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Month: January 2020

January Singles: 3

1. “C-Side” – Khruangbin & Leon Bridges. I love Khruangbin, and I love Leon Bridges, so there was basically no way this wasn’t going to go over well with me. But it goes even better than I had hoped when I first heard of the collaboration; Khruangbin hasn’t changed themselves one bit to fit with Leon, and neither has Leon compromised on his smooth, soulful performance. Instead, they’ve managed to fit into each others’ spaces, and the track feels very natural.

2. “Mountain Highs, Salty Eyes” – JuffBass. Two basses and a drum kit? Sing the song of my people, friend. This is low-key, relaxing post-rock with just enough pep to keep the song pushing forward. It’s smooth, round, and lovely. I’m a big fan.

3. “Elä – Be Alive” – Antti Paalanen. If you’ve never heard a mashup of accordion, Siberian throat-singing, and electronic dance music, fear not: I had never either. It’s surprisingly fascinating for being something I never knew I needed. It’s a weird, wild adventure that I can recommend for its sheer composition audacity. He’s definitely going to be one of the wilder experiences at Folk Alliance this year, so if you’re headed that way you should look him up.

4. “Wherever You Go, There You Are” – Qualia. Starts off as a drone with acoustic guitar accompaniment, then transitions into a slowcore acoustic piece that would make fans of Songs:Ohia proud. The slow-mo head-bob is not a common impulse in me, but the percussion here drew it out.

5. “Whisky Story Time” – Alabaster DePlume. A wistful, nostalgic duet between a saxophone(s?) and a languid, relaxed acoustic guitar that is feathery, delicate, and lovely. It’s like floating aimlessly on a sunny day in a small boat: warm, comforting, and low-key joyful.

6. “Savana, Céline, Aya, Pt.1 & 2” – Chassol. Experimental R&B based off a record of children playing a handclap pattern game? Why not? This concept is deeply intriguing, but the tight fusion of the funky instrumental meshed with the ongoing children’s chant is what makes this shine. This is a very rad jam.

7. “Mark Zuckerberg” – Nap Eyes. This song is actually about Mark Zuckerberg, and also about transcendence. It shows a newly muscly backdrop to Nap Eyes’ jangly, propulsive indie-rock–but not so much that it’s not recognizably Nap Eyes. A fun, interesting track to kick off a new cycle of tunes from Nap Eyes.

8. “Pool Party” – Nimrawd. Nimrawd’s instrumental work is so far very eclectic, and this track is no disappointment on that front: starts off with a thick bass groove amid some lo-fi textures, then goes into an organ riff, then punches the thing into overdrive with heavily-distorted beats. It’s an impressively genre-less track that grooves the whole way through.

9. “Fanfare for Effective Freedom” – Horse Lords. Radical politics meets highly atypical post-rock work. It is like Kraftwerk and a major-key post-rock band got thrown in a blender and someone set the blender to “pulse erratically.” You don’t need to know that this is coming from a stance of radical politics to appreciate it sonically, but if you’re into that sort of thing, you should check out the essay of the same name that talks about science, government, anti-technocratic moves, and more. [Side note: If you’re interested in anti-technocratic work, I co-host a podcast you may be interested in, as well.]

10. “Roger Ebert” – Clem Snide. I’m very sad to hear that Eef Barzelay (the driving force behind Clem Snide) has gone through a decade in the wilderness, according to the notes accompanying the single. I am glad to hear that this song and forthcoming album exist; this single shows Clem Snide working at its best. The lyrics are literally about the last days of Roger Ebert, as recalled in this article. They reach toward transcendence, and the hard-fought type of transcendence that Clem Snide has always been looking for and skeptical of and looking for anyway. The music is gentle, but still notably Clem Snide-ian; there’s dreamy textures floating above a concrete acoustic guitar strum, all guided by Barzelay’s initimable voice. Highly recommended.

January Singles: 2

1. “Stand Still” – Jonah Parzen-Johnson. JPJ plays baritone saxophone with his hands and mouth and synths with his feet. This is amazing in and of itself. It gets more amazing in that he has continued to refine and hone this sound, making the sounds more tightly interwoven over subsequent releases. This particular track is essentially a dense ambient/drone track that’s pushed along by skittering beats and smooth, jazz-sassy saxophone runs. If you like electronic music, you should love this–if you like jazz, you may love it too. It’s a perfect fusion. Highly recommended.

