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Category: Review

Premiere: Melody Duncan’s “Lonely”

A picture of Melody Duncan against a green fence
Photographer: Katy Herndon

Melody Duncan’s “Lonely” starts off with elegant fingerpicking and whistling that evokes iconic western soundtracks. It isn’t a country song, as the song expands into a dusky, folky, orchestrally-ornamented space for the verse and chorus. Yet the song can’t shake its starkly dramatic Western underpinnings, both in returning to the whistling and in lyrically accentuating the titular loneliness that is common to so many country songs.

Duncan’s lyrics are plaintive and earnest: the chorus lines of “I’ve been feelin’ lonely / Such a matter of the head that really messes with my heart” are undeniable statements that many of us have been feeling over the past year and change. The song itself is short: few lyrics, sub-4 minute runtime. But in that short span, Duncan’s lyrics and arrangement create a space that balances yearning for community and acceptance of the difficulties of community (“We can choose to be different, you and I”). There’s a lot packed into a little; the economy of this song is one of the things that sells it.

Duncan’s voice is the other thing that sells it. Her lush alto range is elegant, her straightforward delivery is disarming, and the vocal nuance she puts on lines is compelling. Her vocal performance isn’t ostentatious, and that lack of drama ironically gives the song that much more emotional heft. This is a tune for the lonely by the lonely–not the theatrically lonely, just someone who actually is lonely.

Ultimately, it’s a beautiful song.

We were lucky enough to get a Q&A with Duncan about “Lonely”:

What prompted you to write this song? Is there a story behind it? What is the message you wanted to convey or the tale you wanted to tell?
I actually started writing this song earlier in 2020, but the lyrics came together during the first few months of the pandemic. It expresses having feelings of emotional isolation but deciding to reach out despite them. I think when we’re low, it can be life-giving to reach out to someone else, even when it’s difficult.

You recorded everything yourself. Was that a daunting thing, or did you feel like you were completely in your element? How so?
I really enjoy the recording process. It can be extremely difficult, but it’s that much more rewarding when it finally comes together in a way that feels complete. I enjoy learning new recording techniques and experimenting with different compositions. The most challenging thing about recording in a home studio is dealing with outside sound. My studio isn’t completely sound-proofed, so there were times I couldn’t record due to the noise of lawn mowers, rain storms, neighbors talking outside, etc. However, it is also the reason I was able to capture some really cool nature sounds on several tracks.

And related to the last question, what was the easiest part of the recording process? The hardest? How was this song in particular to record?
There are a lot of great perks to recording in a home studio. I was able to set my own timetable, experiment with different ideas, and spend a lot of time in between takes with my dog, Atlas. The hardest part about recording this song was trying to record without the noise of a large generator in the background. Someone was doing construction in my neighborhood, so after several takes with too much noise, I actually moved my entire studio to a different room, sound-proofed the new room, and started over.

If you had to describe your music using only five words or adjectives, how would you describe it?
My dog really likes it. 🙂

Time to share: what is a secret about this song, or about your album, that you’d like to tell our readers that they can’t learn anywhere else?
I was originally going to use a different guitar on this song, but one of the frets was slightly warped. After many hours and several attempts at trying to force the fret in tune, I changed the entire setup for the song to fit the guitar used in the final recording. However, I’m really glad it worked out that way, because I like the final result.

Wolf Song comes out March 12. Catch Duncan at her website, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, or Instagram.

Typhoon’s ambitious work succeeds brilliantly

With its fifth studio record, Typhoon’s Sympathetic Magic serves up a musical wake-up call, born of our shared isolation in these dark days. Released via Roll Call Records, the album’s pre-order vinyl offerings were nearly completely sold out a little over a week after release. This ambitious record fits in with towering records like Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

Portland, Oregon-based Typhoon is Kyle Morton, Toby Tanabe, Dave Hall, Pieter Hilton, Alex Fitch, Tyler Ferrin, Devin Gallagher, and Shannon Steele.  Recorded during “plague times” as Morton commented, no obstacle was insurmountable here. From the opener “Sine Qua Nonentity” to the closing track “Welcome to the Endgame,” this sonic palette remains true to an eclectic songwriting style that finds touchstones in both Kurt Cobain and Rivers Cuomo.

