Last updated on January 22, 2020
1. “Stand Still” – Jonah Parzen-Johnson. JPJ plays baritone saxophone with his hands and mouth and synths with his feet. This is amazing in and of itself. It gets more amazing in that he has continued to refine and hone this sound, making the sounds more tightly interwoven over subsequent releases. This particular track is essentially a dense ambient/drone track that’s pushed along by skittering beats and smooth, jazz-sassy saxophone runs. If you like electronic music, you should love this–if you like jazz, you may love it too. It’s a perfect fusion. Highly recommended.
2. “King of Thumbs” – Alex Dowling. This is a highly experimental vocal piece that employs vocoder, vocal modulations, and whatever they’ve done to turn the bass voice into a Inception bwwaaaaang. The piece is heavily emotive for being so nontraditional, evoking feelings of Radiohead-levels of alienation without the density that accompanies their pieces. The beginning of the piece aspires to heights, while the conclusion sends the vocalists tumbling down; the spare, unusual lyrics accompany these patterns in atypical but clear ways. Very interesting work. Highly recommended.
3. “8” – E Scott Lindner. I am all about adventurous, idiosyncratic, even esoteric concepts for work, and I am particularly enamored with math as a subject for music. (In my own musical life, I once wrote a record where all the songs were titled after math terms.) E Scott Lindner’s new album In Flowers Through Space is about the Fibonacci sequence, which is rad. “8” is, necessarily, the seventh track in the collection. It is a mash-up of freak-out jazz, powerful vocal jazz, and Eastern melodic vibes–for the first four minutes, before abruptly changing into a minimalist, glitchy, electronic-influenced jazz piece. To say this is adventurous is an understatement. If you like way-out-there music that also still retains a sense of melody, you’ll have a field day with this one.
4. “Become a Mountain” – Dan Deacon. The con job that Deacon has pulled on all of his Adult Swim listeners is amazing: this is essentially a mid-century minimalist piano piece (a la “Canto Ostinato”) for almost three fourths of its run time. Deacon’s whisper-sung vocals are the only part that isn’t straight out the classical music history book. The last fourth is the sort of rapturous synth coda that Deacon is famous for, and it pays off the tension that the beginning of the song built admirably. It’s a triumph. Also it’s about existential dread, because of course it is.
5. “Book of Knots” – Jason McMahon. It’s hard for me to get into solo guitar (non-James Sera division), but I love an acoustic guitar instrumental when other instruments are thrown in with it. This one has some wavering flute action, distant electric guitar work, and subtle-yet-effective drumming to pace and space the rolling guitar line. The results are a relaxing yet sonically adventurous piece.
6. “Watermelon Tears” – The Ah. This is a cross between lo-fi beats, hazy indie-pop, and found-sound pastiches, making it a strange (but strangely enjoyable) piece of music. The found sounds here are clips of people laughing manically, so if that’s a thing you’re not into, heads up on that. Otherwise: pretty fun!
7. “End With You” – Heptagon Heaven. The main thing I don’t like about synthwave isn’t the synth or the wave. It’s the vocals. This synthwave jam has no vocals. Presto: nothing I don’t like about this song! You’ve got big synth melodies backed up with squelchy, grungy bass synths and simple-but-irresistible beats. It’s a banger.
8. “Memory King” – Caustic Casanova. Back in the day, we would have called the first 3:50 of this tune post-hardcore or maybe emo; it’s dark and brooding but not especially heavy. It deals more in threatening vibe than actual thunder. They add in the guitar thunder after that though, and it’s a hard-rock or metal track, but without abrasive vocals. The surprisingly calm vocals stand in stark contrast to the guitar volume and overall big hammer. It’s a real great track.
9. “Sakhisizwe” – Urban Village. Anyone who likes old-school Vampire Weekend, any of the Vampire Weekend spin-offs or copycats, or Graceland should be listening to the originators of the sound playing Zulu music. (I don’t listen to it enough, honestly.) If you’re looking to fix that hole in your musical CV, you’re gonna love Urban Village’s new tune, which has all of the guitar work, vocal melodies/harmonies, and feel-good vibes that make Zulu such a fun thing to listen to (and, I assume, play).
10. “For You” – Sympala. This is some tasty post-dub with a bit of breakbeat rhythms thrown in, like ODESZA suddenly double-timing all its beats but leaving the chilled-out instrumental vibe alone. The push-pull tension between those two aspects creates the frisson that moves this track out of the pack and into this list.