1 “Soul of This Town” – Oliver Wood. Can it be possible that Oliver Wood’s “Soul of This Town” is the first music released under his own name? The collaboration with Raleigh, North Carolina-based songwriter Phil Cook (Megafaun, Gayngs, Hiss Golden Messenger) is available on Thirty Tigers. The song also marks the first time Oliver’s son Kieran Wood has joined the collaborative effort, on horns. The gospel feel of this co-write with Cook brings to mind the plaintive blues or roots Americana story. We have all watched as “progress” has reshaped our world: in this moment, we’re wondering where the drive-in theaters went, now that they could be repurposed for music venues. Bringing home a simple, New Orleans soul-jazz groove, Wood’s familiar vocal wraps around each image-rich note. Lyrically hitting on gentrification and a city’s growth as the stripping of a community’s soul, the song is a hard look at the loss of community, connection, and soul in the face of progress, set to a blend of a funeral march and celebratory farewell. I’d be remiss failing to mention this song’s pandemic evolution, yet its birth is also part of The Wood Brothers’ Kingdom In My Mind, released in January 2020. Taking us all to task in this time of recreation, Oliver Wood’s “Soul of This Town” asks what part of “we the people” is the most important piece of a town’s soul.–Lisa Whealy
2. “Every Exit Is an Entrance” – Luca Draccar. This sleek, streamlined techno cut has everything you need in a banger and nothing else: solid backbeat, thrumming bass, memorable top-end melodies, and enough effects to create a mood without cluttering the room. The coda melodies are particularly excellent. This is my jam. Highly recommended.
3. “Into Your Blue” – Lore City. An enigmatic, mystical, sensuous piece driven by staccato, tom-heavy drumming. Layered above the beat are carefully layered ambient textures and powerful female vocals. I’ve listened to this tune half-a-dozen times already and I still can’t articulate specifically what is so engaging about it. The whole thing, I suppose–the whole is more than the sum of its parts. Great work.
4. “LUCKY” – Matthew Shaw and Unlearn. Shaw’s impassioned-yet-restrained vocals are in full form here, flowing and hesitating over squelchy bass synth, rattling clicks, and twee melodic blips.
5. Toshio Matsuura Presents HEX “Hello to the Wind (Z’s Groove Dub)” featuring Grey Reverend. Now that’s a mouthful of a title. Beyond the moniker, the evocative tune has an ostinato acoustic guitar base with powerful string bass contributions on top of it. At 2:30, the beat and piano kick in, turning this from a Ezra Feinberg-esque new-age/deep listening track into a jazz/electro track that is akin to GoGoPenguin. It’s an enveloping, inviting atmosphere to spend nine minutes in. The full release is only on vinyl, so pre-order that now if this grabs your attention.
6. “Hope is a Traitor” – Orly Bendavid and the Mona Dahls. Art and music are definitely a sign of the times, as Brooklyn-based Orly Bendavid & the Mona Dahls can attest. “Hope is A Traitor” is the stylistic jazz noir title track from their upcoming release due later this year. This collection of seasoned tunesmiths brings to mind Brian Setzer’s Orchestra after the Stray Cats stopped their strut. Oh, what musical joy these dark times can bring to light! —Lisa Whealy
7. “As If the Sea Should Part” – Jason Keisling. Put neo-classical composition and electronic beats together, and you’ll have my ear. Keisling’s latest tune opens as a delicate set of piano touches and synth/string swoons before opening into a slick beat buoyed by slinky bass. The tension of the delicate and the punchy is strong, and the vibe is fully operational. The strings are a touch emotional for the streamlined electro-jam this becomes once the ’80s-tone guitar lands, but the overall concept is still very impressive. A very cool track.
8. “856” – Josh Johnson. I’ve always liked work that operates at the spaces between genres. This track is a perfect example of the concept, as it fluctuates somewhere between neo-classical composition, ambient, jazz and electronic. This breathy, enthusiastic track runs, jumps, and kicks its way through 2:09. It evokes rushing water and overenthusiastic relationships. It’s a fascinating piece.
9. “California Sun” – The Lighthouse and the Whaler. A sort of post-Vampire Weekend tune that includes all the precision and twee/tough contrast you could want, but turned toward the darker end of the VW spectrum. The vocals here are particularly fun, as the high-drama lead melody pays off in spades. It takes a lot to cut through the noise of infinite guitar bands, but TLATW continue to do it.
10. “Phosphorescence” – Speaker Face. Low-slung, confident, and cool, this subtle electro-pop track relies on a tight fusion of electronic and acoustic elements to create a strong vibe. The vocals are perfectly executed, giving off a dreamy, early ’00s indie vibe (a la early Sufjan).
11. “The Black Dot” – elliot. This composer fuses contemporary composition, synths, electronic textures, and acoustic guitar into a compelling sonic landscape. His is a windswept, stark, yet beautiful space, dotted with occasional bits of life.
12. “Blossom” – Sleepersound. I love Sleepersound’s early ’00s indie-rock vibe, and this recording of a performance pairs their dark/dreamy sound with superimposed landscape/weather shots to create a cool experience. The song starts at 1:03:50. (It’s part of a multi-artist event supporting a nonprofit bikeshare in Milwaukee. Rad. Sleepersound does three other tracks too. Also, I deeply envy their performance space: that is an absolutely wonderful-looking space.)