Fitting opener “Sine Qua Nonentity” perfectly claims ownership for Sympathetic Magic’s  expansion out of a metaphorical nothingness. Shifting rapidly into “Empire Builder,” the band offers a slightly heavier feel, shifting musicality around a darkness that parallels the current worlds in which we live. Feeling like a train to nowhere, rich dynamics rise through a final crescendo.

“Motion and Thought” certainly is my song of the album. Rock and roll’s greatest reverberate throughout this track, with layered vocals bringing to mind The Byrds and The Box Tops. Yet this song’s incredible connection to our consciousness is its doorway into that space where ghost notes still play in our soul. Haunting, peaceful, and terrifying: a sleepwalker’s waltz. To say any one song is less than another here seems odd, but “Santos” is that nightmare after the dream. This is Typhoon’s story, and “We’re In It” does seem the rest of the story. Powerfully mixed with in-your-face instrumentation, horns step into a battle cry for the sake of our sanity.

Sympathetic Magic is not just Typhoon’s latest record, it’s an invitation to feel. “Two Birds” brings an overwhelming orchestration with drum machine automation, suggesting that humanity’s problem is its disconnection from empathy and reality. It’s weirdly perfect. The album’s tone shifts with “Evil Vibes.” Morton’s vocals connected with me emotionally for probably the first time on the album and never let go from there. 

Counting off as if alone in the dark, “And So What If You Were Right” seems to be an acoustic farewell. “Room Within Rooms” is a symbolic, ethereal safe space beyond life and death. “Masochists Ball” creates a long extended metaphor about the chaos masters in our shared experience. Closer “Welcome to the Endgame” wraps this release in perfection. Pulsating,  minimalist musicality allows each lyric to fill the empty spaces, surrounding each note into its final silence. Undoubtedly, Typhoon’s Sympathetic Magic crosses uncharted territory here with their musical response to the storm humanity has endured. –-Lisa Whealy

February 2021 Early Singles

1. “A Journey in Ecstasy” – Tom Furse. This is beautiful, expansive, wide-screen, major-key electronic work that calls to mind Tycho or Ulrich Schnauss. Every second of this piece is the payoff–from start to finish, a triumph. Highly recommended.

2. “Conversion” – Nashville Ambient Ensemble. Leaning heavily into ’80s new age sonics, this ambient piece adds luminous pedal steel and cooing female vocals to the round, sonorous bass and bell tones. It’s a gorgeously lush wander through some esoteric garden. Highly recommended.

3. “Ambient Architect” – Nick Schofield. Hits the lovely space between dreamy vibes and outer space vibes, creating a warm, evocative blanket of sound.

4. “Mirror Image” – Nick Schofield. I don’t usually go back-to-back on singles, but this one is a big shift from “Ambient Architect.” Instead of dreamy warmth, this one is a bouncy, quirky, enthusiastic collection of noises. This feels like running more than ambient, but in the language of ambient sounds. It’s really impressive.

5. “Reflections and Refractions” – Wavewulf. A confident, melodically adept slice of electro that falls in between ambient, clubby techno, and art-rock; it’s not quite danceable, but it’s not only an art piece either. I love pieces like this that chart their own path.

6. “Super Solid” – The Paradox. Jean Phi-Dary and techno lifer Jeff Mills are the Paradox, a jazz/techno mashup that serves low-key techno beats with noodly keys for a thoughtful, easygoing take on the style.

7. “Dearest Alfred” – Khruangbin. Khruangbin’s chilled-out thai-funk seems to be aspiring to the platonic ideal of chill, which is good news for fans. This one seems to run in slow motion, casually saying “I am happy when you are here” in the most relaxed way possible. Sign me up.

8. “Just Be Honest” – WaxFeet. This feels like a breezy, low-key electro jam getting stuck in a copy machine and then slowing down to half-speed: a stuttering, glitchy vibe competes with a breezy undertone for a unique, interesting piece.

9. “Looking Back Is a Lie” – Physick. There are nigh-on-infinite breakup albums. There are almost no staying-together albums. Physick is looking to change that, as the duo has penned a whole album about the complexities, joys, and sadnesses of committed married life. The walking-pace, strummy folk backdrop for this rumination on memory contains interesting callbacks to Laurel Canyon country and even _Rumours_-era Fleetwood Mac (even though this album is the anti-_Rumours_). A compelling opening salvo for a record that promises to be unique in many ways.

