’s weird perspective almost sounds fun? Bringing Berlin on board as a producer to craft a dark record, Lorenz achieved more than just that goal. Making the case for a new kind of cool, “When the Battle is Won” struts, uplifting with seemingly hopeful chord structures. “Jesus! King of the Dinosaurs” is an anthem, but remember that this is an album to be played from start to finish to fully unleash its magic.

“Breathe Forever” sets the stage for new ways we can face down our fears. Simple, right? How can defiant, upbeat, uptempo, maniacal truth-telling, down-to-earth talk calling out-neofascism and racism sound so joyful? Perfectly mixed, Berlin’s production choices go hand in hand with the joyful sound vibing to my soul. I’m grinning from the inside out, while each unfussy lyric slides into the finale gang vocals. This is ear candy at its sweetest! The End is Now is its own reality, yet aesthetically framed by the year 2020 and its chaos. “Last Man on the Moon” seismically shifts towards melancholy. Lorenz shines as a composer, lightly punctuating plaintive vocalization with choice instrumentation.

The songwriting here is excellently crafted. This record–shaped by geography, religion, economics, politics, and technology–shows signs of brilliance. Is “Rock Bottom” the town crier’s warning as we all slide towards the end of this hellish year? Maybe. Closer “More” brings flashes of the iconic Roger Waters track “Money” from Pink Floyd’s 1973 rock classic Dark Side of the Moon to electrify this cut, like sinew connecting each song together on this album. In the end, The Suitcase Junket’s The End is Now is a groundbreaking new album that could be 2020’s best. —Lisa Whealy

Lindstrøm & Prins Thomas give us smooth, silky, soothing electronica

Lindstrøm & Prins ThomasIII is a smooth, silky, soothing ride for your tired ears. The glittering, calm waves of synths and gentle beats that propel all six of these tunes make for the very best type of listening: the sound can take you away for a ride without you really even knowing it. The work is transportive. This electronic work is about the chillest nu-disco you can imagine–no violins here. I listened to it a ton, and found myself immersed in the vibes.

“Small Stream” has those low-key disco vibes in the cascading bass synths and the headbobbing rhythms, but the layers of other synths over it give it a warm-coat feeling. “Oranges” has a little bit more of a lazy feel, even verging over a bit to mildly ominous. “Harmonia” relies on live bass (or exceptional facsimile of it) to give a more driving feel to the work. “Birdstrik” is both more active and less–the little bits of chatter and squelch add up to a relaxing, serene experience. This album is far more than the sum of its parts, and much more than my words can do justice to. This is a highlight electronic effort of the year, so don’t miss out. The record drops on 11/20. Highly recommended.

Andrew Adkins throws down in a throwback style

The Echoist throws down as a throwback rock classic from multi-instrumentalist Andrew Adkins. Adkins firmly embraces a sound that combines the essence of early Aerosmith blended with The Beatles. Recorded entirely in Adkins’ East Nashville home studio, The Echoist dishes up eight songs with a cohesive, sublime analog retro style.

Adkins, as producer, shapes the listener’s sonic experience. Adkins purposefully chose to record himself at home: though home studios seem the norm these days, the record’s home production happened prior to the age of COVID-19. Adkins manifested this magic with seasoned talent, as he called upon Tim Rogers (pedal steel), Zach Grouch (horns), and Phil Thompson (strings/piano). The results are a beautiful separation of instruments allowing every note to be heard, making the space between each note full of tension.

The deliciously stripped welcome of “Mostly Ouroboros” shines with psychedelic rock flair. It evokes Adkins’ past lives as a founding member of psychedelic, blues-infused, indie rock band Mellow Down Easy and gritty rockers Lions for Real (Werewolf Heart Records). The soul oozing from each beat of “Vagabond Shoes” shows these tracks were sequenced purposefully. Even being unsure of when this song was written, the song’s narrative fits with our pandemic isolation. Isolation, angst, hope, and vast unnamed emotions bleed out in this song. Lyrical contradictions weave the American fabric of this song, revealing this songwriter’s strength in crafting narratives. Certainly, “Vagabond Shoes” has earned its place in my 2020 soundtrack playlist.

“Thunder Perfect Mind” is paced like it wants a place on The Beatles’ Revolution. The cacophonous opening creates auditory vertigo, leading to grit-laced vocals pushed down in guitar-heavy mix. It’s stylistically brilliant, right down to the interference, horns, and sonic disruptions. “Ruination Suite” lightly reinforces the feeling that we have all been living some weird episode of The Twilight Zone this year. Adkins then delivers the almost maniacal “Prince Charming Slit His Throat,” crafting frolicking fun out of cohabitation gone bad. Wicked!

