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Month: May 2022

May Singles 4 2022

1. “C’mon Armageddon” – Fantastic Cat. This is a perfect alt-country barnburner that evokes the sounds and lyrics of Bob Dylan, Josh Ritter, Langhorne Slim and many more. Also, the jokes in the credits are specifically for anyone who has ever been in a band; I couldn’t stop laughing about the jokes for a half-hour. (You have to watch the whole video to get the jokes, though.) Highly recommended.

2. “All of the Women” – Allison Russell. This politically timely song from Canadian songwriter Russell’s late May 2021 release Outside Child screams in its banjo-driven roots vibe. Subtle, angry brilliance oozes from Russell’s vocals. Highly recommended. —Lisa Whealy

3. “Jenny and James” – Wes Collins. This is storytelling folk in pure form: Collins’ smooth vocal delivery spins a tale of people trying so hard. The arrangement is just about as picture-perfect as it can get, too. Highly recommended.

4. “Sirena”  – Lisa Morales. Morales celebrates her cultural heritage in this reverie, an homage to the sirens of the night. Braving the dance of love, Morales shines, letting her nimble vocal style fly. She weaves a stunning contrast to the intricate Spanish guitar work that is the foundation of her EP El Amor No Es Cobarde. —Lisa Whealy

5. “While We’re Here” – M. Lockwood Porter. Alt-country songwriter Porter returns with an earnest assessment of personal and professional meaning, in light of his father’s death. The heartbreakingly honest vocal delivery fits wonderfully atop the restrained and lovely arrangement.

6. “Dog Stay Down” – Opus Kink. Opus Kink are at their unhinged best here, throwing down a near-chaotic mix of folk-pop, funk, punk, Nick Cave, Gogol Bordello, and … wrestling. You’ve not heard anything like Opus Kink before.

7. “Flow Clasico” – Ankris. Columbian duo Ankris create the mood of true love and its dance of misplaced passions. Despite its light musicality, nuanced production choices drive the narrative here: Hot and cold, burning with spoken word desire and a Latin beat. Haven’t we all watched that special someone slip out of our lives, cold as ice? —Lisa Whealy

8. “Humble Heroes –  Demon and Lion. Demon and Lion might be known only as the Las Vegas act that sings in English, Italian, Spanish, French, and Portuguese. But this original song’s beauty, beyond its message, is the vocal tone that results from the blending of accents. —Lisa Whealy

9. “CHEERS” – Jordy Benattar. I love a good protest song, and this low-key acoustic-pop tune really is one (albeit an unusual one). Benattar rails against Gen Z / late Millenial ennui, taking the state of normal life to task in this surprisingly fresh and subtle tune.

10. “I Want More”  – KALEO. KALEO might have earned rock supergroup status, but they did so by ignoring conventions. Instead they sing folk songs in their native language and perform in Iceland’s Skálholt Cathedral, one of its most holy and historic places: the center of ecclesiastic power for nearly 700 years. They chose to film a stripped orchestral performance with JJ Julius Son solo.This video’s magnificence is the strings, that include violins (Sigrún Harðardóttir, Ásta Kristín Pjetursdóttir, Guðbjartur Hákonarson, Chrissie Guðmundsdóttir), violas (Karl James Pestka and Þórunn Harðardóttir) and cellos (Unnur Jónsdóttir, Hrafnhildur Marta Guðmundsdóttir, and Júlía Mogensen). —Lisa Whealy

11. “Hangover Game” – MJ Lenderman. Lenderman throws the listener right into the sordid details of an athlete’s life (and death?), set to a scuzzy indie/garage rock shuffle. Hits the spot right between Pavement and the Mountain Goats.

Premeire: Jacob Faurholt’s “Madness on the Rise”

The Belgian surrealist Rene Magritte once said that art evokes the mystery without which the world would not exist. Denmark’s Jacob Faurholt invites us into the garden with his hypnotic  “Madness on the Rise” from Raw Onion Records.

Sonically simple, the song is the best example of production restraint to come along in some time. Emotive, controlled vocal delivery coincides with each heavy bass line that overwhelms the darkness. Faurholt’s lyrics are a descent into the mental twists of this songwriter’s genius. But that is just the start. Partnered with Trine Omø delivering ethereal backing vocals, the merging of Monty Python-esque cut-out animation and child-like wonder sets these surrealist visuals in motion.  This is the stuff of nightmares, with its own haunting soundtrack.

Faurholt’s 10th studio album When the Spiders Crawl features twelve songs written and self-produced at the artist’s home studio, often capturing the essence of his music in the wee hours between sundown and dawn. The surreal “Madness on the Rise” and its video’s visual aesthetic complement the birth of the upcoming release. 