2. “King of Thumbs” – Alex Dowling. This is a highly experimental vocal piece that employs vocoder, vocal modulations, and whatever they’ve done to turn the bass voice into a Inception bwwaaaaang. The piece is heavily emotive for being so nontraditional, evoking feelings of Radiohead-levels of alienation without the density that accompanies their pieces. The beginning of the piece aspires to heights, while the conclusion sends the vocalists tumbling down; the spare, unusual lyrics accompany these patterns in atypical but clear ways. Very interesting work. Highly recommended.

3. “8” – E Scott Lindner. I am all about adventurous, idiosyncratic, even esoteric concepts for work, and I am particularly enamored with math as a subject for music. (In my own musical life, I once wrote a record where all the songs were titled after math terms.) E Scott Lindner’s new album In Flowers Through Space is about the Fibonacci sequence, which is rad. “8” is, necessarily, the seventh track in the collection. It is a mash-up of freak-out jazz, powerful vocal jazz, and Eastern melodic vibes–for the first four minutes, before abruptly changing into a minimalist, glitchy, electronic-influenced jazz piece. To say this is adventurous is an understatement. If you like way-out-there music that also still retains a sense of melody, you’ll have a field day with this one.

4. “Become a Mountain” – Dan Deacon. The con job that Deacon has pulled on all of his Adult Swim listeners is amazing: this is essentially a mid-century minimalist piano piece (a la “Canto Ostinato”) for almost three fourths of its run time. Deacon’s whisper-sung vocals are the only part that isn’t straight out the classical music history book. The last fourth is the sort of rapturous synth coda that Deacon is famous for, and it pays off the tension that the beginning of the song built admirably. It’s a triumph. Also it’s about existential dread, because of course it is.

5. “Book of Knots” – Jason McMahon. It’s hard for me to get into solo guitar (non-James Sera division), but I love an acoustic guitar instrumental when other instruments are thrown in with it. This one has some wavering flute action, distant electric guitar work, and subtle-yet-effective drumming to pace and space the rolling guitar line. The results are a relaxing yet sonically adventurous piece.

6. “Watermelon Tears” – The Ah. This is a cross between lo-fi beats, hazy indie-pop, and found-sound pastiches, making it a strange (but strangely enjoyable) piece of music. The found sounds here are clips of people laughing manically, so if that’s a thing you’re not into, heads up on that. Otherwise: pretty fun!

7. “End With You” – Heptagon Heaven. The main thing I don’t like about synthwave isn’t the synth or the wave. It’s the vocals. This synthwave jam has no vocals. Presto: nothing I don’t like about this song! You’ve got big synth melodies backed up with squelchy, grungy bass synths and simple-but-irresistible beats. It’s a banger.

8. “Memory King” – Caustic Casanova. Back in the day, we would have called the first 3:50 of this tune post-hardcore or maybe emo; it’s dark and brooding but not especially heavy. It deals more in threatening vibe than actual thunder. They add in the guitar thunder after that though, and it’s a hard-rock or metal track, but without abrasive vocals. The surprisingly calm vocals stand in stark contrast to the guitar volume and overall big hammer. It’s a real great track.

9. “Sakhisizwe” – Urban Village. Anyone who likes old-school Vampire Weekend, any of the Vampire Weekend spin-offs or copycats, or Graceland should be listening to the originators of the sound playing Zulu music. (I don’t listen to it enough, honestly.) If you’re looking to fix that hole in your musical CV, you’re gonna love Urban Village’s new tune, which has all of the guitar work, vocal melodies/harmonies, and feel-good vibes that make Zulu such a fun thing to listen to (and, I assume, play).

10. “For You” – Sympala. This is some tasty post-dub with a bit of breakbeat rhythms thrown in, like ODESZA suddenly double-timing all its beats but leaving the chilled-out instrumental vibe alone. The push-pull tension between those two aspects creates the frisson that moves this track out of the pack and into this list.

