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Month: January 2021

Quick Hit: ^L_

_^L’s Cyberterrorism Will Unite Us is as dark and intense as the title suggests. The three dense, thudding techno blasts reference the grim video game The Last of Us, the very grim book and movie Gone Girl, and the strange (and potentially grim, given my understanding of the plot synopsis) Neon Genesis Evangelion. It’s not messing around: we’re going dark. But the melodic vision is as clear as the concepts are: fans of Traversable Wormhole’s punchy, heavy techno cuts will find a lot to love in the plodding thump and synth squalls of the title track, the ’90s-inspired speed of “We Live in the Universe of The Last of Us,” and the tension of breathy auras vs tight beats in “Neon Genesis Evangelion.” I mean this very favorably: It’s dance music for Dante’s circles of hell. If you’re up for some grimly enthusiastic work, definitely check out this EP.

Back-half singles, January 2021

1. “Tune In [Prelude]” – Alivenique. The opening lyrics of this track are “now that I’ve got your attention.”  It’s bold to claim that eight seconds into a song and further bold to repeat it throughout 3:40 of a tune, but Ali Beletic fully pays it off. The opening seconds are a highly manipulated set of notes and beats that serve as a hyperpop intro that’d make 100 Gecs jealous. The tune expands into a deep groove with the lyrics chanted like a mantra, and the combo of beats and bass-heavy notes is one that indeed grabs my attention. I can’t help but move when hearing it. It’s totally bereft of the dread and steely-eyed resolve that has characterized so much of the music in the last four years: check the steel drum sounds halfway through that celebrate themselves. This is music that’s urgent because it’s joyful and vital and powerful, and lo, we all need that right now. Highest recommendation.

2. “Patterns” – Freya Lily. This solo piano piece evokes a stream of water rushing over rocks, with clicks and clacks of the piano hammers serving as subtle percussion support for the lovely patterned melodies. Very soothing.

3. “Pick a Day to Die” – The Sunburned Hand of the Man. My early votes for 2021’s Most Ominous Song Title and Best Band Name (Welcome Back Category) go to this cut and its proprietors. The jammy, elongated, lightly psychedelic, weirdly western, and altogether interesting instrumental cut lopes from beginning to end, giving us a tour of a strange-but-not-as-ominous-as-the-title landscape.

4. “Pinocchio” – Mike Dillon. Hand percussion, melodic percussion, and squiggly guitar comprise this low-key composition that swings between meditative and ominous (due to the grumbling guitar tone). A unique composition with a neat vibe.

5. “Acid Mountain – Roni Size Remix” – Moon Hooch. Moon Hooch’s two-saxes-and-a-drum-kit dance music gets a blitz treatment, adding breakbeats to turn it into a speedy techno cut. It sounds like it has become more of itself, which is one of the highest compliments I can give a remix. Highly recommended.

6. “Girl” – Sal Dulu. Flips a wide array of vocal and instrumental samples into a low-key hip-hop mood that’s perfect for wandering around a city at night.

7. “Sign Language” – Blue Water Highway. A beautiful alt-country ballad that calls up Jason Isbell comparisons. The arrangements are similar (although there are some synths in this one that are beautifully employed), but mostly it’s because I believe this song the way that I believe Isbell songs. Man, this one gets me.

8. “Dindi” – Urban Village. Zulu vocal enthusiasm plus Postal Service indie-electro-pop makes for a thrillingly happy song.

9. “How Much a Dollar Cost” – R+R=Now. Robert Glasper, Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, and an outstanding crew give an instrumental version of a Kendrick Lamar tune. Need I say more?

10. “Whoa Hey!” – Barra Brown. A boppin’ bass line, hectic kit work, burbling keys, and trumpet soloing set to clips of the ’60s space program? Sign me up for that.

11. “Whatever Disease”  – Buffalo Moses (Buster Blue) drops by Loud as Folk for a recording session. In the final track, Moses delivers a lyrical authenticity that resonates through the collective consciousness of America, captured simply through Tony Cantini’s stellar stripped video production. Check out all of the artists on  Loud as Folk through Tony Cantini Productions, highlighting the best of roots, blues, and Americana.–Lisa Whealy

12. “Strawberry Milk” – Cameron Knowler and Eli Winter. I always felt strawberry milk was too sweet as a kid, but this beautiful cut is not saccharine at all. This earthy guitar duo has just the right amount of folk and just the right amount of composition chops to put this in a sweet (pun intended) spot.