11. “Sounding Point” – Mark Feldman. Solo improvisational jazz violin is not a thing that usually comes across my desk, but Feldman makes it sound great. The title track to his collection is more peaceful than the rest of the mostly-avant recordings, as he builds a mood out of little fragments of melodies, technical tricks, and long tones. Deeply evocative.

12. “Endler Hall Overture” – Liam Pitcher. Pitcher’s improvisational piano work here is highly ornamented and yet focused: cascading runs and arpeggios string through this nearly-five-minute work, punctuating the Romantic-style melodic base. A compelling work. (Full Disclosure: Lisa Whealy is Pitcher’s press agent. Stephen Carradini wrote this review.)

13. “Pleasante Pleasant” – Doug MacDonald Duo. This guitar-and-bass duo offers a charmingly goodnatured piece of lightly swingin’ jazz. Bassist Harvey Newmark keeps things movin’ and MacDonald shows off some tight melodic chops. Fun and friendly.

Quick Hit: R+R=NOW

Ah, the Great Closet Clean-out of 2020: pretty much everyone finished that project that had been sitting around half-done, made good on that promise to collaborate, or found a live recording to put out into the world. We got a ton of great music from the Great Closet Clean-out. So far 2021 has continued that trend, as live records have continued to proliferate, despite live music not having been possible for most of 2020. While I yearn for some new music (it’s been a slow year for new music so far in the IC inbox), we can at the very least enjoy R+R=NOW’s R+R=NOW Live, a compelling recording of a show from the super-est of jazz supergroups, recorded in 2018.

The packed house that is R+R=NOW consists of Robert Glasper on keys (or “me on keyboards, thank you so much,” Glasper jokes at the end of “Perspectives / Postpartum”); Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah on trumpet; Terrace Martin on synthesizer, vocoder, and alto saxophone; Derrick Hodge on bass; Taylor McFerrin on synthesizer; and Justin Tyson on drums. That is a lot of talent. They use it to great effect, as each of the tracks here is excellent in its own way.

“Respond” and “Been on My Mind” are low-key, bass-led groovers that I’m sure Joshua Crumbly is absolutely stoked over. “Been on My Mind” is a pensive slow-burn, while “Respond” is mournful; “Respond” does ratchet up to a big ending, but the solemn groove remains even as it goes big. “Change of Tone” puts a frantic, almost chaotic Glasper keys blitz over another low-key groove. “Perspectives/Postpartum” gets spacy and rock-oriented, becoming a much different type of jazz. “Needed You Still” splits the difference between low-key and maximal, offering speedy drums and synth adventure while also keeping gentle pads and subtle bass in the mix for grounding.

The 25-minute rendition of “Resting Warrior” could have its own review, but suffice to say that it is an excellent cut that spans the gamut of their previously established emotional palette and more. If you’re up for adventurous jazz by assured hands that spans a wide range of emotions, R+R=NOW’s live album is a great way to spend 70ish minutes. –Stephen Carradini

Silas J. Dirge and the well-chosen band name

Silas J. Dirge opens the door into one of the best albums of 2021 with The Poor Devil. To make such a statement about The Poor Devil’s place among the records to cross my path is easy. Netherlands-based songwriter Jan Kooiker adopted the Dirge moniker, and the name enhances his full immersion into his dark, character-driven narratives.

The album leads the listener in two directions: it wraps itself comfortably in traditional country twang musicality but contributes modern-day lyricism, straddling stylistic contradictions. Dirge offers listeners their own personal Tardis, as if he were Doctor Who. Opening track “Oh Hang Me High” shows glimpses of Willie Nelson and Hank Williams in the vocals. It’s easy to feel the love Kooiker feels for the country roots that frame his musical sensibilities.

“Hear Its Roar” makes me feel like I’ve been transported into a gritty graphic novel: Johnny Cash mixed with a twist of Stephen King’s character Roland Deschain from the novel The Gunslinger. Kooiker’s choice to add his performance on harmonium perfectly sets the mood, both sophisticated and timeless. Dirge wraps us in deep, smooth, hearty vocals as this character descends into hell. The song seems like a freezing night under a starless desert sky, with no direction from the heavens in sight. 