January Singles: 1 (Of a Personal, Historical Nature)

1. “Immigrant Warrior” – Sunny Jain. My personal goal this year has been to listen to at least one artist from every country in the world. I did some research and put together a personal Spotify playlist to help achieve this goal. I’ve found that I really like soca and Eastern European brass band music. This last newfound interest in Eastern European brass band music meshes neatly with discovering Sunny Jain, whose brass band work draws on “shuddering walls of post-rock guitar, howling tenor sax, the persistent thump of Indian brass band music, rhythms from Punjab and southern Pakistan, film soundtracks from around the world, and swaggering West Coast rap.” In this track, there’s propulsively bass (tuba?) motion, thrilling melodies, and a great rhythm section. It’s an amazing, excellent track.

2. “Still” – Dan Roseboom. In contrast to saying “I’m purposefully working on listening to music from around the world,” I feel like jazz itself is coming for me. Jazz seems potentially comprehensible to me, but it hasn’t unfolded yet; I haven’t found the right jazz style or artist that makes it click yet. Roseboom’s solitary, lonesome jazz trumpet performance here is something I can recognize and grab on to–something that transcends genre and gets to the heart of conveying emotions through melody. That jazz aficionados will recognize the tradition is important, but even those who can’t recognize it can take much away from this lovely tune.

3. “Tony Sendo” – Underground Canopy. Speaking of jazz, I love it when it’s mashed up with other things I love: Jazz, hip-hop, and downtempo vibes come together in a smooth, solid slice of keys-led instrumental work.

4. “Electric One (Part B)” – Elkhorn. An electric guitar, an acoustic guitar, and an electric bouzouki in a 7-minute improvisation that manages to meld a ton of complexity into an almost-meditative, reverent piece. Last year I was into organ drone for the first time, now I’m into bouzouki improvisations. If you’re checking in for the first time in a while, I’m not really a folk-pop guy anymore, I’m as surprised as you are.

5. “Echo Chamber” – Adam Hill. Just kidding, I’m totally still a folk-pop guy. (I’m just much more expansive.) Adam Hill’s got the whole troubadour-folk thing on lock, calling out the ills of the world as he seems and calling people to (secular) repentance: “It’s time to start feeling good about feeling good about feeling good about feeling good.” His vocal performance is ace. Shout-out to the saloon-style piano that caps this all off.

6. “To My Brain” – Aryl Barkley. I used to be a punk-rock guy, but the occasional introspective acoustic track from pop-punk bands got me into quiet acoustic music; The New Amsterdams emerging from The Get Up Kids was formative for me. I can still revel in a beautiful acoustic track such as this delicate-yet-confident whisper-folk tune from Aryl Barkley. Barkley really makes me believe it, really sells the whole thing with a careful touch on the vocals and guitars. It’s a very comforting track.

7. “Sweet Sweet Remedies” – The Pistachio Kid. Before I was a punk-rock teenager, I sang in choirs. I mostly listen to instrumental music these days (because I mostly listen to IC music while I work; at home I mostly listen to songs about dinosaurs.), but vocal music was my first love; a pure vocal tone with thoughtful harmonies will still get me. The Pistachio Kid has taken what would have been a great indie-pop song or maybe folk song and turned it into a sun-dappled a cappella track that I can’t listen to without smiling. A cappella may not be your thing, but this is real high-quality work of the form; I think you’ll be into it.

8. “How Much Homework” – Nimrawd. I once was a school kid myself, before I was a singer or a punk rock kid of any of that. This track incorporates the sounds of schoolkids playing as part of the loping, live-bass-and-synths piece. It’s a fun piece that defies genre expectations and labels; it’s just good composition. I look forward to this full record.


Jeff Parker’s Suite for Max Brown defies all manner of rules, genres, conventions, and expectations

Jeff Parker‘s Suite for Max Brown is ostensibly a jazz record, but there’s so much going on in this amazing record that it would sell it short to just say it’s jazz.