13. “Sojourner’s Truth” – SleapingDreaming. Fuzzed-out, groove-heavy, high-energy (did y’all play in a punk band at some point?) post-rock of the loud/quiet/loud variety; the chanting at the end is alternately soothing and terrifying, which is still an uncommon thing, even after living through 2020 and 2021.

14. “Passengers” – Wave of Sound. At some point I am going to have to impose a temporary moratorium on songs that feel like impending doom, but that point has not yet come. As a result, please enjoy this piano-led instrumental that sounds very significantly like impending doom. RIYL: impending doom, nice melodies. Bonus: the video is eerie-scary, on top of the sonics.

15. “Demons” – Sarah Coponat. Grows from an anticipatory, burgeoning roll to a torrential slew of keys and back. It truly feels like a depiction of fighting internal demons, the push and pull of good thoughts vs bad, peaceful vs chaotic.


The Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio shoots rays of sunshine out of its funky, jazzy instrumentals

Turning the page on 2020 wasn’t as easy as watching the clock turn over, apparently. I’ve gotta do more than that to get me out of that year and into this one. Well, friends, let me tell you one thing that has helped me do that, despite the bad first few weeks of the year: the Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio‘s I Told You SoThis funky, joyful record is a collection of 9 sunshine rays that have helped put some dark clouds in the past (even though we still live amid very dark clouds).

The trio is organ, guitar, and drums. Lamarr does double duty by holding down half of the backline and half of the topline. Lamarr’s left hand throws down bass walks that mesh perfectly with drummer Dan Weiss’ solid rhythms, while his right hand trades melody lines in duels with guitarist Jimmy James. Sprightly opener “Hole in One” shows off this dual action neatly, with Lamarr’s bass and treble lines going in opposite directions simultaneously. It tricked me on first listen into thinking this was a quartet with a misnomer. (Shoutout to the Ben Folds Five.) The confident strut of lead single “Call Your Mom” follows, with James’ guitar getting a prominent solo feature. The easygoing pace and chill-funk vibe give it some Khruangbin vibes, surprisingly. (“From The Streets” and “Aces” pull this same trick, pleasantly.)

“Girly Face” boasts some jazzy vibes, coming from the Wurlitzer-esque keys that back up the guitar lines. “Fo Sho” returns to featured organ, keeping some of those jazz vibes in a joyful mode. Throughout all these songs, it’s hard for me to keep a smile off my face; whether fast or slow, these songs are full-up with good vibes. That smile turned to gleeful laughter with the appearance of “Careless Whisper” (yes, THAT “Careless Whisper”). The stereotypically cheesy ’80s ballad to end all stereotypically cheesy ’80s ballad is treated lovingly here, like a joke that starts out ironic and slowly becomes a honest tribute. It’s still a hilarious choice, no matter how slow-burning the trio manages to make it.

The record closes with the infectiously fun romp “Right Place, Right Time” and the funk thousand of “I Don’t Know.” Lamarr is in full form on the latter, laying down headbobbing bass lines and tight solo lines with ease. The closer and the album as a whole comprise an impressive demonstration of this trio’s wide-ranging capabilities. That rare type of record that’s fun, classy, and full of chops. A great start to 2020 for me, and hopefully for you. The record drops January 29 on Colemine Records.

Neal Casal’s final two songs display his genius and purpose

Everything is moving much too fast, fans of Neal Casal might say. Neal Casal’s final two songs— released on December 3, 2020–seem like closure to the songwriter’s tragic death. Yet is it? A limited-edition 7-inch vinyl is now available for pre-order through the Neal Casal Music Foundation. With the NCMF receiving all of the music’s proceeds, it seems the perfect way to keep Casal’s legacy alive.

