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Evan Wardell does it all for his unique songwriting vision

We’ve nearly gotten to the end of this long strange trip called 2020, hanging on together. For people like me, music connects us, communicating our shared experiences while we do this dance called life: together, apart. Thankfully, Evan Wardell’s debut In Like a Lion // Out Like a Light via Moo Moo Records glows with San Francisco’s surreal sonic luminescence, a perfect soundtrack for this bizarre year.

Wardell’s self-produced songwriting wraps his Martha’s Vineyard roots into an indie-rock palette that feels like something completely new. An engineer at San Francisco’s iconic Hyde Street Studios, artistry bleeds from each thought-provoking track on this record. The musician’s cover art is sheer perfection, displaying a disjointed connection. The cover art concept reflects that each part is necessary for the album’s singular experience. 

What makes this record so good is its relatability. Opener “Gettin Across” is where frantic self-searching meets anxiety head-on. Mixed perfectly, this is a cacophony of chaos attempting to find a musical grounding point. 

Is “Love Song” an attempt for Wardell to fit in? Maybe, but an undertone of sarcasm reminds listeners that this troubadour came from Martha’s Vineyard to the San Francisco scene. This one is a gem, as simple, authentic vocals ooze insecurity bolstered with bravado. Wardell’s production choices reflect a nuanced blend of heavy backline with subtle lift through each angst-filled lyric. The tempo changes of the acoustic-guitar-driven “Get By” set it among the best songs of the year. Angry, pensive, fearful, depressed; 2020 has helped us get in touch with our humanity. So thank you, Evan Wardell, for putting words and music to the crazy that’s been in my head.

“In Like A Lion // Out Like A Light” is a fitting title track to an album that took seven years of songwriting to come to fruition. There’s no doubt this is the title track; it’s gritty and dark, as if The Allman Brothers Band whiplashed into a Kurt Cobain experience. Halfway through, “Holding On” is a peaceful rest inward. Heady and nearly spoken word, this rhythmically-driven track is a look back on life and regrets. It seems harsh. But how many of us are afraid to follow our dreams, bringing forth one excuse or another to support our inaction? “Healthy Wise Free” serves as a sonic tonic. Reminiscent of greats like The Byrds, engaging lyricism is punctuated with stunningly fuzzed-out instrumentation.  

“Wandering” lilts like the best country songs, but Wardell treads firmly in the land of Billy Strings or the late, great Neal Casal. Less limited by genre, talent like his waltzes freely; a credit to his years working in the recording industry, exposed to a vast artistic array. “Giving Up” feels like an understated masterpiece: an indie-rock song with lyrics full of millennial self-loathing. Rivers Cuomo feels like the muse here in this triumph.“BLS” flows in with a laid back rock vibe, while the genius of “With Teeth” recalls  “Bang A Gong” from British rockers T-Rex (inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in 2020!).  Heavy, moody, and with a bit of glam, this is the Bay Area sound at its best.

Closing with “Like A Ghost,” there’s no mistake: this album has been birthed from a man whose passion is music in all forms. Soaring, this anthem serves a dual role as a eulogy to any predictability mainstream careers provide. Clearly following his passion, Evan Wardell’s In Like a Lion // Out Like a Light is my favorite album this year. —Lisa Whealy

Kid Dakota Sings the End of the World

Remember, cockroaches survive when the world ends. This year, we’ve experienced the end of life and death as we understand it. On his third release Age of Roaches, Kid Dakota (Darren Jackson) embarks on an existential sonic survival trip. The record, released on Graveface Records, meets the moment with a fury. 

Opener “Age of Roaches” sets the tone for the album’s eight tracks, telling the tale of a world that has succumbed to society’s destruction. Plodding and hopeful, there is a plaintive innocence, like a wandering minstrel working to figure out the end of the world. Rich harmonies with weird echoes evoke a cacophony of confusion. Roaches, here we go! “Homesick” flows like that uptempo escape to nowhere. It’s sonically harsh rock with an almost Phantom of the Opera feel. “Prairie Flowers” descends into the darkness of Jackson’s vocal tone. Stunning, stark, and plaintive, this track is the defining moment of the album. It echoes with absence. Carefully chosen samples propel this song beyond its brilliant lyricism. 