The first four tracks alone include some sort of post-jazz indie-pop (“Build a Nest”), old-school Motown soul (“C’Mon Now”), frantic bass-and-breakbeat jazz (“Fusion Swirl”), and a new-age-y smooth jazz version of Coltrane’s “After the Rain.” [It should be noted that I like new age music, from Andreas Vollenweider to Enya; this is not pejorative.] Then “Metamorphoses” is basically space ambient. It takes all the way until track 6 (“Gnarciss,” itself including bits of Joe Henderson’s “Black Narcissus”) to find something that even approximates contemporary jazz norms–and even then it swerves from them by introducing synth, marimba, and strings into the combo. Just for kicks, the 56-second “Lydian” is, I think, actually in the Lydian mode. Amazing.

When I write this out, it seems like the record would just be a sonic mishmash, a happenstance collection of things that sound nothing alike. The most amazing thing about this record is that the whole thing hangs together. The melodies have a sort of feel to them, the moods have some connections, and the whole record is–surprisingly–coherent and stable. I chalk this up to great composition but also to excellent production; every instrument on this record absolutely pops. The recording is solid, the mixing is ace, and the mastering is excellent.

I won’t steal all the wonder from this incredible record. There are so many joys to discover. I’ll just mention that the centerpiece of the record, the thing that ties all of the work together, is the closer: 10-minute “Max Brown.” Almost everything that’s in the rest of the album makes its way into this piece, which makes it the perfect way to end your time with Jeff Parker. This is highly adventurous, deeply engaging, fascinating work. If you like instrumental music of any variety (not just jazz), you should check out Suite for Max Brown. The album drops tomorrow. —Stephen Carradini

Alan Barnosky returns triumphantly, bearing new instruments

The last time Alan Barnosky graced these humble halls, I called his debut Old Freight easily one of the best folk albums of the year” because of Barnosky’s “rare, doesn’t-come-around-that-often talent.” Well, he’s come back around (although, indeed, not that often–Old Freight was a 2017 jam), and he’s making good on his early promise. Lonesome Road is a six-song EP that has good somethings for the troubadour folk purist, the bluegrass-lover, and the general folk fan.

I praised Barnosky’s ability to spin a yarn and a melody almost completely unassisted on Old Freight, and those skills are still on display. “I’m Caving In” has some color strings on top of a subtle folk trio, but it’s essentially Barnosky telling a tale, rattling his acoustic, and spinnin’ gold. “Ain’t It a Shame” goes a similar route–the killer parts of the track are Barnosky’s delivery and the devastating lyrics. The rest of the arrangement polishes the diamond, but it’s already a diamond. Barnosky is really good.

The instrumental “Sawtooth Ridge” will satisfy bluegrass fans with its traditional flair and enthusiasm. The combo shines here, just as it does in “Might Be a Call,” “Lonesome Road,” and “Beer Cans and Quarters.” These latter three tracks show the supporting instruments giving Barnosky’s work some extra wings, as the fiddle has a prominent role to play melodically and in setting the tone of the piece. Being a bassist, I can’t short the bass player for doing his part in holding down the traditional up-down bass lines; just because it’s traditional doesn’t mean it’s not perfectly fitting and a solid contributor.

When all is said and done, I’m a troubadour folk man myself; much more than bluegrass. So it’s “I’m Caving In” and “Ain’t It a Shame” for me–I’m a big fan of both. The whole EP is strong–there’s not a weak link in the collection. Barnosky is spreading his wings a bit and showing off more of what he can do, which is exactly what I would hope for. If you’re up for some trad-leaning troubadour folk with bluegrass tendencies (and one yodel), you’ve got to hit up Lonesome Road. —Stephen Carradini

Premiere: Paige Cora’s “Stray Balloons”

Paige Cora‘s “Stray Balloons” is a slow-burning torch song, a brooding piano-and-cello piece that gets under my skin and stays there. Cello in a ballad can be trite, but the performances here are strong and carefully-handled; this song is evocative without being maudlin, propulsive without being punchy. It has its own gravitas, created by the internal logic of the vocals, piano, and drums moving the song forward. The big cymbal sweep that introduces the chorus should be so old hat, but this sonic world makes it into a revelation. It takes a lot of skill to take the basic building blocks of ballads and cast them into a sonic world that makes them all shine. Cora has that skill. The tune is high-drama without falling into any of the pitfalls of high drama. How often does that happen?