Everything is Moving” may be prophetic. It’s a reflection of the songwriter’s challenges, a flash of inner turmoils in lyrical form. Recorded in 2013 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn at The Studio G  with Jon Graboff on acoustic guitar, Jeff Hill on bass and Joe Russo on drums, Casal’s acoustic guitar and vocals ooze emotion. Fleshing out the track, Graboff adds pedal steel and electric guitar. John Ginty’s piano,Hammond B-3 organ, and harmony lend an air of reverence to the track. That reverence is found in the vocals contributed by Hill and Jena Kraus as well.

Somehow, “Green Moon” feels like a heartfelt adieu from Neal Casal. Did he know his path already? In many ways, this song is reminiscent of Kenny Roby’s “Silver Moon (for Neal)”. Captured at Venice, California’s Castaway 7 Studios in 2016, this song’s airy feel leads to the transcendent nature of the lyrics. At the beginning of his true solo work, Casal laid down acoustic and electric guitars, lead and background vocals, and piano. To complete the song in October of 2020, Jeff Hill and George Sluppick added bass and drum to the original recording. 

For the kids helped through the Neal Casal Music Foundation, each purchase of Neal Casal’s songbook creates a lasting legacy to music in its purest form. Though he is no longer with us in the physical sense, these two final songs are proof that his spirit has found its final, everlasting purpose: one note, and one song, and one instrument at a time. —Lisa Whealy

Singles, January 2021, pt 2

1. “The Trembling of Glass” – Rachika Nayar. Experimental without becoming overly abstract, Nayar’s track keeps the listeners on their toes: there’s punchy muted synths, layered pad synths, staggered starts and stops, and (suddenly) a beautiful guitar line that caps it all off. This is some evocative worldbuilding, in the vein of Julianna Barwick (although not vocal like Barwick) and the Antlers. Highly recommended.

2. “Dust to Dust” – Frances Luke Accord. According to the press release, this lovely acoustic pop tune “combines children’s nursery rhymes, Sufi poetry and personal reflection to form a meditation on loneliness and a changing planet ravaged by catastrophe.” I hear a beautiful, contemplative, relaxing take on acoustic folk that has a lot Simon and Garfunkel running through its veins. Either way, this is definitely worth your time. Highly recommended.

3. “Summoner” – AJ Rosales. Instrumental folk-rock is not a common thing to pass through the IC inbox, but Rosales’ opener to his recent album Manifestations has windows-down-highway-driving rhythms, Laurel Canyon wistfulness, and an overall upbeat vibe. It’s a lovely cut.

4. “Start Over” – Kris Orlowski. Peppy, smooth vocals mesh with synthesizers in Orlowski’s latest single. The track oozes optimism, but it’s wrapped in uncertainty.–Lisa Whealy

5. “Alternatives to Despair (Part Three)” – Neil March. A pastiche of delicate synth textures, church bells, tape hiss, ocean sounds, and digital background noise that works to evoke deep nostalgia very quickly. A compelling concept and arrangement.

6. “Nebula” – Josh Green. A wispy, breezy bit of electronica that floats somewhere between Teen Daze’s precise landscapes and Four Tet’s hazy worldmaking. The percussion gives the piece lift, and the vocals float along atop the synths. A compelling piece of artsy, low-key electro-pop.

7. “Chilly” – Jeremiah Fraites. A relaxing, melodically comforting piano-driven piece that had me all ready to cozy up to a warm fire until the sonic estimation of the cold wind came in. Thankfully the piercing wind subsides and is replaced by solemn, peaceful work (with sweeping background synth!).

8. “Infinite Mirror (The Vinny Club 8-Bit Version)” – LITE. This remix takes a math-rock track from 2008 and recasts literally every part of the arrangement with 8-bit synths. This approach transforms the track into a dark, grimy, glitchy, intense electro cut. It’s like Sonic the Hedgehog on the darkest timeline.

9. “Don’t Overthink It” – Aaron Lee Tasjan. This new incarnation of Tasjan’s work puts his folky persona aside and turns out a midtempo pop track with space-psych overtones and Lou Reed undertones.