A limited vinyl pre-order of When the Spiders Crawl is now available. —Lisa Whealy

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Premiere: “Broken Fangs” by Andrew Adkins

Usually Lisa or Stephen write a premiere on their own, but “Broken Fangs” spoke to us both in different ways. So we teamed up to do a duo premiere! 

Andrew Adkins’s “Broken Fangs” seems the perfect introduction to his upcoming album Rattlesnake Motions. A true child of Nashville (the music city), Adkins’ skill as a songwriter transforms an inner dialogue into a song displaying the reality of a self-realization’s horrific truth. 

When talking with Adkins in the past, he revealed his love of analog retro sonic textures. Stripped, this song feels like the end of a really long party. Distant, trippy synthesizers frame a constant drum beat carrying the tambourine-wielding lost soul forward. Translated into film, the perpetual victim of every horror story we know fumbles on in a haze. Andrew Adkins delivers the metaphor-rich “Broken Fangs” as a mystic badge of courage. –Lisa Whealy 

“Broken Fangs” is an unusual, almost eerie neo-soul jam. It has the soul of a Beck song in its rattling rhythms and speak-sing vocal delivery. The guitars and funky bass in the intro and chorus peg it as a soul jam. Yet the lyrics and processed vocal tone emit the ominous vibes of a latter-day Flaming Lips burner, as Adkins mentions “vampire bodies with broken fangs” before dropping into a (yes) mystical-sounding bridge featuring hand percussion prominently. It is a wild, unusual cut that is incredibly tight musically with vibes that are way out there. –Stephen Carradini

Premiere: CLIFFWALKER’s “Punching Clocks”

CLIFFWALKER is an incredibly rad name for a band. The Portland duo of Cliff Hayes (bass, keys) and A. Walker Spring (vibes, drums, keys, guitar) have more radness than just that going on, though. This instrumental outfit has some impressive vision, as displayed on “Punching Clocks.”

“Punching Clocks” is the sort of thing that the word post-rock was made for: a fuzzed-out rock guitar (and/or bass!) line duets with melodic percussion (vibes, the actual instrument) to create impressive vibes (the feelings). It rocks, but not in the way that we think that rock rocks. (It also doesn’t rock the way most post-rock does, but that’s another post.) It’s rock put in the service of other moods, and we are the better for it.

Instead, the interplay of the leads produces the experience of a spy-movie chase scene. The careful, tasteful percussion provides good guardrails: the low cymbals offer energy to the piece while the rock-solid rhythms hold the performances back from going off the rails. As it is, the piece delightfully teeters on the edge of chaos, if only because it’s rare to hear this sort of combo go at it (Garage a Trois / all Mike Dillon projects notwithstanding). It’s a distinctive entry in a fun space, and that is a great thing to celebrate.

Cliff Hayes was kind enough to give us a word on the song: “‘Punching Clocks’ draws inspiration from the daily dread of going to a job you dislike and the conditioning of human existence to the dictates of time. We partition up our lives and our identities to meet the demands set upon us by society and its concept of time.”

Painted Gray Sky EP by CLIFFWALKER lands on June 24. Catch CLIFFWALKER on Instagram.

May Singles 3: Sing-y

1. “Handles” – Half-handed Cloud. The hectic, blink-and-you-miss-it indie-pop of Half-handed Cloud is back in full form. John Ringhofer blasts through more sonic and lyrical ideas than seem possible in a tidy 122 seconds. Highly recommended.

2. “On Again” – Lightning Cult. Rare is the music video that ascends to the level of short film, but the video for this Grandaddy-esque fuzzy indie-pop cut is a whole real world in 4:19. This is easily the most evocative, thoughtful, interesting music video I’ve seen this year–and for some years before that. Highly recommended.

3. “turned engine” – Joe Rainey, Allie Bearhead. Pow Wow singer Rainey puts his and Bearhead’s vocals forefront above a fusion of elegaic strings (Alistair Sung on cello and Mayah Kadish on violin, of Stargaze Orchestra) and subtly ominous electronics. The song shifts partway through into an exciting field recording of a Pow Wow, augmented by punchy electronic hits. A lot going on in this piece, and Rainey puts it all together smoothly.

4. “Lost Room” – Hourloupe. IC fave Anar Badalov provides the eclectic, vaguely dystopic electro/acoustic soundscapes; Frank Menchaca offers the poetry on top of the nylon string guitars and ominous synths. It’s a distinctive combination.

5. “Musakayike” – Madalitso Band. This duo from Lilongwe, Malawi describe themselves as using “joyful vocals, four-string guitar, babatoni and cow-skin kick drum.” The results are truly enthusiastic tunes that make me want to dance. This one in particular gets my head bobbing and my hips shaking.

6. “Adore” – James McLeod, AARYS. A high-quality, downtempo pop love song; no more, no less.