Cora’s penchant for musical drama is matched by a lyrical sense of drama. “Stray Balloons” exists almost a scene from a play: the narrator is talking directly to a listener, confidently telling the listener how to go forward in life. As Cora notes, “I wrote the song from the perspective of a friend urging someone to follow through.” The chorus lyric, “If I could show you life from someone else’s point of view/ You’ve hid behind the walls you built so no one captures you/ you better pack light, there’s no end coming up in sight” drives this point home. The vocal delivery is by turns subtle and soaring; Cora picks her moments to nuance the edges of phrases, but backs that up with vocal chops for the big moments.

Turns out the musical and lyrical dramas aren’t the only type of drama corralled into this song. Cora looked to a specific film for the vibe of this song: “Thematically, I drew from a scene from Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited, when the three main characters have to drop all of their luggage in order to catch the train. It’s all in slow motion, and its message is basically that you have to lose the unnecessary baggage in order to move forward. As simple as it sounds, it’s not easy to do.” I absolutely adore The Darjeeling Limited–I have two brothers, so it’s hard not to imagine myself and my brothers in the film. And that indelible image in the film is a beautiful one; it doesn’t surprise me that the underlying inspiration (the film) helped produce a beautiful lyrical and musical song.

Instant in Time releases January 24. The photo in that album cover in that video (welcome to the 21st century) is by Jennifer McCready. Catch Cora on Facebook, Twitter, Spotify, and YouTube. —Stephen Carradini

The Wood Brothers return with new textures to add to their Kingdom

Some music wraps around the soul like a warm summer breeze blowing through a sweet meadow full of wildflowers fresh after a summer thunderstorm. The Wood Brothers’ new album Kingdom in My Mind on Honey Jar/Thirty Tigers feels like that; like a transcendent experience of life in eleven masterpieces. The seventh studio album from this outfit challenges fellow artists to fully experiment with limitless creation. (Yeah, I am a fan. That much is obvious.)

The follow-up to Live at the Fillmore journeys back to the heart of sweet sounds for this Nashville-based band. Chris and Oliver Wood (with honorary third brother Jano Rix) are known for splitting time between Arkansas and life on the road. Both are fertile ground for fresh ideas that germinated into themes coloring the fields of these harmony-filled kingdoms. The state, with its palpable essence, has been infused into each note, lyrical delivery with soaring landscapes held on each chorus. Yet, it’s recording over free jam-based sessions that lend a dream-like landscape to the material, more than the time, place, or studio. The work is cohesive like a dream that drifts, with sonic separation resonating each note to the fullest. 

Lush with imagery, “Alabaster” opens the record with a slick jazz-blues haunting; the essence of each lyric offers harsh realities as a beginning to this different kind of trip. Multi-instrumentalist Rix shines on the piano, with an upright bass blues-club groove setting the stage. Drifting into the dream fully with “Little Bit Sweet” and its rich three-part harmonies. In my mind, “Jitterbug Love” lives in films like Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, as childhood innocence oozes from each phrase. Hope and angst seem to partner well in this folk dance, with an authentic ache in each note.

“Cry Over Nothing” was one of the early singles; it’s full of bravado, daring the chaos in our world to defy reality. Despite lyrical daring, this is one of the less musically daring tracks of the album. Instead, it’s a resting place. Diving into the deeper waters of the dream, “Don’t Think About My Death” is one of the standouts. Raw, rapid-fire, whistling-in-the-dark lyricism relays a nightmare halfway through an album where the sequencing is almost another track. The dream story being told in this track, colored with shredding electric guitar, runs the gears back to rock–leaving folkies to catch a breath. “Little Bit Broken” is kind of like a group hug, maybe after the psychotic break? It’s pretty hard to get through life without any baggage; the trick is to hang with folks whose baggage all matches. 

This record admits that we all have a devilish side, in “The One I Love.” Shifting into really abstract work, “Little Blue” shouts with conceptual imagery, packed with a funky backbeat. The abundant instrumentation could have caused the song to seem overdone, but restraint was shown in the mix. No element was overpowering despite the large amount of things going on, mirroring a cacophony of Earth. Has a remix of this with lasers been requested for festivals yet? 