“Two Days” feels like the gunfighter failing to save the day. Restrained instrumentation and stellar mixes makes this song feel like a ghost town, with the timbre of Jackson’s vocal the shining instrument on this cut. Each note purposeful, “Cold War” sets in to a plodding, methodical dissection. The track keeps an ethereal harmonica thread as a point of connection.  

Jackson’s engineering team–Alan Sparhawk, Jake Larson, John Kuker, Nick Tveitbakk, Justin Korhonen, Jeremy Ylvisaker, Kevin Bowe, and Jackson himself–makes the album shine. Boiler Room Mastering’s Collin Jordan helps create the immersive experience of notes and lyrics woven together in an intricate tapestry. Sequencing is the hidden star of this record that produces a listener’s immersive experience; the perfect ordering of the songs should share the production credits just as much as the mixing and mastering. 

Heading out of the record, “Stephen Hawking” continues to contemplate humanity’s existence through a cacophony of sound. (Even darkness finds light.) Such is the case in “Futurecide,” via its essence of 1970s surf music. Its upbeat, infectious, light optimism contrasts with surgically precise lyricism. It’s like Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys befriending Charles Manson. Where does darkness swallow the light; or is it vice versa? 

Kid Dakota’s Age of Roaches certainly was engineered with the audiophile in mind. The record is a true sonic treat, dark survivalist imagery and all. Perfectly textured, each note perfectly positioned for the surround sound experience, this is an album meant to be heard from front to back.–Lisa Whealy

Lisa’s Songs of the Year

This year has been an adventure, to say the least. I’m going out on a limb here, but the pandemic has shaped the tsunami of challenges we’ve all overcome. Personally, I have grieved the loss of live music.  I’ve recognized the depths to which music heals my soul. I’ve evolved in my musical tastes; rather, my appreciation for great songwriting has deepened. Our shared experiences during 2020 helped us make sense of unprecedented events together, like the killing of George Floyd, the pandemic, and a sitting American president of the United States waging war on democracy. In no particular order, this playlist represents the past year, mixtape-style. As Stephen says, without further adieu: 

  1. This Land is Your Land – Kris Orlowski
  2. American Crazy – Brothers Osborne
  3. Blessed – Charles Ellsworth
  4. Cry Over Nothing – The Wood Brothers 
  5. Breathe Forever – The Suitcase Junket 
  6. Venice Canals – Passenger
  7. It Goes On – Sun Tailor 
  8. Get By – Evan Wardell 
  9. Listening to the Music  – Zephaniah OHora 
  10. Saturday Night Sage – Noah Lekas with Howlin Rain
  11. Age of Roaches – Kid Dakota
  12. The Dark Isn’t Right – Jacob Faurholt
  13. Coliseum (Live)  – Howlin Rain
  14. Blurred Out – Thunder Dreamer
  15. Soul of This Town – Oliver Wood
  16. A Little Slander, A Little Lace – Clara Engel
  17. Lay it All On Me – Leslie Mendelson
  18. Silver Moon (For Neal) – Kenny Roby
  19. Bury My Bones – Whiskey Myers
  20. The Way of All Meat – Patrick Phelan
  21. Evil is but a Shadow – Miley Cyrus 
  22. Fire – Black Pumas
  23. More – The Suitcase Junket 
  24. Die Alone – FNEAS
  25. Grab Ahold – Seth Walker 
  26. Patience – The Lumineers —Lisa Whealy

Stephen’s Albums of the Year

These were the records that kept me company on this long, long year. Thanks to everyone who was a part of IC this year–I’ll be back in January for another year!