The self-produced ten-song sophomore release is almost all Jan Kooiker: vocals, acoustic guitar, piano, electric guitar, percussion, and even whistle on track 5. However, other players contribute. Jan Paul de Bondt’s pedal steel on “Flowers on her Grave” adds to the graveyard lament, depicting innocence that bit the dust. Metaphors dance with the song’s narrator, whiplashing through time. Though he performs on almost all of the album, Harald de Ruiter’s electric guitar particularly shines on “Devil’s Own” and “You Reap What You Sow.” The guitar work adds to an intoxicating mood, enhancing The Poor Devil’s narrative. 

“I Saw A Snake” is the sleeper hit of the album, as Thomas van Voorst’s double bass adds a unique edge to the stellar track. “A Land More Kind Than Home” and “Black Dog” feature backing vocals from Nicole Schoute; themes of hope, redemption, retribution, and love need few words in this narrator’s mysterious musical tale. 

Closing the album with “Dolly Shot” leaves this locomotive across the American West at its final destination. Yet the term, first used in the 1930’s film industry to reference tracking camera shots, is often used in westerns to capture the “long view” of history. From a Hindu perspective, a simple tracking shot changes perspective, not limited to the horizon’s vertical aspect. Dirge delivers a deeply thought-provoking composition applicable to the chaotic times we are all experiencing. 

At the end of the trail, do we know if The Poor Devil from Silas J. Dirge is a character in the album, the narrator, or ourselves? Who can say? It’s just one more thing to ponder from a brilliant songwriter, a creative genius the likes of which doesn’t come around that often. 

Catch Dirge at his Website, Facebook, Bandcamp, or Spotify page.–Lisa Whealy.

Quick Hit: San Salvo

We’re trippin’ out, right? We have stepped into a new reality in 2021, attempting to chase away unseen enemies. Well, maybe that perspective is just me, but Brooklyn’s Matt C. White may think so too. The latest instrumental from his latest project San Salvo’s debut release Rarities inhabits rock’s divine sonic spaces.

As a big fan of Joe Russo’s work, this album ticks all the boxes for me and people who love instrumental rock journeys. Bringing together some of New York City’s diverse musical talent–such as White’s Grandpa Jack bandmate Jared Schaker along with Sean Smith of Rubblebucket and Kaleta & Super Yamba Band–Matt makes an amalgamation of rock, jazz, and slow groove. It’s simply cool and stunning all at the same time.

The five-song EP, tracked in White’s Brooklyn home recording studio, defies logic. Its clear sonic sophistication adds to the musical time travel trip. Mastered beautifully, Rich Morales has certainly earned his reputation as an audio wizard. Morales helps create a cohesive power trio effort where each instrument’s voice reverberates together, alone. I don’t want to think of this release as anything but a cohesive unit–it would bastardize the music by singling out one track or another. Each member influenced the compositional trajectory of individual songs, but the result is one long, unified statement.

Matt C. White’s debut Wallow in the Hollow is still on my go-to playlist. San Salvo’s Rarities just joined the party, too.--Lisa Whealy

Ryan Dugre’s compositions get bigger without losing their style

Three Rivers is guitarist/composer Ryan Dugré‘s most expansive work, as it grows his sonic palette from pieces zoomed in on guitar musings to fully-arranged neo-classical compositions. The abstract, austere guitar work of his prior efforts remains in the back half of the record; the guitar work of the front half of the record is surrounded by arrangements that sometimes accentuate (“Powder Rains”, “Shining”) and sometimes temper (“Living Language”) the atypical melodies and patterns.

Even in the expanded arrangements that open the record, few of these tracks seem to be going for the big move or the large score.The sprightly “Old Hotel” uses subtle percussion and keys to create one of the most easygoing and, dare I say it, poppy work of his oeuvre. It’s chipper in a stylized, Wes Anderson-esque way. “Shining” expands his demonstrated skillset with a piano-based work; he develops his patterned, atypical melodic sense with two hands instead of one.

