Press "Enter" to skip to content

Month: November 2021

Quick Hit: Jacob Faurholt

Where have we been the last few days that have bled into weeks and years? Danish rock songwriter Jacob Faurholt’s Chaotic Piano embraces the role of the observer in these six tracks released through Raw Onion Records.

Faurholt joined forces with Trine Omø, Marc Kellaway, Jesper Merlit, Johannes Gammelby, and Kasper Marius Nørmark to create an aura that defies specific categorization. Recorded and mixed by Faurholt, Gammelby and Kellaway, the sonic textures feel like a sea chanty swirled with an isolationist’s tale of survival. Carl Saff’s mastering provides a cohesive sonic experience, capturing the essence of Faurholt’s songwriting. 

Commentary on our human experience cuts through the political noise like the title track’s discordant fade-out. Faurholt’s plaintive vocal style is a raw, authentic ache. It’s sheer perfection on “Finest of Mammals,” an uncluttered acoustic masterpiece. “As the Ship Came In” creates an ethereal experience via lyrical metaphor, dark and hopeful.

“Two Months, Or Forever” brings us on a global flight that folds influential 60’s global rock vibes into the embrace of quick acoustic hits. Fuzzed-out closer “Cross That Line” brings to mind Brooklyn’s Matt C. White. Embracing sonic chaos as contrast to stark lyricism, this track definitely will hit my top ten this year.

“We Got Lucky In Berlin” seems like the perfect finale here: rich instrumentation brilliantly mixed creates space and separation to consider nuanced, terror-filled questioning. Angst-filled, yet in some way hopeful, Jacob Faurholt’s Chaotic Piano hits home as the world moves on. –Lisa Whealy

Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / Bandcamp

Quick Hits: Safir Nou / Matt Baumann

LiminalSafir Nou. Lisa and I have really enjoyed music from Italy this year, and Safir Nou provides another entry in that book. This quintet, led by composer Antonio Firinu, plays elegant and complex instrumental music that draws on post-rock, movie scores, Mediterranean sounds, and more. The results are engaging and adventurous: opener “Port X” begins as a strings-led elegy in with a Middle Eastern flair until a sudden, groove-heavy drum/bass/static breakdown interrupts the space. (“Escape” pulls the same trick, just as effectively.)

“Sahel” merges traditional jazz sounds with Middle Eastern drama. Standout “Arenas” evokes Devotchka with the subtle, rousing marriage of indie-pop melodies and aesthetics (chipper hand-claps!) with more traditional arrangements. Each of the 12 pieces here has different vibes and different charms. Those with a penchant for interesting instrumental work should definitely check out Liminal. Highly recommended.

The Ivory in the Narrows paints Matt Baumann‘s (aka Wolfcryer) troubadour folk over a big canvas of 12 songs. Baumann’s rough-edged tenor is the guiding light through these songs, as his skillful use of tone  and deft line delivery sell the lyrics admirably. “Little Badlands” is shows off both these skills, as he pulls the listener in with well-placed accents in and at the end of phrases. Follow-up “St. Anthony” has a powerful chorus that makes the most of Baumann’s voice, as the emotion just drips out of the words. I particularly love how he slings out the phrase “Sa-int ANNNNN-thon-eeeee.”

Topically and sonically, the album is a road-warrior logbook. Baumann’s lyrics ponder, take place on, and evoke the life of the road, from opener “Heading Out” to closer “The Last Stop.” (“Oncoming Train” is technically life on the rails, but still.) Baumann is at his best when he’s positioned on the road sonically as well: the iconic mostly-clean lead electric guitar tone and harmonica fit like a glove with his voice and lyrics. (Things get crunchy on “The Last Stop” to great effect, but Jeremy Smart’s work is mostly free of heavy distortion.) “Lonesome Ladders” is a tribute in Baumann’s style to the grandaddy of all troubadours: The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. If you’re looking for a solid folk record, inquire within.