  1. Ezra Feinberg – Recumbent Speech. The most assured, clear statement of a unique compositional vision that I encountered this year. Blends minimalism, melodicism, new age, and more into evocative, inspiring pieces. An easy pick for album of the year.
  2. Gabriel Birnbaum – Nightwater. A charming, careful record that blends indie-pop, ambient, and soundtrack music into a deeply personal vision of the ephemera that make up homes, neighborhoods, and life in general.
  3. Standards – Fruit Island. Math-rock but replace the harsh guitar patterns and brittle guitar tone with delicate melodies and warm, round guitar tone. Truly beautiful.
  4. Joshua Crumbly – Rise. A brilliant debut from bassist Crumbly, who mixes jazz, rock and ambient in these lush, svelte pieces that display grief and triumph.
  5. Chassol – Ludi. A truly mind-bending record that interprets the rhythms and patterns of the human voice in regular situations (playing games, having conversations) as the grounds for piano-led outsider R&B, weird jazz, and ELO-style pop cuts. A monumental creative achievement in scope and vision.
  6. Fernando Lagreca – Infamous. A dense, punchy collection of dark, thumping techno cuts. The arrangements and melodies stand out throughout, making this the rare techno album to feel strong as an album and not just as pieces for the club.
  7. YĪN YĪNThe Rabbit That Hunts Tigers. Engaging, energetic Thai-style funk with grooves for days.
  8. Sen3 – Live. Fuses post-rock and jazz in a deeply satisfying way.
  9. STARFKR – Ambient 1. STARFKR’s attempts at ambient are the sort of ambient tracks you’d expect from an erstwhile dance-rock outfit: bubbling, burbling, bouncing pieces with lots of melodies. Still peaceful, but in a “small stream moving quickly” sort of way.
  10. Lindstrøm & Prins Thomas – III. This immersive collaboration splits the difference between ambient, techno, and sweeping soundtrack work to produce what seems like one long sonic hug. Ideal for this year, truly.

Stephen’s Songs of the Year

This year was an expansive one for me, as I spent a lot of time expanding my musical boundaries but also circled back to some genres that are old friends. This playlist of songs of the year is set up like a mixtape: calm and warm at the beginning, a short upbeat period, dark and stormy in the middle, then cheery and upbeat at the end. These are thus not in a “best to least” order. Without further adieu:

  1. “The Becalming” – Veldhans.
  2. “Already Am” – Will Samson & Message to Bears
  3. “This Land Is Your Land” – Kris Orlowski
  4. “The Seminar” – Stables
  5. “The Earth Is Flat” – Alexander Wren
  6. “Song for Nick Drake” – Grace Gillespie
  7. “San Francisco” – Racoon Racoon
  8. “Book of Witches” – Jake Aaron
  9. “Give Thanks” – Black Violin
  10. “Roger Ebert” – Clem Snide
  11. “Of a Million” – Thunder Dreamer
  12. “Heliotrope” – Runnner
  13. “Cribbage Champs” – Jake McKelvie and the Countertops
  14. “Pull Apart” – Summerooms & Samantha Eason
  15. “Nobody Knows” – Ellen Andrea Wang
  16. “All Will Be Well” – Blue Water Highway
  17. “Getaway Car” – Ezekiel Songs
  18. “Rest” – The Gray Havens
  19. “Let’s Leap” – Mesadorm
  20. “Inhale Exhale” – Anna Meredith
  21. “How Dare You” – Cameron Blake
  22. “Vista” – Escaper
  23. “First to the Feast” – Stagbriar
  24. “Mile” – Wisdom Water
  25. “210” – Matt Karmil
  26. “Tony Sendo” – Underground Canopy
  27. “Black Sorbet” – Closet Disco Queen
  28. “Kora” – GoGo Penguin
  29. “For Victor” – Joshua Crumbly
  30. “Palms Up” – Ezra Feinberg
  31. “QUO” – Martin Kohlstedt
  32. “The Actor” – Brief Candle
  33. “Crow” – Sam Carand
  34. “Saw You Through the Trees” – Eerie Gaits
  35. “Another One for Slug” – Dougie Stu
  36. “Mission Plan” – Matthew Shaw
  37. “Dis kô Dis kô” -YĪN YĪN
  38. “Nap” – Standards

The Quickest of Hits!

