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Quick Hits: Ben Seretan / Phraktal / Myles Cochran

Ben Seretan‘s Cicada Waves is a brilliant, low-key album that pairs delicate, improvisational piano with field sounds of a remote corner of Georgia (US). There’s all sorts of bugs, birds, trees, rain, and general outside-noise mixed only a notch below the level of the piano, giving the record a gorgeously agrarian feel.

I lived in the deep South for a while and miss these sounds; the beautiful melodies on top of these sounds only accentuate what is an unexpectedly emotional album for me. Every track is wonderful. The highlight is “Fog Rolls Out Rabun Gap,” which features a duet of sorts with a particularly vocal bird. Highly recommended. (RIP that piano though.)

I like my techno self-aware and somewhat self-conscious: I want to hear the artist fighting against techno’s conventions while also acknowledging that some of the conventions are pretty darn fun (which is why they’re conventions). Phraktal‘s Nightwalk does that: there’s a clear throughline of dusky, minor-key techno bits that would allow this out on a dance floor, but there’s a bunch of low-key reservations against the big, blaring EDM-esque techno that give this character. The titular track takes about 45 seconds of concept and dribbles it out over a nearly 7-minute span; it’s conceptually akin to deep house, but the elements of the track consistently fade away or disappear. It’s like dissolving paper, in the best way; it keeps you on your toes with interest not waiting for the drop, but waiting for whatever happens next (whatever it may be).

“Head V Heart” and “Hypnophunk” have some more traditional four-on-the-floor techno elements, but subvert them in some way. “Head V Heart” even includes a fragmentary female vocal sample (talk about conventions) but does the same fade-all-the-way-out trick from the title track. “Hypnophunk” keeps the listener off-kilter with a floating synth that is just outside the vibe of the song, slowly pulling the center off-balance. By the time “Cabal” comes around, it’s a relief to get a straightforward techno cut with some Daft-Punk-in-Tron ominous vibes. Ultimately, this a record that those pining for the dance floor will recognize, and those who like their dancefloors a little weirder will embrace.

Myles Cochran‘s Unsung is an instrumental acoustic folk-style record with some serious verve. Cochran’s approach is not traditionalist in form, content, or title. As soon as I saw “Love Is As Beautiful As Pizza” on the tracklist, I knew I had to review it. (That one is a wiggly, introspective, early-’00s, Parachutes-style rumination; which, why not?) The album is composed mostly of thoughtful, mid-tempo pieces that are long on mood and timbre. There’s a lot more texture here than pickin’–this record bears more resemblance to Balmorhea than bluegrass.

“Crab of Many Shells” accentuates unusual guitar rhythms above a moody miasma, while the walking-speed “The Window” is sort of like a dark Mountain Goats track with the piano playing John Darnielle’s voice. “Churrito” is a similar vibe, with some added Latinx influence from the title and the guitar style. Closer “It’s Like This, It’s Like That” is one of the more eerie tunes, giving the listener a weird vibe on the way out (just for fun). The arrangements are tight without feeling constrained, the melodies are vibrant without feeling traditional, and the whole work comes off like a charm.