7. “Holiday Forever” – Saint Social. The new project from IC fave Quinn Erwin hearkens back to early Afterlife Parade pop-rock, which is wonderful. There’s some Leagues-style minimalist vibes in the guitar/bass/drums instrumental approach, and the overall results are joyous and bright.

8. “Gone” – Pete Muller. “Gone” is the rare piano-pop tune that jumps up and smacks me across the face. The combination of lyrics, vocal delivery, piano performance, and the extremely attractive architecture/interior design of the video make this relationship-conflict song a winner.

9. “Other Way Home” – Meredith Lazowski. An easygoing, preternaturally chill alt-folk/alt-country tune that features Lazowski’s excellently delivered vocals. Feels like Lazowski is in the room with me.

10. “You’ll Have 2 Deal With Me” – Chaperone Picks. Another high-quality slice of 4-track acoustic work that blends the specific and the general in a somewhat surrealist vision.

May Singles 2: Peaceful

1. “Caddo Lake” – Cameron Knowler & Eli Winter. This duo makes two guitars sound like one flowing, rippling, elegant instrument. This piece by Michael Chapman is about as peaceful as I can imagine guitars being. Just lovely. Highly recommended.

2. “Altar of Tammy” – Mary Lattimore and Paul Sukeena. This harp and electric guitar duo create unusual waves of complex tension: a cave exploration teeming with potential but as yet unrealized danger; a mid-flight rumination on a space adventure of unknown time and distance; the first drops of rain from the ominous storm forming off in the distance. Highly recommended.

3. “Richness of Peace” – José Medeles w/ M. Ward. Medeles and Ward come together for slowcore Americana par excellence: guitars warble and wander, a rattling snare accompanies, a sense of distance permeates the landscape. It’s a tribute to Fahey, not by covering his work, but by invoking it. I love it. Highly recommended.

4. “Rain after Sun” – Held by Trees. Here in Phoenix, rainy days are tantamount to holidays. Thus, I’m a little obsessed with the sound of rain. That sound opens this deliciously slow-moving low-key jazz/post-rock/slowcore piece, and the feel of being encapsulated by falling water runs through the whole work.

5. “Mushroom Dance” – Modern Biology. I don’t usually quote the press release, but the genesis of this piece is so fascinating that I thought I’d let them tell you: “To create his new Earth Day single, the Vancouver-based musician and biologist brought his modular synth rig into the forest near his house and collaborated with a mushroom – using the bioelectricity of the organism to trigger note changes in the synth.” Well! The results are beautiful and surprisingly not that different from more traditionally programmed modular synth work. Nature! It knows what’s up!

6. “Temporary Shelter from the Storm” – Arthur Jeffes. The heartbeat at the center of this piano-and-strings piece grounds the work: giving it solidity while also holding the rushing piano in place. The carefully processed melodic percussion surrounding the core of the work gives it a unique, warm vibe.

7. “Moving Slowly” – Wilson Trouvé. A beautiful chamber-orchestra piece with more motion than the title would suggest. The strings, piano, and gentle percussion push this elegant work forward in a lovely way.

8. “Acceptance” – Ben Crosland. A gentle, unhurried piano rumination that reaches an almost iconically romantic mood with ease.

9. “Mm III” – Stephen Emmer. High-drama work here from pianist/composer Emmer, building out a whole scene around a roving piano approach.

Seth Walker’s I Hope I Know strikes a deeply heartfelt chord

I don’t think that I am very different from most of you that fall, heart and soul, into life’s sonic escape hatch. Music is transcendent. Like a New Orleans funeral procession celebration marching in the North Carolina backwoods, Seth Walker’s I Hope I Know is one of the most heartfelt records I’ve heard in decades.

Weighty statement, right? Beginning recording work in 2019, life’s personal tragedies stopped production. The pandemic turned the world upside down. An album like this connects us all, erasing our differences by sliding rhythms into toe tapping agreements. Our shared experiences over the past few years resonate with each guitar note given the space to breathe. This release, on Royal Potato Family, is pure artistry.

Walker’s 11th studio recording and collaboration with longtime producer Jano Rix (The Wood Brothers) seems to defy the cultural and personal chaos that helped define this music. Seven originals and three covers weave a rich, textured palette to match the silky-smooth vocal tone Walker delivers with each note. Walker struts in with the bluesy soul cool of opener “The Future Ain’t What It Used To Be,” which feels like a fight song concerning the decimation many of us felt over the past few years.

