Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Triple: Kesang Marstrand / Wall of Trophies / Takénobu

March 20, 2016

kesangmarstrand

Kesang Marstrand‘s For My Love cuts through the forests of average singer/songwriter work and shows off Marstrand’s impressive talents. Marstrand’s x factors are a commitment to spartan arrangements, a strong melodic sensibility, and an intriguing tension between her lyrics and her arrangements. Marstrand’s tunes consist mostly of an acoustic guitar, occasional sparse counterpoint instruments, her confident alto, and consistent use of tasteful reverb; due to this last element, the tunes have a fullness and a gravitas that I expect from songs with fuller arrangements.

It’s not just the reverb that creates gravitas, as the melodies that Marstrand writes for herself contribute heft to the work. “First Love,” “Arrow Breaks Skin,” and the title track each have indelible vocal lines that balance “fun to sing” and “serious music” deftly.  The songs are catchy, yet without being “pop”–these are clearly singer/songwriter tunes, but ones that aren’t so introspective as to lose connection to a wider audience (a common complaint lodged against singer/songwriters). There’s a dignified, mature air to the tunes that shines through in the instrumental and vocal songwriting.

The lyrics provide a counterpoint to the songwriting, as they are direct, emotional, and raw. The title track conveys the blunt, unfettered pain of a murder ballad sung from the perspective of the bereaved; “First Love” is a sad, retrospective tale about the titular experience. “Walking Dream” and “Night Planes” are more impressionistic, stringing together a small number of short, poetic lines. Throughout, Marstrand infuses her words with the sorts of big emotions that aren’t as dramatically represented in the delicate, mature songs that accompany them.  Marstrand’s For My Love is a moving, mature work that shows off a unique songwriting sensibility.

walloftrophies

Wall of Trophies‘ Heliograph includes reverb as well, but they have the knob cranked way farther over than Kesang Marstrand. Their synth-driven indie-rock art music manages to have more reverb than seemingly possible without obscuring the songs that make this release so enjoyable.

While Heliograph is a debut under the Wall of Trophies moniker, it’s the second full-length collaboration between Brittany Jean and Will Copps. (They released Places under their own names in 2014.) The songs on Places were slow-moving, genre-defying creations, full of post-rock builds, clouds of reverb, and Jean’s towering vocals. In contrast, Heliograph‘s tunes are more traditionally song-oriented while still retaining the layers and layers of reverb, developing like a minor-key version of School of Seven Bells.

The title track is the best example of the subtle shift: the tune opens with a driving piano line and drum machine beat before introducing low-key vocals from Jean. Her vocals, instead of creating noisily dramatic effect, tend to fade off into the distance on high notes. This allows her to mesh with the rest of the instrumentation on the song: by the time a huge synth section comes in at two minutes, the focus is split between her vocals and the rest of the song arrangement. The results recontextualize the ideas of Places into a more understandably indie-rock realm.

This approach allows both band members’ skills to shine: the synths are more distinct (“Break All the Rules”!!), the vocal lines are more easily singable, and overall tracks are more memorable. The songs are big and noisy, but they’re distilled into distinct, digestible chunks. There are some moments of respite in the rush: “Dirt” features the acoustic guitar that Jean writes her songs on before bringing in a burbling arpeggiator, while the beginning of “Debt” has a bit of a James Blake-ian downtempo vibe.

Wall of Trophies’ work builds on the creators’ own ideas as well as established sounds to create a unique album. Where Places landed as an artistic whole, Heliograph allows people to break the sound down into individual parts with distinct instrumental and vocal melodies. Both are approaches I’ve lauded before and will laud again. It’s a little weird to be talking about “distinctness” as a primary quality of a heavily-reverbed synth-indie-rock album, but that’s the world they’ve set up. If you’re into School of Seven Bells, you need to hear this.

takenobu

And now for something completely different: Reversal is Takénobu‘s 5th album of instrumental cello compositions. His work relies heavily on intertwining cello lines and pizzicato plucking, which places the legato and staccato in conversation with each other.

