I usually like to get this post to a nice round number, but I didn’t get it there this year. Here’s what my year sounded like, y’all! This post isn’t ranked; instead, it’s a playlist of sorts. My ranked post will come tomorrow.
So I’ve been hammering away at semester’s end, preparing documents, administering papers and writing finals. It has sadly forced me to direct my writing attentions elsewhere as of late. But now I’m back!
Em Eff’s We Don’t Know is a collection of mostly-electronic tunes that span the distance between chiptune, ambient and IDM. The tunes skew toward the minimal side of things, trafficking more in mood and feel than in big beats, infectious melodies or heavy rhythms. This is best shown in the pensive, eerie “Ghosts Are Just T-Shirts Napping on Door Knobs,” which layers measured synths on top of a rattling wooden noise that serves as the “backbeat” for the song. “Hibernating Metropolis” and “okay, blue ether” further explore this vein of intricately constructed, highly structured tunes. Even farther toward the mood-based end of the spectrum is “Blue Ether,” a beautiful piano piece so soft and gentle that you can hear squeaking and rattling of the instrument.There are upbeat tunes as well, like the chiptune-friendly, pulsing “1-Up Down” and the rhythm-heavy “Were We The Machine,” but even these have atmospheric elements throughout. We Don’t Know is an engaging, enveloping release that shows off Em Eff’s strengths as an arranger of atmospheric pieces for great effect. The album is out now on Cloud Collective Records.
Martha Redbone‘s take on things is old. Real, real old. Not only does she mine O Brother, Where Art Thou?-style Americana for the sounds on her latest release, she pulls the lyrics from English poet William Blake (1757-1827). Such an ambitious project as The Garden of Love – Songs of William Blake could fall flat, but Redbone sells the whole thing excellently by treating the lyrics reverently but not sacredly. She cares about the sentiments, but she doesn’t let that stop her from putting her own flair and spin on the delivery. This feels less like a reinvention of Blake and more like a celebration of his work from an admirer in a different field.
Tunes like “Hear the Voice of the Bard,” “On Anothers Sorrow” and “I Rose Up at the Dawn of the Day” benefit from the jaunty instrumental rhythms and soulful inflections of Redbone’s alto voice, creating instantly memorable tunes. Redbone is best when sticking in this vein, as experiments in spoken word (“Why Should I Care for the Men of Thames”), Carpenters-esque folk (“The Fly”), and a cappella (“The Ecchoing Green”) are less successful than the joyous, soulful Americana. The highest honors are reserved for the melodious and calming “I Heard an Angel Singing” and “Sleep Sleep Baby Bright,” which are simply gorgeous. If you’re into Americana, you should have this one in your collection.
Metal and post-rock have long been related, as some of metal band Isis’ work sounds remarkably chill and some of Sigur Ros’ stuff is incredibly loud. Red Swingline continues this tradition in Cloud, creating dreamy post-rock and straightforward metal riffs. Erich Dylus, the sole musician behind the project, sets the two genres apart much of the time, as dreamy tunes like “Virtue” and “Spaceman Spiff” never ratchet up to heavy distorted guitar mashing. Instead, he relies on jazzy melodies and chords to do the heavy lifting. “Spaceman Spiff” gets a bit overly jazzy for me, but “Virtue” is quite a beautiful tune. Tunes like “Spiral” focus on his metal inclinations, throwing down some chugging guitar. Title track “Cloud” is the only track that really tries to integrate the two sounds, resulting in the most interesting and unique track of the set. I’d like to hear more of this angle in the future. If you’re interested in metal and post-rock, Red Swingline is one to keep your eye on.
Stephen Carradini and Lisa Whealy write reviews of instrumental, folk, and singer/songwriter music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.