Strutting into the end of the album, “Dream’s A Dream” and its mixture of tempos highlight lyrical messaging, punctuating each clear spectre of Wood’s rap with space between the notes. The word in itself is an elusive feeling, but the soaring vocal wrapped around piano and harmonica of “Satisfied” may come close to the meaning of the word. Rich bass and piano evoke landscapes, of memories, of painting a picture set to song. There is no fear of falling at the end of this dream, just fresh and sweet expectation. 

This album adds new textures to The Wood Brothers’ sonic mix. The pre-existing kingdom of fandom in my mind has blended beautifully with The Wood Brothers’ new sonic magic. I am good with that. Thank you, Chris and Oliver Wood (along with your other brother Jano) for sharing Kingdom in My Mind. —Lisa Whealy

Check your local dates – ticket availability may have changed since publication:

1/29 – Baltimore, MD – Ram’s Head Live ^

1/30 – New York, NY – Webster Hall ^

1/31 – New York, NY – Webster Hall ^

2/1 – Philadelphia, PA – The Fillmore ^

2/3 – Toronto, Canada – Mod Club Theatre ^

2/5 – Rochester, NY – Kodak Center ^

2/6 – Burlington, VT – Flynn Center for the Performing Arts ^

2/7 – New Haven, CT – College Street Music Hall ^

2/8 – Albany, NY – Palace Theatre ^

2/9 – State College, PA – The State Theatre ^

2/11 – McKees Rocks, PA – Roxian Theatre ^

2/12 – Richmond, VA – The National ^

2/13 – Chattanooga, TN – Walker Theatre ^

2/14 – Nashville, TN – The Ryman ^

2/27 – 3/1 – Punta Cana, DR – Avett Brothers at the Beach (Sold Out)

3/4 – Phoenix, AZ – The Crescent Ballroom *

3/5 – Los Angeles, CA – The Regent *

3/6 – Santa Barbara, CA – Campbell Hall *

3/7 – Oakland, CA – Fox Theater *

3/8 – Eureka, CA – Arkley Center for the Performing Arts *

3/10 – Eugene, OR – McDonald Theater *

3/11 – Kirkland, WA – Kirkland Performance Center *

3/12 – Portland, OR – Crystal Ballroom *

3/13 – Vancouver, BC – Imperial *

4/2 – Knoxville, TN – Bijou Theatre

4/3 – Knoxville, TN – Bijou Theatre

4/4 – Chicago, IL – Riviera Theatre

4/5 – Milwaukee, WI – Pabst Theatre

4/7 – Detroit, MI – Majestic Theatre

4/8 – Columbus, OH – Southern Theatre

4/9 – Asheville, NC – The Orange Peel

4/10 – Asheville, NC – The Orange Peel

4/11 – Asheville, NC – The Orange Peel

5/22 – Chillicothe, IL – Summer Camp Music Festival

6/27 – Laytonville, CA – Black Oak Ranch

^ w/ Kat Wright

* w/ Birds of Chicago

Seamus Egan / Ivan Muela / Eleuteria

I’m always excited and embarrassed when I get press about a legendary artist in a genre I’m not familiar with. I’m excited because what better way to get to know the genre? I’m embarrassed because shouldn’t I know the name of legendary artists in most genres? Oh well.

Seamus Egan has a resume that’s convincingly legendary and a new album that’s convincingly beautiful. Egan’s latest, Early Bright, is progressive Irish acoustic music; the type of work that has clear Irish folk overtones but puts them backseat to the new directions he’s charting. It’s still folk music, of a variety; fans of Balmorhea and other acoustic post-rock bands will find themselves cheering throughout. There aren’t any clunkers on here–this is high-level work from an artist who knows where he is going. From the rousing to the delicate, this album is a fun one to listen to.

Highlights include the statement-of-purpose “6 then 5,” the mellifluous “Everything Always Was,” the adventurous “Simon Nally Hunt the Buck,” and the near-ambient title track.