You can hear this on “Reversing,” the first full track after the introduction–a cinematic arpeggio comes in over a legato bed of strings, then transforms into a pizzicato backdrop for an smooth, expressive solo. The combination of the note types, as well as his ability to use elements of the cello as percussion, shows his versatility in using the whole of the cello’s abilities. These sonic pieces come up over and over again, in the gentle opening of “Snow Day,” the speedy/frantic “Moonshine Still,” the charming “Swimmin’,” and more.

The surprise on Reversal is “Curtain Call,” where Takénobu sings. His voice is an urgent, vibrato-laden tenor that fits neatly with the composition, where rhythmic clicks, staccato “chords,” and weaving lead lines all come together to create a sum larger than the parts. Even if there had been no vocals, “Curtain Call” would have been a great piece–with the vocals, it’s a lovely surprise. In fact, the whole album is lovely, and should be appreciated by more than just those who are into modern composition. The beauty, complexity, and diversity of the work on Reversal should appeal to anyone interested in acoustic music.

March MP3s: In the Minor Key

March 7, 2016

In the Minor Key

1. “Works for You” – Σtella. Sleek, slinky pop that bridges the gap between electro and Fleetwood Mac with ease.

2. “Throw the Game” – Sky vs. Heath. Electro-indie bands are a dime a dozen, but Sky vs. Heath manages to rise above the pack with pristine production, a breathy vocal performance, and solid vocal melodies.

3. “Future Ex” – Plastic Knives. Somehow things still sound futuristic, even though we’re definitely living in the future. This electro-meets-rock-meets-post-rock-meets-soundtrack tune achieves an unusual amount of clarity, consistency and vision for a tune of its type.

4. “Come to Your Senses” – MNNQNS. Ping-pongs between post-punk verses, party-friendly indie-rock pre-chorus, and an almost alt-rock chorus. The results are a lot of fun.

5. “Stay” – Sabbatical Year. Performing the balancing act between hipster-friendly indie-pop and radio-friendly OneRepublic-style pop takes a deft hand, and Sabbatical Year shows off that they’re up to the task.

6. “3 A.M.” – New Dog. A surprisingly perky arpeggiator anchors this late night indie-pop; it’s perhaps a gentler version of Digital Ash-era Bright Eyes. The sort of song that you feel like you’ve known and loved forever, starting right now.

7. “Dodged a Bullet” – Greg Laswell. Laswell is in full-on mope-out mode, making breakups sound just as weird and uncomfortable and all too familiar as we know they are.

8. “All In Time” – Hospital Ships. If you pull out elements of The Postal Service, Songs: Ohia, and LCD Soundsystem and mash them together, you might end up with something along the lines of this intriguing, low-key indie-pop jam.

9. “Cut Love” – Hayden Calnin. A brilliant, icy, arch, James Blake-ian electro-mope (with piano).

10. “The lamp kept us warm, but now we walk (Feat. Olivia Dixon)” – Trevor Ransom. A thoughtful, atmospheric piano-heavy piece (post-rock? modern classical? I don’t know anymore) that includes lots of found sound; it’s the sort of thing that turns an ordinary place into an extraordinary one with a simple pair of headphones.

11. “Back Home” – Lyfe Indoors. It’s tagged “coldwave,” which I’m sure is a specific term, but I like it because this tune is like a spartan chillwave tune in a minor key. It’s got subtle groove and evocative atmospherics.

12. “Dissolve” – TIHMTGB. A fractured, tumbling, almost architectural sonic piece; it relies heavily on impressions and interpretations of the mood, rather than melody.

Start of the Autumnal Electruinox

September 28, 2015

  1. Diamond in the Rough” – Dr!ve. This weekend I was out at Kibitz Room, and the boogie-down vibe of the red-velvet-lit d!ve bar, where a 99-year-old David Bowie lookalike sat sipping bourbon, could be described with this synth-pop, funk-dr!ven jam. As light as the instrumentation is, there is soul and richness in the brown liquor-warmth of it all.

  2. Baby When I Close My Eyes” – Sweet Spirit. The nine-piece indie band brings it on like a crop top-wearing ‘90s chick with sticky sweet vocals, an attractive string section, and sexy rock qualities.