10. “Leaf On the Wind” – Seasoned troubadour Brian Smalley offers up this excerpt of his unique folk-rock opera CHOSEN. –Lisa Whealy

Book Review: Transcendent Waves: How Listening Shapes Our Creative Lives by Lavender Suarez

Lavender Suarez’s slim volume Transcendent Waves is a neat little book. In just over 100 pages, Suarez guides artists on how sound affects creative practices. It’s not directly for musicians or about music; music itself is only quickly mentioned. (But slow enough to make a bonus argument against streaming services!) The focus is much more on sounds, which is an interesting take. I usually prefer books on creative business to books on creative practice, but the content of this one was compelling and easy to get into.

Suarez encourages artists of all media to evaluate the sound around and within them as part of getting in tune with surroundings, tapping into flow state, and ultimately being creative. It’s set up as a friendly guide with serious meaning for the artistic professional–much of the writing is in short sections that feel like bits of a warm conversation with Suarez. Sections commenting on negative aspects of sound (noise pollution, listening to climate change, etc.) don’t quite fit the flow and feel of the book, but overall the vibe is easygoing and the takeaways are plentiful.

The design of the book contributes to the comfortable nature of the work. Instead of being black words on a white page, each of the sections has brightly-colored background pages (dark blue, teal, kelly green and–yes–lavender) and lovely fonts. Suarez uses her handwriting to leave prompts for the reader to ponder about their own relationship with sound, which further create a unique visual aspect to the book. The stark, line-drawn art throughout is also charming. The cover and back page tap into a lightly psychedelic vibe that tries to depict the waves of the title, and the art fits right in with the mood. The design of the book is just as compelling as the content, which is a high praise from this corner.

If you’re looking for a book to help you consider your own creative practice in a new way, Transcendent Waves could give you a new angle on it. And it looks great, to boot!

Desolation Horse sings the blues (and fears and hopes)

We are living in disjointed times. Desolation Horse, the self-titled album from frontman Cooper Trail’s new project on American Standard Time Records, takes aim at those disjointed contradictions of life. In eight songs, Trail’s journey colors this music with real emotions like fear, love, and hope. 

Trail, the drummer for An American Forrest, has found his voice here on this record. Recorded at the century-old OK Theater in Enterprise, Oregon, and friend Olaf Ydstie’s place in Astoria, Oregon, Desolation Horse carries with it the essence of the places it was recorded. The sonic qualities of these multiple locations are brought together in post-production by Nevada Sowle. The great engineering adds to the lyrical qualities and instrumentation of the record, creating an overall textural experience.

“Social anxiety, social awkwardness, growing out of my hometown…those are all themes on this album”, Trail says, “I process things I’m going through with the songs I write.”

Desolation Horse opens with the weirdly pop-oriented “Everyone Was Incredible” feels like a twangy ode to a group hug mentality or a post-Warped Tour homage to teen awkwardness. The title track elevates the songwriting with its syncopated rhythms. Really lo-fi sonically, this cut feels like a garage band track, sneaking in a subtle cool with its echoes and layers. Each production choice is purposeful, avoiding potential chaos despite the whirlwind of notes.

“Heavy Rain” moves into a deeper mood, both somber and serious. Beautifully reminiscent of better times in disguise, Trail’s songwriting and composition shine on this track. Undoubtedly, this is the song of the album: simple, yet so perfectly wrapped in banjo and harmonica-rich instrumentation.

Tripping into a psychedelic rock groove, “I Had In My Hand a Hand” throws down the sixties vibe. The biggest strength of Desolation Horse is its decision to eschew consistency and keep the listener constantly off-balance. For example, “Crumarine Creek” seems soothing in its discordance. Even a violin’s screech seems to fit in this lush perfection, taking the place of Trail’s heartfelt, soothing, and reassuring vocals. 