Speaking of ambient, I spent a lot of time listening to ambient in 2019. One of the albums that I listened to but didn’t manage to sneak in under the wire was Ivan Muela‘s How Much Left GoneMuch ambient music tends to be ethereal, floating, wispy, delicate music; Muela’s is instead very earthy and grounded. It’s built out of found sounds and loping melodies, which makes everything feel heartily more real than ambient music usually is.

The subtle clinking and clanking noises in the background of “Oak Forest” remind me of the noise of workers’ docks by the ocean and thus give a nautical feel to the subtly-pulsing synth clouds; “Expecting (at least)” has a similar vibe but with bell-like sounds that remind me of buoys in the midst of highly minimalist work. The near-cello of “triumphantly bewildered” contrasts with a skittering, percussion-esque sound, creating a propulsive tension that yet resists the feel of electronic music. “A shiver through the” is a bit too earthy for my taste, as its exploration of tape hiss and static is a bit much for me at times, but closer “Spine” splits the difference between the earthly concerns and the traditional ethereal ambient vibes beautifully. Ultimately, it’s a satisfying collection of (mostly) long ambient pieces with a strong perspective.

As I continue to venture farther afield from the folk-pop that I spent so many years loving (and loving without regrets, I should add), I get more and more and excited for strange concepts, weird fancies, and generally odd ideas. “Rework three classical pieces with only cello, piano, and wordless voice” definitely counts as a strange concept, but lo if it doesn’t work in Eleuteria‘s In My Chest. 

These four tunes are stripped down to their barest of bones and then gifted with a sometimes-elegant (“Gnossienne No. 1), sometimes-aggressive (“Theme from Symphony No. 7”) vocal performance. The one original in this quartet is the title track, which leans on pizzicato plucking, distant bowed notes, and hummed/sung notes in diverse tones. It is a ghostly, diffuse track. Closer “Cello Sonata in E Minor (Largo, Allegro)” is an adventurous piece, interwining the vocals and cello deftly.

This is an unusual, experimental, fascinating EP, and I look forward to more from Eleuteria. The EP drops January 22 on Lady Blunt Records. —Stephen Carradini

The Lonesome Wilderness are awake to great desert rock

Phoenix, Arizona has become a place where folk music crashes into psychedelic rock vibes, creating a new kind of throwback animal defying simple classification. The Lonesome Wilderness is a relative baby in the robust desert music scene, catching both fan and press attention with numerous early EPs. Three years later, the band’s first full length album, Awake in the Night, lands via Onus Records as a hot twist of tripped-out desert rock. 

Producer Ari Leopold of Lava Lake Studio is familiar to fans of the Phoenix music scene. His touch has found its way to music from Ghost Cat Attack, Paper Foxes, and I Am Hologram. Andrea Golfen (Vocals) Brian Weis (Drums), Joe Golfen (Vocals, Guitars), and Paul Golfen (Guitars, Vocals) create lush sounds in a full nine-track assortment of songs, meandering through what seems like all aspects of the rich Phoenix music scene. Joe Golfen previously served as keyboardist for The Breakup Society, but that addition alone does not account for the seriously cool 1960s psychedelic work erupting from the record. This is a group effort, including the dreamlike artwork from guitarist Paul Golfen. 

Kicking in with an analog feel and synthesizers that are reined in with guitars into a sense of normalcy, “Day/Night” opens a record that is steeped in contradictions. Graveled, raw, authentic vocals introduce possibly the best cut of the record in “Web”; its connective metaphor lulls listeners into a calm ease of discordant tones. Transitioning to harsh uptempo strolling grit and bass in an almost frenetic rush, “So Easy” is a bit of brilliance. Echoes of Buffalo Springfield’s “Mr. Soul” are transformed here, turning out some indie psychedelic rock dressed in modern folk finery. 

Awake in the Night” grabs at emotions through each note, touching anyone who has tried to chase a moment that has gone. Love, drugs, hopes, and/or fears resonate through the lyricism and musicality with raw, authentic aching of vocal delivery and soaring guitar until the clipped end—like a heroin overdose snuffing out another life. Purely brilliant. “Blake Smoke Clouds” brings back that same era of free love, when bands like The Beatles were singing of Strawberry Fields. An essense of that era breathes in the ending of this record, creating a transformative experience on “Thoughts on the Stair” with its transitional tempo and unconventional lyrical vocalization.