  3. Highly Emotional” – Benjamin Verdoes. F**k. This really is strikingly emotional. Longing, pulling, swirling soundscapes paired with echoed vocals that sound like they’re galaxies away, how could it not be?

  4. Air” – Clas Tuuth. An electronic breeze of hand claps, light, feminine vocals, and a natural easiness of sound.

  5. Two Bodies” – Flight Facilities (Henri remix). All he needs is five minutes, and all I needed was a half hour to pick myself up off the floor after hearing this gorgeous remake that emphasizes suave European vocals with string, piano, and of course, that tempestuous house beat.

  6. Heart of Glass” – Korr-A. Had to give a shout out to last weekend’s Los Angeles Mad Decent Block Party with this colorful, pop-trap dance party track. Korr-A is that chick people hated on in high school because she was just so much damn cooler than they were.

  7. Groove Squared” – Ghost Lover (Steve Hope remix). Powerful piano, blubbering bass, and minimalist vocals bring Barcelona-infused vibes that make me sad to see summer go.

  8. Chicago Warehouse Party 1995” – Thee Koukouvaya. If this had a video, it would go something like this: Aliens zap you up into a multi-dimensional, techno-laced, time-barren universe and then drop you back down through the atmosphere, tumbling towards Chicago, and crash you through a stained glass warehouse ceiling onto the tranced-out, upward arms of dancing strangers.

  9. Burred Lens” – Arts & Crafts (WIN WIN remix). Burred Lens brings crispness to the Arts & Crafts original that once gets going, rhymically zigzags down an angel-white powdered vertical. Hint, hint, 2:07.

  10. Arch” – Rough Year. Bringing a raw realness that only a citizen of the City of Brotherly Love could deliver, trans artist Rough Year texturizes grit, spooky vocal snippets, and demonic percussion for over eleven minutes of an experience as deep and dark as those Philly potholes.

  11. Golden, Blinding (Feat. Galun)” – Alek Fin. James Blake-esque vocals with severe electronic sensuality it’s not hard to be magnetized to. I haven’t seen Fifty Shades of Grey, but I’d imagine the movie should have went something like this…

  12.  Say My Name (Fakear Remix)” – Odesza (feat. Zyra). Fakear’s fresh remake of the Odesza hit is sophisticated, adding a new filter of flyness achieved through twinkling synth, diamond-encrusted vocal bits, and subtly brilliant drops. This is a crisp remix that’s been released in appropriate unison with the autumnal equinox.

MP3s: Electronic Rays

July 29, 2015

Electronic Rays

1. “Soul Makossa (Money)” – Yolanda Be Cool & DCUP. Take the summery flirtatiousness of D.R.A.M.’s “Cha Cha” with Lou Bega’s trumpet-filled “Mambo No. 5,” and turn it up five notches on the dopeness meter. It’s a total pull-this-out-nonchalantly-at-a-party-and-immediately-become-the-coolest-person-there tune; the new “Macarena” we have all been waiting for.

2. “Glider” – Greyhat. This track hails from Foreign Family Collective, where radiant Odesza influence gleams through sci-fi glitch, guiding you through a labyrinth of zips, zaps, bings, and bass.

3. “The Gift of Giving” – CDAD. Labeled as dadstep, CDAD places breathtakingly honest lyrics with deep male vocals for a James Blake-vibe that is somehow rawer and heavier, but just as sensual.

4. “Spring” – Calvert. ‘Easy, Breezy, Electronic Pop Cover Girl’ could be the slogan on this track, which is laden with buttery vocals and a catchy, paisley-patterned beat.

5. “Cave Drops” – Minor Rain. A psychedelic experience in the rain forest and this beautifully textured chillstep track go hand-in-hand, or wing-in-wing–whichever takes you as high as Minor Rain has intended.

6. “Pieces” – Yellow Shoots. Of course, we need a trip-hop track somewhere on here, and “Pieces” is it. Smooth groove, easy vocals, and a soaring build from the start give this one a mellow R&B flare.

7. “sore” – elle le fantôme. Twinkling, like metallic rain, and a drudging-along rhythm create a damp, dreamy setting. The gloomy vocals of elle le fantome and her resisting, determined lyrics create a glittery, yet spooky, experience.