Adkins settles into “Bitter Pills” and its acoustic palette, as his unadorned ideas translate perfectly. Rising in a minimalist crescendo, the songwriter’s angst packs a knockout punch, never trying too hard to make the song’s emotions land squarely on the heart. Heading out of the album, “Hazel Barricade Eyes” seems like the show’s wind down. Heartfelt emotions seem overshadowed, based on the album’s sequencing. Technically beautiful, the hollow feeling I am left with may be exactly what the artist was going for. A little over one month ago we had the opportunity to premiere “Save the Day,” and a few things have changed since: our country has coalesced behind two individuals elected to lead the United States back into its global leadership role. Does that make the message of “Save the Day” any less important? In my mind, Adkins’s song shines a spotlight on areas in our country’s institutions that need attention.

Ultimately, Andrew Adkins’ The Echoist shines as a sonic throwback, rocketing into today’s 2020 soundtrack in style. Catch him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and Spotify.–Lisa Whealy

Single: The Bipeds’ “Bury the Light”

The Bipeds is a dance and music troupe headed by Stacy Wolfson and Curtis Eller. Eller’s “Bury the Light,” recorded at Studio 808A and produced by Joseph DeJarnette, is the musical part of the Bipeds’ latest project. 

Eller’s banjo and Wolfson’s crystal clear vocals contrast perfectly with the darkness and despair of the visuals. Compositionally nuanced, each instrument harmonizes with the choreography. Joseph DeJarnette (upright bass) and Jack Fleishman (drums) deliver solid backline vibrations. The piece feels like Charlie Chaplin slipping towards film noir, a battle between dark and light (but not simply dark and light), the convergence of visual and sonic experience. 

Stacy Wolfson’s choreography pulses with each beat. The kaleidoscopic visuals might make the watcher think Esther Williams met The Big Lebowski. Eller and Wolfson have conceived a video whose story tells one we all feel. There is magic here, like nothing I’ve experienced in quite some time.

The credits are long for this collaborative project: Jim Haverkamp, Alex Maness, Curtis Eller, and Stacy Wolfson pulled off the detailed production, with Alex Maness as director of photography. Charles Bartee, Hugh Crumley, Steve Cowles, Daisy Eller, Curtis Eller, Anastasia Maddox, Jamie B. Wolcott, Joseph DeJarnette, A’yen Tran, Stacy Wolfson, and Shadow the cat are credited on vocals. Movement creation is by William Commander, Curtis Eller, Jessi Knight, Tatiana Phillips, Michael Rank, and Stacy Wolfson. Editor Jim Haverkamp helped bring the vision to life.

Artistic expression creates emotions. Art creates connections to what we see and hear, processed as a shared experience. Right now, we have no shared experience of live theater or musical performance. But we have this. I cried, realizing the weight of this year, the loss of live performance, culture, and community while watching “Bury the Light” for the first time. Art helps us scream, even through the tears.–Lisa Whealy

Alfred Howard Writes, Week 4: “Take”

It’s week four of our four-week premiere series of songs from Alfred Howard‘s truly ambitious project Alfred Howard Writes. Alfred Howard Writes is an herculean effort by Alfred Howard and a humongous cast of contributors to independently release 100 songs in 50 weeks. For more info on the project, see the first week’s premiere. The second premiere and third premiere are also available for your listening pleasure. This week, we’re taking a look at “Take.

“Take” is a lightly funky, heavily soulful piece that features Jenn Grinels’ powerful vocals prominently. The organ, guitar, and drums all serve to open a space for Grinels to just go for it–and she does. The back-up vocals amp up this game even more: they are beautiful in their own right while further setting a stage for Grinels’ soaring, searing performance. If you’re a fan of star diva turns, you’ll have a ton of love for “Take.”

Alfred Howard has provided us some comments on “Take,” which I am honored to reproduce here:

Just about all of my songs are autobiographical. I grapple with fiction, plus the world is strange enough that I could write down what was happening and that would theoretically be abstract enough. My lady and I take as many drives as we can to get away from the 24-hour news cycle and the surrealism of this moment in history. Whenever wearing a hazmat suit to go get an apple from the grocery store is your reality, you have to make time for fresh air and trees. So that’s where lines like these come from:

Leave the news behind

The poison lullaby

The venom on the screen

Climb

Up the switchback road

High as I can go

This vantage point is free

I remember at some point, a white dove flew by. I’m a birdwatcher, so I’m always looking out for these things. At the top of the pandemic, we got an apocalyptic amount of rain in San Diego. The skies were black and foreboding and here was this pristine white dove, flying in front of this bleak and ominous backdrop. It was striking. The vision couldn’t not be a chorus. I sent it to Jenn Grinels, and she ran with it. She sent the demo back while I was sleeping, and I woke up at 5 a.m. to go to the swap meet, and I heard it and was totally blown away by the demo. She was belting her heart out. I think she really felt it and could relate to this one.