It’s the end of the year, which means it’s time for quick reviews of things I really want to celebrate before the year is out. Here we go! In no order:

Vermacht EP– Morgen Wurde & TIS.

Deep melodic techno grooves at maximum length, with six cuts taking up almost 60 minutes. (Going for that original meaning of EP: Extended Play.) The vibes are strong and the repetition of the grooves hits my sweet spot between mid-century minimalism, stark electronica, and melodic textures.

Agate – Losange.

Kraftwerk-ian computer music meets mid-century minimalism in a no-frills celebration of old-school electronics. Some of the tunes feel too formal and structured for my taste, but I feel this is a your-mileage-may-vary situation more than most. Kraftwerk fans know what I’m talking about. Also, shoutout to the rad emoji I got in the press email: ヽ༼ຈلຈ༽ノ

Everything We Will Leave Beyond Us – Collapse Under the Empire.

Maximum-scope post-rock with high ideals and chops to back those ideals up. I absolutely loved opener “Ark of Horizon,” as it showcases a unique viewpoint on post-rock full of electronica. The rest of the record is great in a PG.Lost vein–lots of charging guitars and big riffs. I’d work out to it in a heartbeat–or, as the case may be during cardio, lots of heartbeats.

Sleeping Through – Wilson Trouvé.

Gentle piano-led pieces with strings and fuzzy ambient sound deliver a sense of deep relaxation. The strings give emotional resonance and heft to the work, trading a little bit of peacefulness for a deeper connection with the heart. Anyone who uses static/fuzz this effectively (evocative without being overtly tape-deck nostalgic) get good marks in my book. Reminds me positively of Jason van Wyk’s work.

Facets – IS/WAS.

Thoughtful, interesting post-rock from 3/4ths of Last Builders of Empire that sneakily includes some dreamy thoughts (“Asha”) and Middle Eastern / Indian vibes (“Gorgias,” “Ashoka”) after the opening track. Still very guitar-forward, but breaks away from the quiet/loud/quiet/loud conventions for a more eclectic, art-school approach.

Familiar Future – Dougie Stu.

I’m really into grooves this year, and Dougie Stu’s jazz has a lot of them. The grooves, equally influenced by hip-hop and ambient, are solid but not overly self-conscious–this is a fun-loving record at the core. If you like flutes, there’s some real good flute jazz (“BB’s Birthday,” “Wind Chaser”). I’ve listened to this a ton as relaxing, upbeat, make-the-room better music, and I am thankful for Dougie Stu’s help in that.

Brave New World Symphony – Shanghai Restoration Project.

Maximalist, wide-ranging melodic electronic experimentation. Includes quirky, Anna Meredith-esque electro-pop (“Present Continuous”); Tycho-esche pieces of great scope and chipperness (“Quest for the Silver Bullet”); sleek techno jams (“Involuntary Prophet”); tropicalia (“Positive Disintegration”); and more. A bit scattered, but aren’t we all scattered in 2020?

December Singles, 2020

I’ll probably find a few last tracks to feature before the year is out, but this is our last big drop of the year for singles. We’ll have our year-end lists out soon. Thanks to all for reading Independent Clauses in 2020!

1. “Cribbage Champs” – Jake McKelvie and the Countertops. The latest folk-punk/art-folk/wacky troubadour work from McKelvie and his crew is equal parts cracked Matt Squires sardonic vocals, witty and precise Mountain Goats lyrics, and Clem Snide arrangements. This particular track is the ballad form of the trio, which showcases the outfits’s melodic chops (that bass work!!) with McKelvie singing about the inevitable loss of download confirmation keys as a symbol of relational failure. Highly recommended.