8. “The Real” – Hein Cooper. The ice-cold, abstract album art featuring a blurred Cooper perfectly illustrates this melancholy indie electronic track. “The Real” has a classic rock n’ roll appeal to it, making it one of the most versatile on this list.

9. “Queen” – Jon Zott. This is my kind of house music love song: minimalist, clean, and very obviously focused on declaring he’s found “the one,” his queen, this tempting groove. This one’s for the ladies!

10. “Play Out” – Zola Blood. Just like the album art, featuring a hot pink blob of what appears to be a rock molting from the inside, “Play Out” drips and dribbles into catchy dreampop. Lyrics like, “I’ll be the left side, if you’ll be the right/I’ll let it bloom and then let it die,” add an emotive dimension to an already gracefully complex electronic track. —Rachel Haney

Maribou State: A dewy electronic prodigy

May 11, 2015

mariboustate

Maribou State’s Portraits is just as much a bird’s-eye view of the British landscape as it is an album. The two U.K. producers have composed a dewy electronic prodigy, complete with a fearless combination of techno, idyllic instrumentation and gripping vocals. Just look to the album art to get a sense of what I mean: a blurred forest and streaks of earthy colors resonate with the natural, raw emotion this album bravely confesses.

“Home” starts off Portraits with a surprising dose of clean, irresistible electric guitar and alluring techno beat that instantly gets you swaying. It incorporates Bondax-like glitch through vinyl record hiss and muffled, soft vocals. You can almost hear laidback beach groove, but “Home” never actually goes there, or any place that carefree, just as the album never offers anything less serious than sultry sadness.

Tracks such as “The Clown” and “Rituals” are anchored by dark, dramatic elements. “The Clown” includes Sam Smith-sounding melodies, piano, and powerful string sections that build theatrical, Victorian tone. It all culminates in James Blake eeriness. The repeated lyric of “Rituals” (“sell me your soul”) mingles with guitar builds and emerging techno roar before erupting into irresistible rhythm. When combined with sensational string drop-ins, this track transforms into a dazed, slow motion club banger. As if it’s not operatic enough, it ends with a crashing of token horror movie sounds.

“Wallflower” and “Raincoats” emphasize grim soundscapes, like the gloominess of walking along a cobblestone street during a light drizzle. On “Raincoats,” the breathy vocals have a unique walkie-talkie filter to them–just one instance of Maribou State’s deft ability at combining digital distortions with diverse instrumentation.

“Steal” smooths out the wrinkles of glitch through Holly Walker’s sorrowful lyrics and celestial voice. “Now, I need somebody that could ease my mind,” she sings gently, gliding over stop-and-go rhythm. While Walker sings despair on “Steal,” her vocals on tracks like “Midas” balance Portraits with a blanket of affection. When paired with piano and pulling on the more soulful strands of her range, there is an ooey-gooey, honey-colored groove on this track. By the end of “Midas,” Walker’s wordless up-and-down vocals evoke gospel qualities.

But I was most blown away by “Natural Fool,” which uses startling bass guitar to create one of the most hauntingly beautiful tracks on this album. Perhaps it is the fascinating finish of twinkling bells that make it stand out and add to the current of sultriness riding through the songs.

Nothing about Portraits is inconsequential; every sound and texture is loaded with rich, resolute purpose. It stops short of jovialness, but echoes its possibility through arrhythmic rhythms and touching vocals. It’s intoxicatingly complex and carries effortless dynamism. Join the rapture June 1st.–Rachel Haney

Quick Hits: Smoke Season / Woman’s Hour / Emily and the Complexes

August 29, 2014

smokeseason

Genres can be combined in any number of ways, as long as it makes sense to the listener. Smoke Season‘s Hot Coals Cold Souls EP mashes folk-style instrumentation and rhythms with the arch, electro-backed rock bombast of Muse. It’s not as weird as it sounds, because the duo knows how to set up the mood to make their tunes build from small beginnings to big conclusions. It’s a rare skill to be able to tip people off to things they haven’t imagined yet, but Smoke Season pulls mood-building tricks from country (the reverb and strum pattern in “Badlands”), R&B (the sultry vocals in “Badlands”), dancy indie (the rhythms of the opening guitar riff in “Simmer Down”), chillwave (the intro to “Opaque”) and more. This whole review feels kind of dumb, kind of like a reach, but I have to explain the sound somehow.

