1. “object one” – Ghost Liotta. All of the staccato drama of trip-hop, the low-key sonics of ambient, and the tense vibe of post-rock are present on this subtle-yet-solid piece from Ghost Liotta. This track shows a band in strong control of its vision and its craft, despite this being a debut single. Highly recommended.
2. “Requiem” – The Stakes. George Floyd, Dion Johnson, Breonna Taylor, and countless other deaths of black people served as the catalyst for the re-release of The Stakes “Requiem” music video. The Mikey Campbell-directed film created during quarantine captures the essence of The Stakes’ live performance. The video’s use of historical footage featuring Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. transports the listener to a touchpoint in history people remember while bringing out the stark lyrical imagery, then wrapping with the death of George Floyd.
Filmed in black and white, the clip makes purposeful use of shadows as living beings wrapping around each soaring beat from bassist Stephen Orsini. Kevin Phillips (drums) lays the groundwork for Lord Kash and ZeeDubb (MCs), while Ben Scolaro (piano) and Luis Martinez (guitar) color the framework beautifully. The song’s raw appeal strikes an emotional connection. In-your-face lyricism delivered eloquently finds stunning contrast with Marah Armenta’s vocals; the light to the darkness of the MCs’ reality. The Stakes have asked us to join them in helping keep Black and other individuals out of jail who have not been convicted of any crime by donating to the Black People’s Justice Fund. My life has been touched by this issue: I have a friend whose son was wrongly convicted of a crime he did not commit. They have fought for seventeen years for a new trial, now that there is DNA evidence. The Stakes’ clip is a further call to action for justice in situations like these throughout the country.–Lisa Whealy
3. “Default to Truth” – Spatial Relations. Here’s a peak pop-cultural sentence for you: The Antlers and Port St. Willow have collaborated to become ambient band Spatial Relations, and their first album is the soundtrack to Malcolm Gladwell’s audiobook version of Talking to Strangers. That’s a lot to take in. You can also appreciate the lovely ambient work without all that backdrop. “Default to Truth” is ambient in the truest, most Music for Airports sense of the word–it’s music that is literally intended to make the experience of something better. And the gentle, even delicate, work here would definitely do that: little tom rolls, subtle shushes, clicks, swoops, all of it is carefully calculated to be breathy, light, and yet grounded. Fantastic.
4. “Nebula” – Slowburner. Here’s a video about a jellyfish swimming in the darkness of the deep and an elegant synth composition approximating the lonely simplicity of the same with a title named after an outer space object. Like the movie Fargo: There’s a lot going on in the middle of nowhere.
5. “Moon in River” – JPH. Seems like a lot more people are jumping on the “let’s make ambient music” train, and I couldn’t be happier. JPH’s oeuvre is more fitting that most, as the outfit specializes in long, ostinato compositions that rely heavily on mood and repetition. The shift here is from organic / acoustic instruments to digital ones, and the shift is fairly seamless: the patterns of JPH’s work are recognizable while the emotional palette is extended outward through the dreamy keys. The 10-minute runtime is perfectly in line with JPH and ambient scope. Beautiful.
6. “Character” – Kylie Odetta. It feels like we’ve given up on designating summer jams before the summer started as a result of *waves hands in the air in the general direction of everything* but. Imagine this is June 2019. Life is weird and kinda bad but it’s summer finally and we can jam. This track, which is mostly tiny keys, percussion, and Odetta’s voice (with some other things for color, including a very effective flute), is the easy-going, goodnatured, feathery summer pop song that we’re looking for. There are some gospel vibes and appeals to the good Lord. If there’s a key that songs can be in that’s more major than major, it’s in that key. It’s a summer jam. Here’s to whatever shreds of summer we get in this strange and difficult year.
7. “The Garden Was You, But Now Your Spirits Free!” – Celebration Symphony Orchestra. This 13-minute suite is one long love letter to the indie-orchestra style. It combines the twee aspects of Sufjan’s Illinoise, the expansive list of players that The Collection entailed on Ars Moriendi, the slightly offkilter/your-mileage-may-vary vocals of The Yellow Dress (et al.), and the drama of Neutral Milk Hotel into one massive piece. An oddly beautiful/beautifully odd piece, rich with religious context.
8. “Overpass” – Dear Blanca. Dear Blanca’s single “Overpass” serves as a preemptive strike for the admitted power-pop junkies’ upcoming third album Perched, announcing pre-orders July 3rd. Dylan Dickerson (vocals, guitar), Alex McCollum (guitar, vocals), Cam Powell (bass), and Marc Coty (drums) create a cohesive sound, lush yet discordant, that somehow works. Produced by Wolfgang Zimmerman (Band of Horses, SUSTO) in Charleston, South Carolina, I hear flashbacks to the power-pop new wave magic that Mike Chapman produced on 1979’s Get The Knack. Dear Blanca’s “Overpass” may only have an essence of Capitol Records’ history-making debut release, but still, that’s a good company to keep.–Lisa Whealy
9. “Afluente dos Lugares” – Edson Natale. This is a deft mashup of flute, nylon-string guitar, bass, hand percussion, and spoken word that transcends the parts. It transcends genre, too, landing somewhere outside of folk, Brazilian traditional music, and spoken word poetry. It’s like a South American Balmorhea.
10. “Natural (Demo)” – Jackie Mendoza. Stacks and stacks of different synths create a dense but yet still somehow floaty backdrop for Mendoza’s speak-sung vocals, like if Bomba Estereo tried writing music on the International Space Station. This impressive banger (it’s only the demo???) is the first single of Exitos Varios, a fundraiser compilation album for the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers; I’m looking forward to the rest of the tracks.
11. “AYTYKWLA Jam” – Dishwalla. Songwriter and North Carolina State University songwriting instructor J.R. Richards discovered a gem during his UK quarantine. The never-released “AYTYKWLA Jam” is a funk groove captured in a moments before the session for And You Think You Know What Life’s About, released in 1998 under A&M Records. This instrumental is spontaneous, eclectic, and jazzy, as the groove struts in this spacey cut. The free-flowing interplay of sound is more compositional than most random improvs. The resulting departure escapes the genre box Dishwalla found themselves in the early days of MTV. Like Riaan Nieuwenhuis’s Bleeding Moon, Scott Alexander’s bass builds a groove-heavy framework for Rodney Browning Cravens to climb with his trippy spacey guitar. George Pendergast on drums creates a steady beat for the intricate keyboards from Jim Wood. Richards’ voice would normally soar, being among rock’s premier vocalists with Danny Elfman and of course Freddie Mercury in my opinion. Here a Wurlitzer piano seems like the place where the lead singer’s voice would soar, singing through the keys.–Lisa Whealy
12. “Amelie” – Reuel. The theme from Yann Tiersen’s score for Amélie is given a very theatrical interpretation, featuring a sped-up tune, techno beats, hand percussion, aerial silks, a piano in a giant empty room, impassioned key-hitting, and deep red overtones. It would all be a bit much for me except that the composition is undeniably fun. If you like The Piano Guys, you’ll love this.