A rare instance of big thinking is single “Foxglove,” where the near-jubilant second movement certainly aims for the stars.”Big Pictures Wide Open Spaces” is a transitional song that has a recognizably Dugré opening solo guitar bit before gently launching one of the most enveloping arrangements of the album via subtle string (or maybe delicate synth?) textures.

After “Big Pictures,” “Other Minds” then kicks off five solo works that are most like his previous work. Each feature minimized arrangements or totally solo guitar performances. These are the elegant, subtly angular, unexpected-turns work I’ve come to expect from Dugré. The moods are ambivalent and structured; these are not sad pieces, but neither are they explicitly optimistic. Tunes like closer “Glace Bay” (those subtle textures again, swoon) come from a pensive place.

Dugré knows how to create sonically and intellectually compelling work with a minimum of pieces attached. While he picks up a few more instruments this time, his command of small but impactful compositions is still top-shelf.

Quick Hit: ^L_

_^L’s Cyberterrorism Will Unite Us is as dark and intense as the title suggests. The three dense, thudding techno blasts reference the grim video game The Last of Us, the very grim book and movie Gone Girl, and the strange (and potentially grim, given my understanding of the plot synopsis) Neon Genesis Evangelion. It’s not messing around: we’re going dark. But the melodic vision is as clear as the concepts are: fans of Traversable Wormhole’s punchy, heavy techno cuts will find a lot to love in the plodding thump and synth squalls of the title track, the ’90s-inspired speed of “We Live in the Universe of The Last of Us,” and the tension of breathy auras vs tight beats in “Neon Genesis Evangelion.” I mean this very favorably: It’s dance music for Dante’s circles of hell. If you’re up for some grimly enthusiastic work, definitely check out this EP.

Back-half singles, January 2021

1. “Tune In [Prelude]” – Alivenique. The opening lyrics of this track are “now that I’ve got your attention.”  It’s bold to claim that eight seconds into a song and further bold to repeat it throughout 3:40 of a tune, but Ali Beletic fully pays it off. The opening seconds are a highly manipulated set of notes and beats that serve as a hyperpop intro that’d make 100 Gecs jealous. The tune expands into a deep groove with the lyrics chanted like a mantra, and the combo of beats and bass-heavy notes is one that indeed grabs my attention. I can’t help but move when hearing it. It’s totally bereft of the dread and steely-eyed resolve that has characterized so much of the music in the last four years: check the steel drum sounds halfway through that celebrate themselves. This is music that’s urgent because it’s joyful and vital and powerful, and lo, we all need that right now. Highest recommendation.

2. “Patterns” – Freya Lily. This solo piano piece evokes a stream of water rushing over rocks, with clicks and clacks of the piano hammers serving as subtle percussion support for the lovely patterned melodies. Very soothing.

4. “Pick a Day to Die” – The Sunburned Hand of the Man. My early votes for 2021’s Most Ominous Song Title and Best Band Name (Welcome Back Category) go to this cut and its proprietors. The jammy, elongated, lightly psychedelic, weirdly western, and altogether interesting instrumental cut lopes from beginning to end, giving us a tour of a strange-but-not-as-ominous-as-the-title landscape.

5. “Pinocchio” – Mike Dillon. Hand percussion, melodic percussion, and squiggly guitar comprise this low-key composition that swings between meditative and ominous (due to the grumbling guitar tone). A unique composition with a neat vibe.

6. “Acid Mountain – Roni Size Remix” – Moon Hooch. Moon Hooch’s two-saxes-and-a-drum-kit dance music gets a blitz treatment, adding breakbeats to turn it into a speedy techno cut. It sounds like it has become more of itself, which is one of the highest compliments I can give a remix. Highly recommended.

7. “Girl” – Sal Dulu. Flips a wide array of vocal and instrumental samples into a low-key hip-hop mood that’s perfect for wandering around a city at night.

8. “Sign Language” – Blue Water Highway. A beautiful alt-country ballad that calls up Jason Isbell comparisons. The arrangements are similar (although there are some synths in this one that are beautifully employed), but mostly it’s because I believe this song the way that I believe Isbell songs. Man, this one gets me.

9. “Dindi” – Urban Village. Zulu vocal enthusiasm plus Postal Service indie-electro-pop makes for a thrillingly happy song.