By the time you get to the electronic noise washes at the end of the EP, the connection to folk seems tenuous at best. But throughout the EP, it’s there. There are only subtle differences between a folk band exploding in every direction and a rock band dabbling in folk (and what is a rock band, anyway?), so maybe the distinction is silly. However you feel about the comparison, fans of folk, indie-rock, and alt-rock will enjoy the three songs of Hot Coals Cold Souls. Just go listen to it.

womanshour

The album art for Conversations by Woman’s Hour is a perfect fit for the album. The smooth, pulsing, post-’80s electro-pop tunes here are pristine, streamlined and unified. They’re not exactly monochromatic, but they do all adhere to a very distinct sonic palette. Nothing is spiky or jagged here: everything is built on spacious, calming, warm vibes. The delicate “Two Sides of You” will especially appeal to fans of James Blake–as Woman’s Hour is (appropriately) fronted by a female singer, this provides an extra interesting hook to the sound. JB’s spaced-out post-dub melancholy/beauty is exactly what Woman’s Hour is offering here. (This is not chillwave; there’s little hazy or washed-out about this.) Conversations is a beautiful, calming, endearing chill-out record.

emilyandthecomplexes

Emily and the Complexes is a male-fronted alt-rock band that takes its cues from Pedro the Lion: even though there’s significant crunch in the guitars, the emotions invoked are sad and complicated instead of angry. “Yer Boyfriend (Is a Cheapskate)” juxtaposes slow, dejected vocals with a torrent of gritty guitars and cymbal-heavy drums; that sort of quiet/loud is a staple throughout the four songs of Dirty Southern Love.

Tyler Verhagen hasn’t gotten much happier since 2012’s Styrofoam Plate Blues, as the last line of closer “Jersey City Blues” is “Rubbing alcohol or scotch / I don’t care.” He has matured some in his subject matter, as “Joshua” is about a man with a child, a mortgage, and life outlook concerns–there’s a dignity in the depiction of normal life (complete with joys and sorrows). But no matter how tough the subject matter, Verhagen is ace at writing compelling melodic lines for guitar and voice. He’s internalized the lessons of the ’90s and integrated them with the vocal and instrumental emotionality that the ’00s brought us. If you miss the desperate crunch of an alt-rock sadness, check out Emily and the Complexes.

Quick Hit: Hayden Calnin

April 22, 2014

haydencalnin

April and November are the two most hectic times of the year for me, so it’s nice to hear some chill, laid-back tunes to get me through the craziness. Hayden Calnin‘s Oh, Hunter is just that: a five-song set of relaxed tunes. The sound itself is quite impressive, melding the melodicism of The National and the tense post-dub soundscapes of James Blake.

Calnin’s low voice is evocative, and it fits in the spaces provided by the sparse beats perfectly. Instead of airy synths, Calnin trafficks in cold, separated beats that he warms with his melodies and delicate instruments: high piano notes, fingerpicked nylon-string guitar, ghostly sounds. The resulting tunes feel weighty without feeling dense; they have emotional heft without beating the listener over the head with it. Calnin shows off his talent as a mature, assured songwriter here–check out the gorgeous “Comatose” or the sparse “Not Good for Me” to see him in full form. Recommended; one to watch.

Summer’s comin!

March 20, 2014

Even though spring is officially today, it iced two days ago in Raleigh. It’s been a long winter, so it’s nice to start thinking about and hearing summer (even if I can’t see it yet). Here are some summery tunes for you, with occasional interjections from fall (everything folky sounds like fall, sorry bout that).

Summer’s Comin’

1. “The Sun” – Sleepers Bells. Jesse Alexander keeps busy: he’s in IC favorites Battle Ave. and The Miami, as well as releasing a solo project under the name Sleepers Bells. This track combines the Titus Andronicus punk fervor of BA with the wild vocals and mournful sadness of The Miami for a completely fascinating track.