2. “Foxglove” – Ryan Dugré. Dugré’s guitar musings get accompaniment in his latest tune, as he fills out his often-spartan approach with keys, light percussion, and strings. The centerpiece is still the atypically melodic fingerpicking patterns on a guitar, but there’s a whole sonic family around the piece. The song starts off walking-speed and ambiguously cheerful, before greatly picking up the pace halfway through to ultimately turn out a sort of Penguin Cafe Orchestra piece. It’s a big step forward in Dugré’s work, which makes me very much look forward to his new album in 2021, Three Rivers. Highly recommended.

3. “Blue Canyon – I” – Michael A. Muller. This piano piece from Muller (ex-Balmorhea) is a delicate, beautiful piece that uses all the sounds of the piano to create more than your average piano piece. The sweep and rush of the actual machinery of the piano creates a sense of movement like a river that might run through the titular canyon.

4. “L’assoluto Naturale” – Morricone90 (Adam Minkoff). In mid-March, right as everything was going nuts, Minkoff released a collection of 54 covers of Ennio Morricone work, celebrating the composer’s 90th birthday. Morricone is most well-known for his soundtracks to Spaghetti Westerns (see Western Suite I and II for the truly iconic stuff), but his other work is great as well. This warm, relaxed, instrumental ballad shows a different side of Morricone; given the tenderness and touch of irony, it sounds like a Clem Snide track without vocals.

5. “Saturday Night Sage” – Noah C. Lekas featuring Howlin’ Rain. Lekas joins forces with Howlin’ Rain for this meaty spoken-word tease. Piano Man Pictures turned the song’s storyline into stark comic book imagery for the video. Released on Blind Owl, this lead single foreshadows the worlds to come in the album and accompanying book, available for preorder.–Lisa Whealy

6. “San Francisco” – Racoon Racoon. This cover of the iconic tune is just absolutely gorgeous. Racoon Racoon really can do no wrong when it comes to delicate, intricate, deeply emotional acoustic work. I don’t mention covers that often, but this one jumps off the page. Wow.

7. “For Nick Drake” – Grace Gillespie. A big ‘ol love letter to poets and Nick Drake, the tragic British folk singer. It’s delivered in a warm, delicate form that would make Drake (or the Unthanks) very pleased. The vocals are lilting and lovely.

8. “You Make Me Feel Brand New” – Dezron Douglas and Brandee Younger. This is technically a Stylistics cover, but once it’s been transferred to harp and double bass, it’s not that recognizable. That’s totally fine, because it’s a beautiful, compelling piece on its own–a transformation worth listening to.

9. “Cheb Mimoune (Dar Disku Edit)” – Abdel Kader. Imagine gated drums, ’80s techno-funk bass, and Egyptian keys working together, and you’re part of the way there to Dar Disku’s impressively out-there vision of dance music.

10. “See You Again // Autumn Sessions” – The Gray Havens. Always upvote The Gray Havens.

11. “India” – Kingdumb. This wubby, funky, march-beat electro cut has a sample from the film Bombay that provides the vocal life. This is a chipper, exciting, delightfully weird piece.

12. “Venus” – Bada-bada. I’m all about jazz/electronic crossovers. This piece has the dusky forward movement of an M83 jam plus jazz instrumentation taking the lead. This is the sort of piece that would work as a down moment in a club as well as in a jazz hall.

Quick Hit: Diamond Gloss

Diamond Gloss‘ FLK is a cross between minimalist composition and ambient vibes with some moments of low-key club electronica thrown in. Opener “Vocal Gloss” is a banger, as Diamond Gloss uses some patient bass to match a ringing arpeggiation and create the thump that people expect. But elsewhere the club aspect is tongue-in-cheek: “DJ Set Song” combines chipper arpeggiator, icy pad synths, and piano in any glacial, bass-less track. Follow-up “Project DJ” pulls the same trick with similar instruments but with more motion; there’s a remix in here somewhere that does turn this into a banger.