Pre-order “Take” here. You can catch Alfred on his websiteFacebookTwitterInstagram, and YouTube. And with that–that premiere series is a wrap! Thanks to Alfred Howard for letting us be a part of this project! It was an absolute thrill.

Premiere: LKBD Instrumentals

I’m honored to premiere Dylan Gilbert‘s LKBD Instrumentals today. I’ve followed Gilbert’s work for almost 15 years, and I’ve seen it take a lot of twists and turns.

This blog has taken almost as many twists and turns, often in opposite directions of Gilbert–while I was covering folk-pop, Gilbert was fronting the maximalist art-rock zaniness that is Hectorina. But our paths have (perhaps temporarily?) reunited.

LKBD Instrumentals is a composerly set of electronic, soundscape, and piano instrumentals. Independent Clauses covers instrumental music, including electronic work, soundscapes, and piano-led compositions. (Also jazz, which there is little of in LKBD. But maybe a future iteration will bring that along too!) So it’s a match.

The primary thrust of the album is seven instrumental versions of tracks that came from a project called I’ll Be the Lakebed that–well, I’ll let Dylan tell it:

I’ll Be the Lakebed was originally conceived as a live performance art piece, but due to COVID-19 all shows and tour plans were cancelled. The project then pivoted into a visual album, beginning with a series of singles and music videos, later released as a full film, and now as an instrumental album. LKBD instrumentals consists of 7 instrumental versions of songs from the I’ll Be the Lakebed album and 2 short unreleased tracks used for the opening and end credits of the visual album/film, creating a sort of alternate universe and further expanding the world of I’ll Be the Lakebed.

With the complicated origin story behind us, let’s jump into the sound. LKBD Instrumentals is not easy listening–these are challenging pieces. After a short, glowing, major-key intro that very much sounds like the electronic equivalent of an orchestra tuning up, “Moving Forward (Instrumental)” is an slow, icy, stark, spartan electronic piece that makes the listener feel every staccato bass and snare hit. The conclusion unveils a sort of ominous maximum-slow-jam. By sudden contrast, “Arlington Hotel (Instrumental)” is a traditional big-celestial-synth-washes ambient track; the deeply legato piece is pretty jarring after the intensely separated prior track. “Boneyard” returns to the staccato electronics and amps it up by distorting everything and turning the piece into a grim, grimy industrial track (complete with industrial siren). “New Prayer” yanks the listener back into quiet work, but the solo piano performance is dissonant and discordant.

I’m not going to lie, I considered passing on this release after the multiple instances of sonic whiplash. But the 4:17 of “Scrolling (instrumental)” is basically a Clams Casino jam and the longest track thus far in the record, giving the listener a reprieve. This tune is a brilliant slice of dark, ambient-influenced instrumental hip-hop; I would have loved to hear more of this. Instead, Gilbert goes further into his muse and comes out with a tune that sounds like the wash synths of “Arlington Hotel (Instrumental)” turned inside out and stapled onto a slow-core hip-hop beat with absolutely tooth-rattling bass. That track, “Untethered (Instrumental)”, is both an obvious extension of the work that has come before it and a mindbending new take.

Yet there are even more tricks up his sleeve: “Epochs (Instrumental)” takes the formula of “Untethered” (weird synth washes, bass for days, slo-mo beats) and adds guitars and ghostly vocals to it, creating an absolutely unique and fascinating sound. These last three tracks are truly the reason to listen to this collection; while still not overtly accessible, they are brilliantly conceived and performed compositions that are highly worth the time of adventurous listeners. These are followed by the two-minute outro: a sort of humble goodbye via a humble, tinny Casio-esque ditty played over a sea of whirling static. Overall, this is a fascinating, challenging, intriguing set of pieces for those who like instrumental hip-hop, industrial music, and (I say this affectionately) weird stuff.

Anything that gets done during COVID is such an achievement that the credits are even more valuable to note. Gilbert wrote, performed, produced and arranged all the songs at his home, his parents’ house and his studio space at Goodyear Arts. His father Greg Gilbert helped with engineering, while Justin Aswell did post-production, mixing and mastering. The artwork and design of the entire project, including the LKBD instrumentals album art, was put together by graphic designer Amanda Johnson, with photography by Amy Herman, and Art Direction/Costume Design/Set Design by Sarah Ingel.

LKBD instrumentals drops today, Nov 6, on Bandcamp and everywhere you stream music.

