1. “Rollercoaster Pts. 1 & 2” – Chassol. Starts off as a fidgety, Pogo-esque ambient track and then morphs into a hectic instrumental ELO track that just gets more and more enthusiastic as it goes. I am very here for both things. Highly recommended.
2. “Activate” – Theon Cross. If I had to write my music memoir right now, it would be called Free Jazz is Just Hardcore Music for Saxophone Players, or, How I Went from The Number 12 Looks Like You to Tuba Soloists. This isn’t actually free jazz in the truest sense; it’s more like a tuba-led version of the jazz/dance stuff that Moon Hooch or Too Many Zooz make. Cross is a boss tuba player, and he really gets after it in this piece. His drummer is also legit. This is just rad all around.
3. “Eluvium – Dusk Tempi” – Field Works. First, take bat echolocations. Then take low-key Devotchka instrumental work. Add in glitchy bits. Top with orchestra. Enjoy in a large open field looking out at the night sky and imagining the infinite.
4. “Amelia” – Message to Bears & Will Samson. Acoustic guitars, harmonium, chill arpeggiator, and low-key beats result in beautiful work somewhere between ambient, slow-core, and chillwave. Fans of The Album Leaf will be absolutely thrilled.
5. “The Return” – Deep Energy Orchestra. DEO throws jazz, funk, Indian music, and more into a blender; the results are satisfying. If you’re into bass guitar, it’s especially satisfying.
6. “Dee Dee” – Leah Kardos. This is electronic composition that is elegant, confident, and bold. It moves with grace and power. The melodies are unfolded carefully, while the beats that accompany them are punchy and present. It’s smooth yet strong. A very cool piece for driving.
7. “PB” – Mark Karmil. Driving and punchy techno that doesn’t sacrifice mood or go for the big synth. Instead, there’s some dense layering, patience, and vibes on vibes on vibes.
8. “Melodies” – Cubicolor. An upbeat, perky, bouncy electro track with a steady beat, lovely weird arpeggiator stuff, and just enough movement/variation to keep the head bobbing and the ears interested. A very good track.
9. “What’s Eating You” – Eerie Gaits. John Ross has been prolific over the last few years as the synth-pop outfit Challenger, the punk-indie band Wild Pink, and the ambient project Eerie Gaits. This latest EG track splits the difference between indie-rock and ambient and falls a little near Challenger, creating a loping sort of pseudo-pop that doesn’t ever produce vocals but does produce lots of good feelings. It’s ambient for people who can’t stand drone.
10. “Sadr” – Tom Hades. As I discovered last year, I love deep-cuts, tough-as-nails techno. Give me the punchiest bass synths. Give me long run times. Give me big beats. Give me minor variations. I want it all. Tom Hades, folks, delivers it all.
1. “No Más” – Irreversible Entanglements. I’ve been getting into jazz and world music simultaneously this year, and this track hits my interest in both: I love the interplay of instruments that jazz provides, and I love to find groove and rhythm in unexpected places. This 8-minute jam has all sorts of interplay between the horns and deep grooves (check that long bass/drums section). It’s very exciting music.
2. “Sweater” – Black Midi. Black Midi caught my ear the first time I heard them: I knew that there was some serious weirdness available for Black Midi to tap into, even if the song in front of me didn’t capitalize. Lo. This is that serious weirdness. This steals ideas from ambient, slowcore, krautrock, Sigur Ros, Pink Floyd, Lord Buffalo, and more in an 11.5-minute epic that defies concise description. If you like adventurous music, this is the stuff you’re looking for.
3. “Sawbones” – Anna Meredith. Synths, cello, tuba, drums, and guitar compose this unusual combo. This is very much synth-driven work, but it’s got a composerly approach to it; part of the work is built around a music theory trick/sonic illusion called the Shepherd’s Tone that sounds like it is infinitely ascending. This is a wild thing to build a whole piece of music around, but it works anyway. I haven’t heard much that sounds like Meredith’s work, and that’s always exciting.