Elsewhere Diamond Gloss is more interested in art pieces, creating moods that are dense without being suffocating. “Project 2” includes breathy samples (or perhaps clips of prepared instruments?) against an insistent arpeggiator and wandering piano line without getting chaotic. It feels busy but without getting stressful. “Attic” is a glittering, cascading piece that dances around the ambient/club distinction. “August” is a sad, piano-led instrumental ballad. “Much Love” is a truly ambient piece, with layers of sounds woven together into a textural, slow-moving wall with spikes of activity. The whole album is lovely and clever, from the melodies to the arrangements to the song titles.

 

A Whale of a Split: Make Sure and Ezekiel Songs

Today I am absolutely thrilled to bring you news of an EP split between Make Sure and Ezekiel Songs. Longtime followers of this blog will certainly know Make Sure (and its predecessor band Fiery Crash, and its side project Summerooms), whom I cover often. This is the first time I’ve covered Ezekiel Songs, but not the first time I’ve covered the musicians behind the project: Kevin and Chris Skillern (Scales of Motion). But my reIationship with the Skillerns goes back even farther than covering Scales. I don’t get personal on this blog too often, but some things require a bit of backstory.

Back in 2002, my friend Brent said “I am starting a band and I play guitar.” I said, “Well, I can learn to play bass.” We recruited a drummer and called ourselves Tragic Landscape. (Throughout the history of this band, I kept trying to change the name, but to no avail.) After a brief Coldplay/The Fray period, we settled into an art-rock/post-rock/post-metal amalgam that was extremely out of step with everything else in the Tulsa scene. The band consisted of an emo singer who played bass riffs out of Ben Folds songs, an art-school guitarist, and a metalhead drummer. We also later recruited a jazz keyboardist/clarinetist. The guitarist was also a saxophone player and would sometimes swap the guitar for the sax and duet with the clarinet. Over metal drums. We were weird.

Around this time, emo was cool. Very cool. Lots of good emo bands running around (and one good post-rock band called the Programme, who were way out of our league). One of those good emo bands was Scales of Motion. I admired Scales of Motion because among all our peers, they seemed the most like they would actually like our music. They were also Christians and that meant a lot to me, as a Christian playing music. So, I put on my best music networking face and asked Scales of Motion if we could play a show together.

They said yes.

I was delighted out of my mind. We did the show and had a blast. Scales even did at least one more show with us where we were separately put on the same bill. It was awesome. I have always had a spot in my heart for Scales because they, among pretty much everyone else in the Tulsa music scene, kinda took a flyer on us. And Scales, as I mentioned above, was the brainchild of Kevin and Chris Skillern.

And now, all-time IC fave Make Sure is doing a split with the Skillerns under their Ezekiel Songs moniker. Where Scales of Motion was a noisy-but-thoughtful rock band, Ezekiel Songs is quiet-and-thoughtful indie-pop outfit. The patterned distorted electric guitar riffs have been traded for patterned acoustic guitar work. The backdrop has shifted to a peaceful, comforting frame: “Author of Love” is a bright, autumnal piece featuring snare rim-hits, shaker, sleigh bells, muted kick, and gently thrumming bass guitar work below the acoustic guitar and delicate electric guitar work. Kevin Skillern’s high tenor vocals gently soar over the mix, capping off the track in a delightful way. The lyrics are a plea for help, healing, and justice in a troubled time; what could be more beautiful?

Skillern then covers Make Sure’s “Getaway Car,” amping up the dreamy qualities of the track. The track shows how excellently matched these two artists are: the autumnal, acoustic-and-banjo approach is a highly complementary as well as complimentary fit with the original. There are also subtle differences: there’s some more staccato elements interspersed and accentuated in this track than in Make Sure’s (the banjo will do that to you, no matter how kindly you tap the strings). Yet the overall vibe feels dreamy due to inclusion of melodic percussion (marimba?), the vocal choices, and subtle arpeggiator work. It’s a great track.

Make Sure’s new contribution to the EP is “Hearing Yourself,” which is a very punchy track that is on the louder side of the Make Sure oeuvre. It’s not quite pop-punk, what with the twinkly top lines, but there’s a good amount of charging guitars that give this heft. The bridge is quiet and relaxed, giving a good break from the loud proceedings. The track seems to be an “outgrowing this town” song, which is a good fit in a pop-punk-esque frame. (The ka-chunk at the end of the track is very pop-punk.)