Why hasn’t anyone claimed “Graceland T-Shirt” for the name of a song? Has it been waiting for this bit of brilliance? Rolling towards the end of this record, this cut is simply a vocal-driven guitar track until the cacophony of instrumentation begins. The layered vocals and essence of Crosby Stills Nash and Young is so nice. This track dances the album towards folk genius. “Superchamp” may be an ode to the music world that used to be: the life of a touring artist. Does that life exist anymore for the music industry, in a post-pandemic world? The song itself is fun, but sad too. Somber closer “A Little Freaky” is the disjointed ending,  connecting  this record into a cohesive piece. Nearly a musical stream of consciousness, in many ways it links each track together. Heavy-handed backline plodding and lightly moving lyrics show we are all a little freaky. But we’re together, human, with all of our failings, as Cooper Trail’s Desolation Horse shows us. –Lisa Whealy

New Year, New Videos

Here we are in a new year, but not much has changed yet in our world. But there is hope, right? In the meantime, connect with these artists on digital music platforms so you won’t miss a livestream performance! 

Leslie Mendelson: Brooklyn-based singer/songwriter Leslie Mendelson’s choice to revisit 2018’s “Happy New Year” last December at Applehead Recording in Woodstock, New York, produced this live performance. Not only a stirring piano ballad, its live performance showcases Mendelson’s ability to sweep listeners into transformative musical experiences. While we wait for live music events to return, connect with Leslie Mendelson on all the social media platforms. Her latest EP In the Meantime is available on Bandcamp. 

Eddie Vedder’s “Matter of Time” soars as an example of music’s power to heal. Executive producers Matt Finlin and Karen Barzilay created a visually captivating animated music video with art from animator Pasquale La Montagna. Compositor/Editor Greg Zajac helped make the magic happen, pairing simple lyrics with visuals that capture the artist’s partnership with Epidermolysis Bullosa Research. (Eddie Vedder’s “Matter of Time” has raised donations for EB Research.) More importantly, Eddie Vedder has provided hope for a cure. 

“Get Up, Stand Up” featuring Skip and Cedella Marley published by Playing for Change on January 1, 2021 seems a good way to end 2020. This one comes from the organization’s Songs Around the World series. Keith Richards, harmonica virtuoso Lee Oskar, Malian blues-rock band Songhoy Blues, and hosts of global musicians contribute. 

Lisa Whealy

First Singles, 2021

1. “Bird’s Lament” – Rob Burger. Alto sax, tenor sax, clarinet, bass, and drums inhabit this slinky, urbane piece with great aplomb. Originally composed by Moondog, composer Burger’s take on the piece creates a very street-corner-at-night vibe: a feeling of joyful possibility, subtle sensuousness, and possible danger.

2. “Flâner” – Meril Wubslin. A dense, hypnotic composition that draws on Middle Eastern melodic patterns, stripped-down percussion, and close relationships between all the elements of the piece (vocals, guitars, drums, electronics). Enigmatic in the best way.

3. “Return of the Sun” – Grasscut. A delicate, wistful piece relying on whispered vocals and ostinato piano. The end is compelling and rich.

4. “Calling James (live)” – Timo Lassy & Teppo Mäkynen. This tenor sax and drums duo is creates a staccato gem, a driving collection of pulse, rhythm and melody that feels like a hectic sprint along a friendly path.

5. “Shifting Sands” – Peter Chilvers & Jon Durant. A quirky, gently spiky ambient track in the vein of Brian Eno’s original ambient experiments; background music, but with compositional quality that rewards close listeners.

6. “Long Blue Light” – Leif Vollebekk. Vollebekk’s delivery is magical: he manages to sound casual and deeply emotionally invested at the same time. The chill, pedal-steel led indie-folk backdrop gives plenty of space for his voice to work its wonders.

7. “Joanna (Live)” – Lightning Dust. This is eerie, spacious, deconstructed work; it sounds like a country ballad slowed down into a slowcore acoustic jam with sprinklings of indie-rock thrown over all of it. The vocals are deeply compelling, and the bass work here is particularly memorable.

8. “The Way We Are Created” – Gabriel Vicéns. Splits the difference between groove-heavy vibes and traditional backline-and-solo work, creating a nice tension. I dig the grooves between the bass, drums, and piano.

9. “Bronko” – The Kompressor Experiment. Torrential, furious, pounding post-metal that spans tremolo-heavy post-rock to Rage against the Machine-esque funk-metal to riff-heavy thunder to doomy roars to even some mathy patterned digressions. If you’re looking for a tour of post-metal styles, this track will give it to you in spades. Fans of PG.Lost will find much to love here.