4. “Scene Suspended” – Jon Hopkins. Hopkins is a master of peaceful yet revelatory music, and this latest composition is no different. It’s piano-heavy, but by no means a solo piano piece; little sounds and melodies float in and out, creating a warm environment for the calming piano to live in.
5. “Perspective” – Trevor Ransom. A delicate, airy start to this ambient piece slowly gives way to layers of piano, percussion, and guitar for a heavy dose of gravitas. Then it drops to almost nothing and builds again. A lovely piece.
6. “Gizmo” – Camel Power Club. Throw some funky bass, some disco rhythms and a flute solo together and you’ve got quite the fun indie-pop piece.
7. “Footsteps” – Jim Perkins. “Footsteps is a meditation on stillness, peace and calm,” notes Perkins, and he’s right: the piano-and-violin track is peaceful, careful, and calming. Perkins stole all my thunder on this one. Sorry everyone.
8. “All Things New” – Page CXVI. Latifah Alattas’ new work is a swirling, synth-laden ode to the God who makes all things new. It’s a midpoint between the angular, dark, textured work of her solo project Moda Spira and the patiently jubilant work of early Page CXVI. It’s a compelling new direction.
9. “Hallelujah Sing” – Porter’s Gate feat. Latifah Alattas and Audrey Assad. This stripped-down worship tune relies heavily on Rhodes keys and Alattas’ passionate alto voice. Even in celebration, she brings forward the sense of mourning that lives in the background of all jubilation–even if only as a counterpoint, the thing that is not. Put another way: this is work with a depth of emotional performance that is rare.
10. “Time I Got Goin’” – House Above the Sun. A major-key folk-rock song that’s heavy on old-school folk vibes (bright guitar, lush harmonies, way-up-front vocal mixing). It’s like a ray of sunshine breaking out of a bank of clouds; like the previous track, just enough minor key to show the major in a great light. The short trumpet solo is particularly throwback in tone and particularly enjoyable.
11. “Sudden Steps” – Night Gestalt and Nicholas Paschburg. Fuses slow-moving ambient crescendo roar with semi-erratic bouncy synth dots to create a productive tension in a very urban, very nighttime setting.
12. “Now Neither One of Us Is Breaking” – Nick Storring. Some ambient music is averse to structure and just floats along as a mood; Storring’s composition work here manages to be so chill as to almost be ambient, but with the benefits of structure and an overall goal to the piece. To put it another way, this is something akin to a early 1900s romantic orchestral piece with trip-hop backing and bits of East Asian flair thrown in. It’s got vibes for days (light ones and dark ones), but it’s not hurried or fussy. It’s in a realm of its own.
Joe Russo’s phér•bŏney is otherworldly music. Russo’s debut album, available on limited edition black vinyl through Royal Potato Family, gives jazz fans the ability to fully immerse themselves in the multi-instrumentalist’s symphony of sound. Russo embraces classic jazz forms and contemporary grooves in real throwback physical form for audiophiles. Get ready to sink in.
We’re calling this jazz to put a context on it, but it’s really a soundscape painted note by note, rising with sax and drums surrounding each echo. Nine tracks shower the senses, making full immersion through vinyl an inviting choice for fans of Royal Potato’s experimental vibe. Joining lead composer Russo are longtime friends and collaborators: guitarists Josh Kaufman (Josh Ritter, Bob Weir) and Robbie Magnano (Project/Object), saxophonists Erik Lawrence (Midnight Ramble Band, Steven Bernstein’s Millenial Territory Orchestra) and Stuart Bogie (Arcade Fire, AntiBlas). The music here evolved with these collaborators in much the same fashion the Russo/Benevento Duo creations were born.
Freeform compositions gave birth to ideas and experimentations eventually captured in Brooklyn, creating phér•bŏney. The nine electro-jazz tracks are living creations. The whole album is an invitation to the space between imagination and artistry in music that is rarely accessible, and opener “Love Theme” is a perfect entree into that otherworldly sonic experience. Perfection is subjective, but “Can’t Wink” is the closest to perfect that I’ve heard musically in a long time. From absent-minded whistling through intensifying urgency, this is an artist’s soundscape, rich with color. The Bond-like musicality of “Perfectabilitarians” serves as perfect contrast to its dark lyricism. Russo’s brilliant performances are in the nuanced performances that connect the individual musicians in tracks like this.