2. “Ether” – Gentle Robot. Is night-time rock a thing? (Bloc Party says yes?) If so, that’s where Gentle Robot lives: dark but not angry, melancholy but not brooding, loud but not abrasive.

3. “Raise a Glass” – Monsenior. Bouncy indie-pop that evenly balances weight and effervescence. This one never loses its grounding as a bass-heavy tune, but it’s still a ton of fun.

4. “Beauty’s Bones” – Villa Kang. Combinines giant, thwomping ’80s electro-pop beats with some wistful ’00s indie-vibes in the vocals. The ghost of MGMT hangs low over this summer banger.

5. “Concorde” – Incan Abraham. No better title for this Springsteen-meets-’80s electro cut than the sadly-no-more jet.

6. “Til Tomorrow” – DWNTWN. We have entered “summery pop” season. It couldn’t get here fast enough, for my money.

7. “Lucid Dream” – Glue Trip. #ChillwaveForever

8. “Dare the Dream (Challenger Remix)” – Pure Bathing Culture. IC faves Challenger give the dreamy PBC cut an even dreamier take, turning it into an ethereal-yet-triumphant take on the tune.

9. “Towers” – Orphan Mothers. Smooth, delicate R&B-esque tune with some indie-rock flair in the guitar. Remember The Antlers? They’d be jamming to this.

10. “She’s Falling” – Breanna Kennedy. It seems like I’m including one adult alternative track per mix. This week’s AA track features a nicely understated chorus; it’s great to not hear a gigantic instrumental explosion every now and then.

11. “Flaws” – Vancouver Sleep Clinic. Falsetto over electro/acoustic jams is either going to invoke James Blake or Bon Iver until further notice. Still, this is a beautiful track.

12. “Burning Promises” – GreenHouse. Piano, synths, found sound, and dry percussion come together to make a relaxing tune.

Unrelated to SXSW, pt. 2

March 12, 2014

The back half of my SXSW-agnostic MP3 drop lands, featuring quieter sounds.

1. “Hold on Hurricane” – Cancellieri. The production balances a delicate vocal performance with a crisp, fingerpicked acoustic guitar line for a moving tune that’s one of the best singles of the year so far.

2. “Comatose” – Hayden Calnin. Can you imagine The National and James Blake getting together? Calnin is the best we have of that approximation piano/rich baritone/post-dub mashup. A gorgeously evocative and theatrical (but not flamboyant) performance from Calnin. One to watch in 2014.

3. “Foreverever” – Daniel G. Harmann. DGH has cultivated a distinct mood to his solo work over the years, and this mournful cut fits neatly with his oeuvre of longing, yearning, intimate recordings. A beautiful cut.

4. “Faultlines” – Field Division. Indie folk with Local Natives’ sense of rhythm, Fleet Foxes’ vocal arrangements, and First Aid Kit’s hushed intensity & towering female vocals. Way yes.

5. “Chris Bell” – M. Lockwood Porter. A moving country-rock song for the gone-too-soon former guitarist of Big Star. If you sense Neil Young and The Jayhawks in here, you’re not the only one.

6. “Onwards” – Bird Friend. Anything that echoes the early years of The Mountain Goats’ lo-fi recordings gets my attention. That strum! That lyricism! That brash mood! Wonderful.

7. “Who We Are” – Sonali. This thoughtful female-fronted adult-alternative track shows incredible restraint: after introducing a massive hook up front, that super-catchy vocal melody appears only sparingly throughout the tune. That’s one way to get people listening.

8. “Stay There, I’ll Come to You (Sleepers Work Remix)” – Jonah Parzen-Johnson. JPJ writes spiky, intense, amazing tunes on baritone saxophone and analog recorder. This remix sees one of those tracks get a spaced-out, lush re-envisioning that removes a lot of the raw brazenness of the original.

9. “Snowy Mountain“- Sebastian Brkic. The prolific Brkic (Cyan Marble) takes a break from post-punk freakouts to drop some synthy, walking-speed indie-pop. This’ll make your head bob.