10. “How Much a Dollar Cost” – R+R=Now. Robert Glasper, Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, and an outstanding crew give an instrumental version of a Kendrick Lamar tune. Need I say more?

11. “Whoa Hey” – Barra Brown. A boppin’ bass line, hectic kit work, burbling keys, and trumpet soloing set to clips of the ’60s space program? Sign me up for that.

12. “Whatever Disease”  – Buffalo Moses (Buster Blue) drops by Loud as Folk for a recording session. In the final track, Moses delivers a lyrical authenticity that resonates through the collective consciousness of America, captured simply through Tony Cantini’s stellar stripped video production. Check out all of the artists on  Loud as Folk through Tony Cantini Productions, highlighting the best of roots, blues, and Americana.–Lisa Whealy

13. “Strawberry Milk” – Cameron Knowler and Eli Winter. I always felt strawberry milk was too sweet as a kid, but this beautiful cut is not saccharine at all. This earthy guitar duo has just the right amount of folk and just the right amount of composition chops to put this in a sweet (pun intended) spot.

14. “Sojourner’s Truth” – SleapingDreaming. Fuzzed-out, groove-heavy, high-energy (did y’all play in a punk band at some point?) post-rock of the loud/quiet/loud variety; the chanting at the end is alternately soothing and terrifying, which is still an uncommon thing, even after living through 2020 and 2021.

15. “Passengers” – Wave of Sound. At some point I am going to have to impose a temporary moratorium on songs that feel like impending doom, but that point has not yet come. As a result, please enjoy this piano-led instrumental that sounds very significantly like impending doom. RIYL: impending doom, nice melodies. Bonus: the video is eerie-scary, on top of the sonics.

4. “Demons” – Sarah Coponat. Grows from an anticipatory, burgeoning roll to a torrential slew of keys and back. It truly feels like a depiction of fighting internal demons, the push and pull of good thoughts vs bad, peaceful vs chaotic.

 

The Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio shoots rays of sunshine out of its funky, jazzy instrumentals

Turning the page on 2020 wasn’t as easy as watching the clock turn over, apparently. I’ve gotta do more than that to get me out of that year and into this one. Well, friends, let me tell you one thing that has helped me do that, despite the bad first few weeks of the year: the Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio‘s I Told You SoThis funky, joyful record is a collection of 9 sunshine rays that have helped put some dark clouds in the past (even though we still live amid very dark clouds).

The trio is organ, guitar, and drums. Lamarr does double duty by holding down half of the backline and half of the topline. Lamarr’s left hand throws down bass walks that mesh perfectly with drummer Dan Weiss’ solid rhythms, while his right hand trades melody lines in duels with guitarist Jimmy James. Sprightly opener “Hole in One” shows off this dual action neatly, with Lamarr’s bass and treble lines going in opposite directions simultaneously. It tricked me on first listen into thinking this was a quartet with a misnomer. (Shoutout to the Ben Folds Five.) The confident strut of lead single “Call Your Mom” follows, with James’ guitar getting a prominent solo feature. The easygoing pace and chill-funk vibe give it some Khruangbin vibes, surprisingly. (“From The Streets” and “Aces” pull this same trick, pleasantly.)

“Girly Face” boasts some jazzy vibes, coming from the Wurlitzer-esque keys that back up the guitar lines. “Fo Sho” returns to featured organ, keeping some of those jazz vibes in a joyful mode. Throughout all these songs, it’s hard for me to keep a smile off my face; whether fast or slow, these songs are full-up with good vibes. That smile turned to gleeful laughter with the appearance of “Careless Whisper” (yes, THAT “Careless Whisper”). The stereotypically cheesy ’80s ballad to end all stereotypically cheesy ’80s ballad is treated lovingly here, like a joke that starts out ironic and slowly becomes a honest tribute. It’s still a hilarious choice, no matter how slow-burning the trio manages to make it.

The record closes with the infectiously fun romp “Right Place, Right Time” and the funk thousand of “I Don’t Know.” Lamarr is in full form on the latter, laying down headbobbing bass lines and tight solo lines with ease. The closer and the album as a whole comprise an impressive demonstration of this trio’s wide-ranging capabilities. That rare type of record that’s fun, classy, and full of chops. A great start to 2020 for me, and hopefully for you. The record drops January 29 on Colemine Records.