Thunder Dreamer keeps us awake

We are disconnected, staying safe behind our masks. Reality’s teeth drip wet with the blood of those killed via the pandemic, racial violence, or political unrest. Music cures what ails us, an antidote pushing away the chaos. Thunder Dreamer’s latest Summer Sleeping on Lonesome Morning Record Co. is a melodic masterpiece, shining sonic light into this year’s multilayered darkness.

The Evansville, Indiana-based Thunder Dreamer’s line up of Steven Hamilton (vocals, guitar), Corey Greenfield (drums), Alex Wallwork (bass), and Zach Zint (piano) creates four-piece magic. Their five-song EP shines with lead singer Steven Hamilton’s vocal tone and complex lyricism contrasted with unpretentious instrumentation. Such musicality seems spiritual in its simplicity. It’s full of homegrown midwestern flavor, bringing to mind the stylistic genius of Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes, Desaparecidos). 

Mindfully produced by Tyler Watkins (Margot & the Nuclear So & So’s), stunning instrumentation choices appear throughout. The record becomes a sensory experience as Watkins and the band craft the space between each note. Opening with “House and Garden” seems a perfect way to start: sweet storytelling from faraway places where we live in our dreams. Beautifully composed, the song’s almost-harpsichord sound is perfection. Despite that momentary feeling of expansiveness, “Of a Million” contradicts our individuality’s uniqueness, with Hamilton’s guitar and Zint’s piano conversing. This is songwriting at its best, speaking to that inner voice that I think everyone has heard–if they are honest with themselves. 

“Loraine” feels strained, missing Hamilton’s vocal sweet spot in his lower register. Yet the vocal approach demonstrates the challenge the subjects in this song face. Missing the flow of easy connection, we long for that ease another person provides. Stunningly haunted contrasts define key elements of this song’s success. It’s one of the standouts of the release. Broken, sometimes we claw our way back to each other–but sometimes we are lost along the way. 

Bringing the backline front and center, Wallwork and Greenfield shine in closing Summer Sleeping. “Blurred Out” has a heaviness but is yet somehow comforting in its composition. Zint’s piano counterbalances Hamilton’s guitar, pairing with the insinuation that this reality is temporary. Dreams and nightmares are fleeting. Thank goodness we’re awake, ready for full transcendence. The nightmares of 2020 have helped give birth to one of the top releases so far this year with Thunder Dreamer’s not-to-be-missed Summer Sleeping.–Lisa Whealy

Ólafur Arnalds’ some kind of peace is just that

It’s been a bit of a trope to say that the work that artists are putting out this year reflects our current conditions. Art often (always?) reflects the world around it. In times of prominent upheaval, it feels like everyone should and can say something about the conditions we are all experiencing. (I don’t think you have to, it just feels like that.)

Regardless of my thoughts on making big statements, Ólafur Arnalds‘ some kind of peace is another record written during, about, and for the times of COVID-19. some kind of peace wants to offer the titular gift to everyone listening to it who has gone through this chaotic year together, and Arnalds succeeds in this endeavor.

Arnalds’ detailed, delicate work is primarily for strings, piano, and electronics, and that remains true here. “Spiral” is a slowly-building piece that grows from a single string melody to a fully-developed piece with piano, counterpoint cello melody, electronic background sounds, and delicate processed keys. It’s peaceful yet weighty–not overbearing but yet still sturdy and real. “Still _ Sound” and “New Grass” are even more relaxed, providing a beautiful four minutes of overlapping, legato strings and hushed piano. “Woven Song” includes found sounds of nature in its mix to further evoke peace and calm.

While Arnalds does not usually work with his own voice, it’s the tracks that have vocals in them that are most memorable here. One of the most directly electronic works is opener “Loom (feat. Bonobo),” which uses static; odd, fractured arpeggiator patterns; Sigur Ros-esque vocal modulation (or something that sounds like it); pattering piano; and deep bass to create a whirling, twirling sonic world. Equally electronic is the clattering “Back to the Sky (feat. JFDR),” which features a evocative, powerful performance from the vocalist.

Josin’s whispery voice lends intimacy to the romantic, hold-me-close feel of “The Bottom Line,” as she calls the listener to wake up and go out in the world. The subtle electronic beat here pushes the song forward, mirroring the call of the lyrics in the call of the muted-but-pulsing beat to get up and get going. The swelling musical drama of “Undone” is matched by a dramatic reading of a poem/statement about the difficulty and pain of being born, ending with the statement “it’s just the beginning.” The music grows to about the same intensity and volume of “Spiral,” then delicately winds away, closing the album.

While there’s some diversity in the sonic spaces that Arnalds creates here, his goal of peace (somehow) is ultimately achieved. I’ve mentioned individual tracks of the record, but it’s really best taken as a single, long composition. some kind of peace is a beacon of calm in the midst of this chaotic year, a soothing balm for the weary heart in need of some temporary rest.