Make Sure’s cover of Ezekiel Songs’ “Coming Home” has a solid groove to it, as Josh Jackson ties stomping percussion and winding acoustic guitar together into a fun line. It has some ’90s-era chill Switchfoot vibes: rock approaches without actually going all the way to rocking.

All four of these tracks are highly entertaining, excellently developed pieces of autumnal indie-pop. You’ve got quiet and loud versions of the form here, so there’s diversity throughout. But overall, the quartet is highly consistent and much more cohesive than most splits are. As a bonus: you’re getting to support the Skillerns, whom I highly respect as people and musicians. Highly recommended.

This split comes supported by Renew the Arts and officially drops on December 4.

Singles: Give Thanks!

1. “Nightlight” – Suss. A relaxing, pastoral piece from the ambient-country pioneers that truly floats somewhere between ambient and country. The pedal steel weeps, but quietly. The ambient melodies stretch, but not so far as to become shapeless. The acoustic guitar holds it all together. It’s a country version of an Album Leaf song, and I love it.

2. “Hard to Give Thanks” – Red Spot Rhythm. “Hard to give thanks when you’re feeling low” is the refrain on this chipper, plucky, trad-inflected, major key folk romp. The hectic piano solo matches the ever-forward rhythm-section and choppy acoustic guitar for a punchy, upbeat, infectious ode to sadness.

3. “Give Thanks” – Black Violin. A fitting follow-up to “Hard to Give Thanks,” this uplifting, peaceful arrangement of the theme from “Ode to Joy” captures the reverent, hushed vibe I get from the holidays perfectly. I love this jam, and I look forward to putting it on my Christmas rotation this year and every year.

4. “Mirror Image” – Nick Schofield. A fluttery, loopy, breathy piece of electronica that yet feels organic and rich. This is a beautiful collection of sounds, arranged in a compelling manner.

5. “The Creator Has a Master Plan” – Dezron Douglas and Brandee Younger. This bass/harp jazz duo offers a delightfully refreshing, no-frills interpretation of a Pharoah Sanders & Leon Thomas tune. The work is light without losing vitality, and the performance has a perfect off-cuff feeling. People talking in the background and shout-outs from the performers at the end of the track contribute to the vibe. I absolutely love this. I miss live music so much, y’all.

6. “Involuntary Prophet” – Shanghai Restoration Project. This electronic cut has all the drive of a cyberpunk jam, but without the grit, grime, and urban decay of more Gibson-esque cuts. There’s a sense of drive and wonder, as sounds that approximate flute and piano give the piece lift. A highly compelling work.

7. “Hidden Depths” – Archie the Goldfish. This is maximum cool crammed into 3:55, with the bass/drums/guitar/trumpet combo sidling up with a truly laidback jam. The trumpet is smooth, the guitar is silky, the drums are tight, and the bass is grooving. Just the way I like it.

8. “Call Your Mom” – Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio. Now here’s a funky, groovy, strutting slice of musical goodness. This organ/guitar/drums combo is just looking for a party to crash, keeping the vibe going without acting like anyone’s trying too hard (a little hard–the solos are very good; but not too hard). This is headbobbing bliss.

9. “Kelvin (7300)” – 808 DOT POP. This is fine, Kraftwerk-esque computer music. Lots of big bass notes, computery treble, and counter-point mids. Might be a little austere for some, but I like the charm of the aggressively old-school vibe.

10. “Ark of Horizon” – Collapse Under the Empire. I admire a good band name when I see one, and Collapse Under the Empire is vividly evocative of sci-fi epics, historical sweep, and sudden change. “Ark of Horizon” is even more evocative. Without me telling you anything more, you probably guessed this was a post-rock song with big crescendoes and lots of emotion. I will tell you that it is that (although it’s more electronic than most post-rock) and also there are some deep bwaaaa sounds because let’s go all in.