Quick Hits: BPMoore / Yasmin Williams / Bryan Rahija

If I Don’t See You Again – BPMoore. BPMoore’s compositions fuse chamber orchestral work with indie rock aesthetics. The delicate strings and piano of opener “Hold Your Own” are infused with a blitz of energy via a busy-groove live drum kit. “First Light,” “Another World,” “Call Ended,” and more reiterate this pattern, bringing energy to beauty in moving ways. The far end of this effort is either “Those Fields When We Were Young” (which is almost a dance-rock song) or “A Lifetime Rolls By” (which culminates in cymbal mashing rock drums).

It’s not all drums (although that’s a big theme). “Art is Her Reflection” is a speedy tune that could have had percussion but works perfectly fine without it. “Paid Respects” turns lovely piano and strings orchestration into an Album Leaf-esque post-rock tune with subtle electronic pulse. Ultimately, this record is a sensational mix of lush composition and high-drama percussion theatrics. I love it. Highly recommended.

Urban Driftwood – Yasmin Williams. Williams’ intricate, complex guitar compositions are impressive in their speed and motion. Yet for all the immense technical skill (“Swift Breeze,” for instance, is mind bending), these compositions are persistently melodic, cinematic, and evocative. Opener “Sunshowers” does feel like the sun breaking through while the rain is still going: there’s an overall sense of brightness while one of the picking patterns sounds like rain hitting pavement. The herky-jerky melody of “Dragonfly” indeed calls to mind the zigzag flying patterns of the titular insect.

Even when Williams isn’t painting sonic pictures from the title of songs, the wide-screen nature of these works is prominent. “Juvenescence” is an elegant, rolling rumination; “Jarabi” features an instrument that sounds like a kalimba to intertwine with Williams’ playing. Other collaborations are fruitful as well. “Adrift (feat. Taryn Wood)” melds Williams’ cascading guitar with powerful cello for a satisfying experience. The title track features Amadou Kouyate on percussion; Kouyate allows Williams to focus on delivering the mesmerizing guitar notes instead of providing both the percussion and notes (as is common). It’s a highlight and an excellent choice as the title of the collection.

It’s a rare feat to deliver a work of technical brilliance that is also heartwarming, but Williams has achieved it here. Highly recommended.

Timber – Bryan Rahija. Rahija is something like the fourth member of North Carolina indie-pop/indie-folk band Bombadil, so it’s not surprising that their quirky indie-pop melodies find their way into Timber. The debut collection of acoustic guitar pieces from Rahija literally includes instrumental versions of several tracks off the Bombadil record Fences: “Everywhere But Up” is a charming version of “Binoculars,” “Nothing’s Fifty-Fifty” is a gorgeous setting of “Math and Love,” and the brilliant “Peacocks in Fur” is a key-changed version of “Not Those Kind of People.” Fans of Bombadil will find those tracks particularly interesting–I find “Nothing’s Fifty-Fifty” to be more compelling than the originally released version (and I like the original very much).

Beyond those tracks, Rahija shows off a fusion of indie-pop charm and folk guitar speediness. “Silent Advance” leans in on the indie-pop side, while “Three-Legged Buddha” shows off his chops for the more folky side. Standout “Eight of Wands” is the best of both worlds, amping up the mostly-solo pieces into multiply-tracked guitar lines with beautifully droning accompaniment and subtle percussion for the most fully realized piece here. I’d love to see more arrangements on his next album, as the tracks sparkle and shine most when the guitar is surrounding by complementary pieces.

November 2021 Singles 3

1. “Last Trance for Future Worlds” – JOYFULTALK. JOYFULTALK’s distinctive staccato electronic forms are back. The almost pointillist work is full of differently textured notes that beep, bop, boop, boom, and bounce around like brightly colored superballs in a small chamber. This particular piece is 16 minutes long, a nearly Mid-century Minimalist length for the main idea to be repeated and developed. It’s not for everyone, but fans of adventurous electronic music will find a treasure trove here. Highly recommended.

2. “The Long Bright Dark” – Patrick Shiroishi. This exuberant collection of many (many) aggressively fluttering saxophones and shouted vocals is a wild experience that should be heard to be understood. Words can’t really do much more for this than what I’ve said, except to say that fans of Colin Stetson will love this. Highly recommended.

3. “Umkhumbi kaMa” – Malcolm Jiyane Tree-O. Compelling South African jazz that features a true fusion of visions from each of the players. Each of the parts seem to be going in different directions, but in the service of the song and the mood. It’s an assured, strong offering.

