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Singles: Instrumental Joy

Last updated on January 6, 2022

1. “Saw You Through the Trees” – Eerie Gaits. This combines folk, ambient, and indie-pop in a way that just thrills my soul. It shouldn’t be surprising to me that John Ross, who has fronted a synth-pop band, a punk rock band, and an ambient band, could somehow make a song that ties all of my interests together perfectly. Highly recommended.

2. “Leap of Faith” – Darius. This is instrumental post-hardcore; it falls somewhere between Russian Circles’ post-metal and GY!BE’s expansive post-rock. It’s got a ton of charge at the beginning, but the early aggression gives way to more atmospheric approaches as the song progresses (although the drummer gets increasingly ballistic as the song goes on–I’m fully here for it) until the big conclusion. This creates a nuanced, layered song that is aggressive but also delicate in its approach. (And, there’s even a mid-song breakdown!) It is impressive. Highly recommended.

3. “El Caracol” – Whale Fall. You’re telling me that this 18-minute piece was a mostly-improvised single take that’s part of a larger 38-minute piece? For real? This is an astonishing achievement. It’s great, sweeping, dense, textured music; the sort of piece that people who have been playing together for a long time can make by knowing not just what the other person is likely to do musically, but the sorts of music that is possible when working together. It’s post-rock, but beyond that describing it does it a disservice. Whale Fall do an amazing job here. Highly recommended.

4. “Farther Along (Instrumental Version)” – Josh Garrels. Garrels’ instrumental arrangements have always been underappreciated (and when you have a voice as smooth and mellifluous as Garrels’, that’s for good reason). Now they can be fully appreciated, as Garrels has released instrumental versions of five albums. He just literally took out all the vocals. The songs are still so good. My personal fave, “Farther Along,” is transformed from a vocal-centric pop song into a slow-burning folk jam anchored by organ drone. I’m gonna be spending a lot of time with these records.

5. “Displacement A” – JZ Replacement. Wow, this covers a lot of territory in 8:39. You’ve got some freakout jazz, some groove-heavy slow jazz, experimental flows, spacey stuff, and more. If you like experimental music and/or jazz, please inquire within.

6. “210” – Matt Karmil. This house track splits the difference between tough-as-nails, four-on-the-floor techno and atmospheric chillwave with admirable aplomb. This is moody and atmospheric without losing any of the drive or groove of club bangers. An excellent track.

7. “Testament” – Luo. I’ve never been much for prog, but up until recently I’d never been much for jazz either, so maybe we’re just turning over all those rocks. To be fair, this is a lot more than prog, as it’s got electronic bits, space-rock bits, jazz-inflected percussion drive, and lots more. A very, very cool piece.

8. “The Pheasant” – Realizer and A.B. Chediski. Acoustic guitar collaborations can be a nuanced journey, dancing through imagination. Following their debut EP Rose Door, Matt C. White (through his moniker Realizer) and Charles Ellsworth (introducing his instrumental alias  A. B. Chediski) capture resplendent beauty for listeners when their two guitars meet in composition. Diverse starting points from the two artists create an intricate conversation of folk-rock in “The Pheasant,” rising and falling like undulating explorations into another time and place. Subtle and restrained, each moment of every note has room to breathe. Stunning!  Check out all of the socials for these two artists and their various projects. –Lisa Whealy

9. “Little Bit Sweet” – The Wood Brothers. The Wood Brothers’ recent album Kingdom in My Mind feels like a retro throwback that wanders through their sonic imagination. Stylistically enchanting animation artwork from Texas-based Gary Dorsey glimmers with brilliance in this video for “Little Bit Sweet.” A dreamscape storyboard of cutout art, whose style mirrors Belgian surrealist René Magritte, is vividly alive. It’s also reminiscent of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, with expressive muted colors bringing to mind simple times. Aligned with the lyrical contradictions, a longing for simpler times is realized visually with Chris Wood’s vocals as the perfect soundtrack. Fingerpicking is not the star here, just the ideal accompaniment to imagination’s wandering.  Mirroring the essence of the album and its title track, this video creates an animation playground that is never fixed in reality, allowing an ever-changing relationship to evolve with each person’s interpretation. As a thread connecting us all, “Little Bit Sweet” has a video that is truly a work of art. —Lisa Whealy

10. “Special Berry” – Standards. This math-rock tune takes all of the sophisticated guitar patterning and complex percussion syncopation of traditional math-rock and infuses a pop-inspired sense of joie de vivre. The melodies are beautiful and technical and magical. It’s just a joy to listen to.

11. “New Rock Thingy” – Joshua Crumbly. There’s a whole burgeoning school of artists with jazz backgrounds who seem to have developed into a space where they’ve completely obliterated normal genres: Kamasi Washington, Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, Mark Guiliana, loads more. Add Joshua Crumbly to that list. This starts off as a bass guitar reverie, transforms into a space-funk jam, goes ambient, and then dissolves in enthusiastic rock-drumming theatrics with a frantic saxophone run over the top. In 2:28. It’s a head-spinner in the best of ways.