Closing the record with the bass-driven “Desert Sun” and its night road-tripping foreboding is just plain cool. The Arizona’s deserts are infamous for what has been seen in the night sky: aliens, unidentified lights, and even the abductions documented in the film Fire in the Sky. Toss it all into a blender and get out “Exit Loop” as the final punctuation. In the end, echoes of great psychedelic rock are being reborn in albums like Awake in the Night by The Lonesome Wilderness​. —Lisa Whealy

Marco Benevento encourages you to lose yourself in the sound

The joy of Marco Benevento’s music is that it needs no real understanding. Heading into the artist’s latest album Let it Slide, it’s best to just let go and fall into the thirteen tracks of this release via Royal Potato Family.

With longtime bandmates Dave Butler (drums) and Karina Rykman (bass), Benevento creates a time capsule combination of psychedelic 1970s vibes and 1980s vibes. Produced brilliantly by Leon Michels (The Arcs, Lee Fields), these previously-eclectic, now-retro styles contain similarities that harken back to the iconic John Lennon. 

The harmless opener leads directly into the freefall that is the hypnotic “Solid Gold”: driven percussion, fuzzed vocals, and acid-trip synthesizers. Disconnected and yet sexually charged, there’s a perfect analog feel. Complete as a work of performance art, “Baby Don’t Make Me Wait” struts that lightning-in-a-bottle energy, tripping it into a weird disco where Manson might have been.

“Gaffiano, Pt. 1” expends its reference to fine Italian leather in 54 seconds, then is followed by “Say It’s All the Same”. The strongest jazz-pop cut on the album is the James Bond-esque “Humanz,” with its heavy piano-driven jazz circling around middle eastern melodies disguised in horns that grab each backbeat. In moments like this–with flute hovering in the background mix– surrealists could imagine Salvador Dali’s clocks melting with each note.

“Gaffiano, Pt. 2” echoes with a harpsichord sound in forty-one seconds. It’s another break in the action for listeners to regroup, before sliding into “Send It On A Rocket.” “Rocket” stands as a statement in discordant spacetime. Lush harmonies are wrapped in subtle drums existing nearly in the background with Benevento’s soaring synthesizers reverberating into the universe. Strange but cool.

Imagery drives this record. The first listen of “Lorraine” seemed to be a throw-away song thought, but it helped me really get the story of the record on the fourth time through. Is that too much investment before a track grabs in today’s app-driven world of technology? This is not music for instant gratification.

Thirteen songs suggest there is something for anyone in today’s one-song-at-a-time culture. David Bowie fans will languish in the perfection of “Nature’s Change,” with its driving percussion and ethereal vocals. Nearly through the album, a heavier shift leads the mood into an introspective psychedelic feel. Benevento, known for intensely intricate synthesizer composition and performance, does not disappoint.  

Lightly drifting into a modern-day neo-sixties ambiance with “You Got Away” makes saying adieu to this smart pop record seem okay. Lilting melodies juxtaposed against falsetto led into closing thoughts in the form of “Gaffiano, Pt. 3” with its forty-one seconds of pizzicato. However, nothing gets away here; each song contributes to the nuanced progression of musical story Benevento and his skilled musicians weave on Let It Slide. —Lisa Whealy

Catch him on tour:

12/29 – New York, NY – Le Poisson Rouge

1/16 – Austin, TX – Parish *

1/17 – Houston, TX – Last Concert Cafe * 

1/18 – New Orleans, LA – Blue Nile **

1/19 – Birmingham, AL – Saturn **

1/20 – Knoxville, TN – Open Chord **

1/21 – Asheville, NC – Grey Eagle **

1/22 –  Carrboro, NC – Cats Cradle **

1/23 – Charlotte, NC – Neighborhood Theatre **

1/24 – Charleston, SC – Pour House **

1/25 – Atlanta, GA – The Earl **

2/6 – Fort Collins, CO – Aggie Theatre

2/7 – Crested Butte, CO – Public House

2/8 – Denver, CO – Cervantes’ Masterpiece


^ w/ The Mattson 2

* w/ Mike Dillon Band

** w/ Ian Ferguson