4. “Ariæ – live” – Enzo Carniel & Filippo Vignato. Carniel’s piano/keys/synthesizers and Vignato’s trombone come together in a piece that fuses mourning and adventure. An unusual combo, but these two players pull it off with panache.

5. “Χρόνος” – Gemma. This slow-building post-rock uses an arpeggiator to push the song forward, while subterranean (sub-aqueous?) bass and arching strings build a cathedral of sound.

6. “Dno Boha (Depths of God)” – ARANANAR. Anar Badalov (New Dog) and Aran Epochal (Gnu) are ARANANAR. Together they’ve made this mysterious, enigmatic electro-indie piece, part of their “collection of odes and laments to the borderlands of the Czech Republic.” There are some strong ’80s electro vibes here, but the whispered vocals give it an intensity that cuts through any potential kitsch.

7. “Sailboat (w/ Ben Rector)” – Cody Fry’s Symphony Sessions. Top-shelf acoustic-pop with immaculately-done orchestration. Ben Rector can really sing the blues if he wants to. Fry fills Rector’s tune with tons of instrumental pathos. Wow.

8. “Cloudburst” – Ben Crosland. The tiniest, most delicate of cloudbursts, really a collection of teeny raindrops in the form of piano keys.

9. “Seemingly Unaware” – among leaves. Improvised piano paired with ambient, distant electric guitar for a meditative, exploratory experience.

10. “Celestial Walk” – Chris Bartels, Blurstem. Keys and pad synths come together in an elegant, pleasant, sun-dappled piece.

11. “Kazeyoubi 風曜日” – Machinone. Infuses depth of emotion into a walking-pace acoustic guitar idea. The crystal-clear recording makes the evocative melodies even more present.

12. “Meditation | 003 Foreign Morning” – Fog Chaser. Starts off small (piano with misty reverb), then grows into a subtly circus-like waltz.

13. “Petrichor” – Mathieu Karsenti. A foreboding depiction of a brooding storm in piano form, complete with rain sounds.

November 2021 Singles 2

1. “Liminal Dream: Phase 1 Instrumental” – Jeffrey Alexander. This song is part of Songs from the Bardo, Vol. III on Psychedelic Sangha. The label offers “spiritual-arts programming with a focus on integrating and exploring non-ordinary states of consciousness” and the release is intended to promote “deep exploration of inner moons, uncharted synaptic crevices and multilayered psychic realms.” I can say that it sounds like a psychedelic version of ambient country, and it is very meditative. 

2. “ANCIENT CALENDARS” – Brad Barr. I didn’t expect that I would get heavily into acoustic instrumental Americana guitar music, but here we are. This one is from Barr’s (The Barr Brothers) The Winter Mission, and the song sounds appropriately wintry without feeling flinty. The wilds of winter, but perhaps from behind a window near a cozy fire.

3. “Pearly Gates” – Gentleman Speaker. The same sort of Death Cab meets late ’90s emo meets acoustic guitar vibes that Make Sure brings are here in Gentlemen Speaker’s work: lots of high-pitched but relaxed male vocals, lots of pastoral rolling, lots of emotions, and the ability to ramp up the energy.

4. “Desecrator” – LLNN. I love guitar playthroughs of metal songs, because it captures all the fury of a metal song that instrumental post-metal sometimes loses in the sludge. This is an enormously ferocious metal cut. Just everything about it is enormous, ferocious, and metal.

5. “A Disappearing Act” – Seafarers. Is this “Brick” for a new era? Some things never change. The delicate folk-pop is airy, clear, and compelling–like Turin Brakes or Parachutes-era Coldplay.

6. “Three” – Joshua Crumbly. A meandering, compelling bass rumination.

7. “Mit Hjerte” – Bremer / McCoy. Elegant, peaceful, mood-setting music that feels right. The two players connect on an incredibly deep level to create such an immersive experience with just two people.

8. “Magnetismo” – Raymundo Sodré. A joyful, acoustic celebration of Brazilian / Caribbean vibes.

9. “Mexican Road Trip” – Captain Rico and the Ghost Band. Instrumental surf rock that feels vital and immediate. It draws on tropes without feeling derivative.