I must confess, “Why Do I Cry Anymore” feels like every emotion that pretends to act as a shield against the flood of grief. Lyrically straightforward and musically uncluttered, its power rests in the space between vocals and the production. Walker flows  into the uplifting “I Hope I Know,” showing its role as the connective tissue of the record. Lush, spacious instrumentation wraps around stand up bass. The foundational concept of moving forward finds solid ground to blossom and grow. “Remember Me” alludes to connections disrupted but hanging on. Brilliant instrumentation at 2:19 feels like film noir; stepping out into a smoke-filled jazz club with piano, sax and flute joining the serenade. Amazing! 

“Satisfy My Mind” is a gritty homage to humanity’s desire to strive towards something more. Soulful, dark and haunting, it reminds me that music finds ways to connect us spiritually. Since 2019’s Are You Open? changed Walker’s personal and professional life, “Tennessee Blues” seems a perfect fit when making sense of where life takes us. Van Morrison’s “Warm Love” seems like a defiant return to the joy of life, capturing throwback vibes. 

“River” offers a dark, hellish blues celebration, followed by the quick hit “Buckets of Rain.” “Buckets of Rain” brings to mind every flood experienced from Katrina to today. We go on, despite insurmountable odds. This album is stunningly sequenced: we can rest in Walker’s final song “Peace in the Valley,” with its simple instrumentation and peaceful vocals. 

Grief, resilience, and hope are what singing the blues and all that jazz is about. On Seth Walker’s I Hope I Know, he bared his soul, too. —Lisa Whealy

May Singles 1: Noisy

1. “Wonderful – Purist Mix” – The Fierce and the Dead. TFATD just released their first song with vocals, but they were kind enough to make a Purist mix that is instrumental-only for, uh, me. Thanks, y’all. The non-vocals version of the track modulates between being a dark, fuzzed-out ripper and an exploratory post-rock/jazz fusion. It’s an exciting track that shows off TFATD’s mastery of post-rock songwriting and excellent mix/master engineering. Highly recommended.

2. “Epigenesis” – The Kompressor Experiment. The Kompressor Experiment consistently does heavy post-rock really well. Here they pull back from some of the doomy thunder for a wider sonic palate, incorporating some screamin’ guitar melodies, piano, and generally less claustrophobic approach. But don’t worry: they still bring riffs. It’ll resonate with fans of heavy post-rock/post-metal.

3. “Machines” – EMÆNUEL. Takes the dense mood of bangers like Traversable Wormhole and strips out the force, replacing the thumb with skittering beats, microrhythms, detailed textural elements, and subtle dance overtures. It’s impressive alt-techno sonic sculpture.

4. “Reflected Sun” – Cliffwalker. Rad post-rock with gnarly guitar tone, delicate vibes (like, actual vibes, the instrument), and an atmosphere of total cool.

5. “A Beat for Peace” – Cemento Atlantico. You’ve heard a lot about Cemento Atlantico from me recently, and you’re just gonna keep hearing about it. This piece, a tribute piece with proceeds going to Ukrainian relief efforts, is a sinuous, winding, thumping work that balances acoustic and electronic brilliantly.

6. “Value Kit” – Halosar. Here’s a really pleasant cross between ’80s new age (a la Andreas Vollenweider), subtly glitchy idm, and vaporwave. If you don’t like any of those three things, though, this may be outside your zone. RIYL very specific sonic concerns.

7. “Uncanny” – Danny Villareal. Packs a lot into two minutes: alt-Latinx vibes, downbeat electro stuff, wiggly experimental stuff, jazzy rhythms, all sorts of things. Love it.

Premiere: Cemento Atlantico’s “Trung Sisters”

Cemento Atlantico‘s Rotte Interotte has been one of my favorite releases of the year so far. The album is an enthusiastic love letter to globetrotting: a unique electronic album composed of an amalgam of sounds from far-flung corners of the world that meet in unusual ways. I’m honored to host the American premiere of the video for “Trung Sisters,” a neat cut from the record.

The video for “Trung Sisters” is a study on packing a lot of meaning into a minimalist concept. (I’m becoming fond of these types of videos!) The song itself is a walking-speed electro cut that uses a recording of an improvised lute session in Hanoi as the lead melody. The lute is undergirded by patient yet subtly insistent beats that keep the piece going forward.

The video plays into the tensions of slow and fast, contrasting images against each other at length. The first concept places a solid floral textile in the mid-ground, with hands from a dancer in the foreground and a full shot of an elegant dancer in the background. The layering of static and moving images produces a tension that reflects that of the song.

The second concept, which starts at 1:15 and continues for the rest of the piece, manipulates the image of a slow-motion dancer (with head covered) in a variety of ways. The image gaps, stutters, morphs, doubles, has a second dancer image superimposed on the original, even is subsumed in an image of raging fire. Given the story of the Trưng sisters, there are many layers of symbolism, context, and commentary here. It is a video that honors thought and consideration over repeated watchings. It’s a great piece.

Cemento Atlantico‘s Rotte Interotte is out now.