10. “Dreaming While Awake” – Professor Bashti. Brkic also does psych-inspired instrumental/experimental guitar music. Because prolific.

11. “Ellis Bell” – The Cold and Lovely. Moody, wall-of-sound indie-rock that calls up Silversun Pickups, but with a female vocalist.

Third time’s the charm: Liverpool artisans Ninetails present Quiet Confidence

February 27, 2014

quiet-confidence-artwork

Ninetails’ Quiet Confidence is a thoroughly thematic and shrewdly arranged huddle of live instruments, field recordings, and angelic vocals coming together in psychedelic conglomerate. A listen through the entire release is highly recommended, as it stands strongly as a whole.

Plaid, on 2003’s Spokes especially, laid the British soundwork for artists like Ninetails. It’s a bit daft to just throw out a sound-alike RIYL like this, but fans-of would definitely crush on these Liverpool artisans. Quiet Confidence features the keen mastering ear of Music Producers Guild’s Mastering Engineer of the Year, Matt Colton, who has worked most notably with Raime and James Blake. On first listen, Mr. Blake’s cut-up compositions come to mind. Ninetails’ use of ancient-sounding, pitch-addled human vocals is different than, say, Blake’s Klavierwerke, but they seem to have the same ethereal end result in sight.

Cex’s Role Model is another apt aural forerunner of Quiet Confidence. To state it again, this EP must be heard in its entirety, as the moods shift with each new sample. There’s an intelligence to this music that hangs formidably high above a waterfall, clinging tightly to a seemingly substantial lift that only delivers the brief tensile security of a strand of hair. Cex, in the momentary comparison, offered a more personal look at IDM and intelligent electronic (and creatively mixed) music with his aforementioned album. Not at all pastiche, Ninetails strikes a similar bell without the Autechre Dropps, and Harry Partch sits and stares.

Repeating themes from soulful genes… The music history book of thematic presentation should have a foreword dedicated fully to Harry Nilsson’s Aerial Pandemonium Ballet. Harry took two of his albums and re-mixed them into one and sounded a true APB. Quiet Confidence, with producer Chris Pawlusek at the helm, weaves that same thematic magic. Guitar lines that you swear you just heard. Vocals that sound only halfway backwards, but they remind and refresh. Harry re-recorded the vocals of “One” and slickly inserted them in to “Mr. Richland’s Favorite Song” as a background vocal. These little genius moves keep an old song fresh… keep the listener’s ear perked and noticing.

On the same note, what is already mixed on the cutting edge by Pawlusek and the band, could go further. Music is really chilled-out these days. It’d be nice to hear some more aggressive or perhaps more abrasive re-mixes of the six Ninetails songs here. Picture something industrial beneath or a break-beat sneak sitting, seething under the horns in “Radiant Hex.” For instance, I tried Giorgio Moroder’s “From Here to Eternity” under “O for Two.” I was doing the dishes. I started square-dance calling nonsense about, “Everybody who came here on a bike, over in this corner, please!” I was dancing around my kitchen. I broke one of my Alvin & the Chipmunks (who had similarly treated vocals) drinking glasses (Simon: the one with glasses), only to have a Theodore left.  It’s fine; he’s the drummer. Most times… all you need is a good groove, but, all the time, you need a beat…. a manifest pulse.

It can be hard to handle progressive music that is just a lot of things that happen one after another with gaudy guitar solos and full-kit triplets and Rick Wakeman pans. It can be hard to handle ambient music, too, because if you’re not trying to melt away a headache or trying to read, it can bore. Ninetails dashes all this while still being musically progressive. They place just the right engaging elements into a radio-play-length song.

Make a dinner that lasts all week. No one wants Dinty Moore beef stew. We want Scottish beef porridge with monkey ears, whole sweet potatoes, and Sri Lankan starfruit. That’s what we have here. Keep pushing the genre barriers, Ninetails, and they’ll move your picture from near the exhaust pipe on the Underground and put it on the side, BIG AS DAY, next to the clean air initiative stamp and the No Smoking sign. It’s going to get better.–Gary Lee Barrett

Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.

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