10. “Cauterizing Asphalt” – Ghosts of Searchlight. Another surf-rock band with Ghosts in the title, but this one meshes surf-rock with post-rock admirably.

11. “Holding Pattern” – Sleep Diet. Take slacker rock and run it through a heavy Songs:Ohia filter and you’ll get this slow-motion, nearly-deconstructed indie-rock track. It’s a moving, earnest 8:43.

12. “Ornamentalities” – Drone San. Vaporwave, skittering beats, post-rock and more collide in a fascinating mix.

13. “Smile (from You)” – Lex (de Kalhex). Headbobbing, engrossing instrumental hip-hop.

November 2021 Singles 1

1. “Rosid” – The Cotton Modules. The opening track of the album-length collaboration between composer Jesse Solomon Clark, digital uncovererer/author/game designer/now-lyricist Robin Sloan, and an AI program which produced the surprisingly-lovely voices pairs angelic (but slightly-roughed-up) soprano vocals with murky, grumbling electronic textures. The productive contrast between soaring-in-the-cathedral and mucking-about-in-the-digital-fount creates a surprisingly beautiful piece that resists easy classification. You’ve heard AI music before, but this is not a schtick: it’s real art, with an AI as part of it. (You can read about the album’s creation here.) Aside: If you aren’t reading Robin Sloan’s e-mail missives, you need to be doing that. They are the most fun and interesting thing I read on the internet. (I read a lot of internet.) Highly recommended.

2. “Black Rhythm Happening” – Makaya McCraven. A rework of a 1969 cut from Sun Ra trumpeter Eddie Gale, this funky, drum-driven version puts a premium on groove and mood. It feels very much like I imagine block parties in the ’70s to sound like, complete with flute and joyous community vibes. Highly recommended.

3. “TV Bra™” – VOKA GENTLE. There’s only one Cake, but if there were two Cakes, Voka Gentle would be the Other Cake. This wacky, wild, outsider-pop jam combines marimba, gnarly guitar, percussion, puppets, the titular object, a hypeman, and more in a vicious takedown of wearable technology, sex in advertising, and email marketing. It’s like “Comfort Eagle” but for junk products instead of televangelists. Highly recommended.

4. “Hold Your Own” – BPMoore. Beautiful contemporary composition that includes feathery strings, reverb-heavy piano, deep-pocket drums, and a sense of awe. Rare for something to be both elegant and punchy, but that’s what we’ve got here.

5. “Gallup, NM” – SUSS. I just really love ambient country, and this piece by SUSS is everything I love about it: meticulous soundscapes created with a minimum of instrumentation, peaceful vibes that yet maintain motion, a Western sense of space, and an overall reverence (for the natural world? for New Mexico? For the West?) that is rare to find.

6. “Diabolo” – Ross Goldstein. Goldstein plays to the beautiful, peaceful, mellifluous strengths of the mellotron here, letting the solo notes of the melodic percussion ring out and hang in the air. It’s a tranquil, meditative piece, creating a mood without dominating the space.

7. “The Edge of High Trace (with Heather Sommerlad)” – Dan Munkus. Effectively fuses Godspeed-style post-rock textures with an improvisational feel. Instead of long, repetitive structures building to a point, the elements of the piece morph and change unexpectedly. The results are an enigmatic, surprising song.

8. “Light Memoir” – Charbonneau / Amato. Somehow turns a motorik melodic pattern and a gently skittering electronic beat into a piece with the heart of an Album Leaf piece. An impressive transformation.

9. “Endearment” – Mixtaped Monk. The frighteningly prolific Arka Sengupta delivers prog and its sub-genres most of the time, but this opener to Kaleidoscopic Desires is a pensive piece of delicate post-rock with vibes from the Indian subcontinent. It’s tender and complex.

10. “A Tu Lado” – Dos Santos. My obsession with Bomba Estereo has gotten me very interested in alt-Latinx work. This is a compelling piece of work in that genre, fusing rhythms, tempos, and tones in an evocative and engaging way.

11. “Orb Weaver” – Natalie Jane Hill. Elegant, free flowing, and yet speedy, this folk track balances tensions deftly. Hill’s lovely vocal performance caps off the experience.