Though I prefer analog/acoustic production, Marco Benevento and others in the electronic genre have helped me appreciate the artistry of cuts like “Elf/Man,” which reminds me in more than one way of Oingo Boingo’s Danny Elfman. Fusing jazz rock beats into unusual sounds seems perfect. “WowSignal” seems an otherworldly way to share the love of creative genius Joe Russo’s phér•bŏney. The whole collection is subtle yet ultimately overpowering, and there is no doubt that those audiophiles who added this vinyl to their collection will really get it. —Lisa Whealy
Ask pretty much anyone around today and an agreed-upon thought is that our world is disconnected. This fact has not been lost on Wenzl McGowen, Mike Wilbur, and James Muschler over their last five or six years touring the world. Creating a mood immersed in an energy that feels like something out of this world, Life on Other Planetsfrom Moon Hooch brings a live show into the studio to launch out into the connecting world.
The band’s backstory remains the same, with classical training cementing foundations in jazz. Spiritual foundations, as well as sustainability and veganism, define their creative process, which was especially relevant in thinking about Life on Other Planets. The eight tracks were recorded in a single take in order to capture a live show experience, not just a record. Pure Moon Hooch—the blend of funk, jazz, EDM, and everything experimental found in between—is nothing short of spectacular.
I’ve been a serious fan from the first time I danced an entire set at the High Sierra Music Festival after accidentally landing at their stage. Given that first experience, separating this album into specific songs rather than speaking to the flow feels like sacrilege. “Nonphysical” starts as an out of body experience, a warm-up ready for launch. For folks jumping into the stratosphere with Moon Hooch for the first time (perhaps because of the popularity of bands like Too Many Zoos), you can feel secure that these guys in Moon Hooch were the first pilots of the dance-sax/sax-battle plane. “This Is Water” features spoken word and heavy (is that baritone clarinet?) rumblings, like Earth’s birth in all its violent primal beauty.
Sequencing is key with this type of release that hopes to capture a live atmosphere; go to a Moon Hooch show and see why fans dance from the first notes to the last encore. “They’re Already Here” is an excellent marriage of classic forms, combining jazz textures with EDM spoken word, drifting off into a soft whisper of sound. The follow-up “Candlelight” reintroduces the dance party rave, as its vibrations of great times spark the imagination. Feeling like a fixture in live sets, its place on this record seems to fit beautifully with its soaring spaces and spoken word.
Heading out of Life On Other Planets may feel like a rush with “Too Much Hooch” and the final “Solo.” But is it possible to get too much? The interplay of this three-piece saxophone and percussion cacophony launches out of the club to wake up the neighbors and entertain block parties all summer long. Until then, thank you for putting a show in the palm of my hands, Moon Hooch. —Lisa Whealy
2/12 – Charleston, SC – Charleston Pour House
2/13 – Asheville, NC – Asheville Music Hall
2/14 – Charlotte, NC – Neighborhood Theater
2/15 – Greensboro, NC – Blind Tiger
2/16 – Raleigh, NC – Pour House
2/20 – Virginia Beach, VA – The Bunker Brewhall
2/21 – Richmond, VA – The Camel
2/22 – Washington DC – U Street Music Hall
3/11 – Brussels, BE – Atelier 210
3/12 – Massy, Paris, FR – Centre Paul Bailliart
3/13 – Toulouse, FR – Salle Nougaro
3/14 – Agen, FR – Le Florida
3/15 – Bordeaux, FR – Rocher de Parlmer
3/17 – Lille, FR – Le’ Aeronef
3/18 – Metz, FR – Les Trinitaires
3/20 – Chalons-en-Champagne, FR – Le Comete
3/23 – Zurich, SWI – Moods
3/24 – Paris, FR – New Morning
3/26 – Marseille, FR – Le Moulin
3/28 – Corsica, FR – Aghja
4/24 – Prague, CZ – Roxy
4/25 – Prague, CZ – Palac Acropolis
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.