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Music of Note – Spring 2017
As is often the case, I am drowning in music. It’s a good problem to have, because there is a ton of worthwhile music out there. Unfortunately, I have limited time to actually hear all the music that is sent to me, not to mention write about it. So I decided to group some notable releases into one post. These albums are reviewed in alphabetical order. Some of it I have featured on my radio show (https://www.mixcloud.com/eklisiewicz/), other tracks I have listened to repeatedly. Some of these releases are out, others will be out in coming weeks. Sorry if you were expecting a top ten list, but there is no real place to put a list of reviews like this.
93 Million Miles From the Sun – Without You Near (Bandcamp)
Doncaster, UK artist Nick Noble and his bandmates have produced a great new EP, full of gauzy layers and shimmering goodness. It only adds to the intrigue surrounding this group, who have a full length album called The Lonely Sea and The Sky, due out this spring! I find myself playing this relatively short, four song release over and over.
The title track is pulled from their upcoming album, and it’s short, somewhat murky with mystery, and great in that ‘deep in the mix/heavy reverb and drone’ thing that 93MMFTS has going for them. “Close Your Eyes” is another beautiful track, a velvety, layered landscape painted with gilded lilies. The eight minute behemoth with the insanely long title, “Sandpeople Always Ride Single File to Hide Their Numbers”, drones out past 6 minutes and then peels back the layers to just simple guitar and drums. And finally, there is “I Know”, a shorter, fast charging noisefest infused with punk energy. It all bodes well for the upcoming album, and this listener is looking forward to it.
A Thousand Hours – Endless Grey (Vesper Records)
A Thousand Hours is Alaskan artist Red Collier’s group. He contacted me out of the blue and asked if I would check out his upcoming full length record. It’s a rewarding experience, dreamy textures filled with heavenly vocals, acoustic guitar, and piano. The title track is one such example of this approach to dream pop, and it works well. It shimmers and slices through your emotions, stripped back to basic elements. Guest vocalist Mandy Clare from Lights That Change adds her dulcet tones to this track and the haunting song, “B”. I also dig the rumbling bass tones on “Ship”. Other songs float by and sweep you into their reverie, like the blissed out “Moments”, reminding me of the majestic Slowdive and even a bit of the slower moments of Cocteau Twins. The remainder of this release is a treat sure to please dream pop fans. Highly recommended.
Black Needle Noise – Black Needle Noise (Self-Released)
Famed producer John Fryer is not someone I had heard of before being introduced to his entrancing collection of singles. I must shamefacedly admit that, because Fryer is well known to music listeners in the know. For starters, he was only one of two constant members of This Mortal Coil (along with Ivo) and provided keyboards, strings, and synthesizers for that band. Circa 1979, he began working with seminal bands on the 4AD, Rough Trade, Mute, and Beggars Banquet labels, including Depeche Mode and Cocteau Twins. He has also produced the likes of Nine Inch Nails, Love and Rockets, and more recent projects such as The Foreign Resort.
Those touchstones should provide an inkling of the classically inclined electronic dream pop contained here. “Heaven” could almost be a SPC-ECO tune, so close do its beat scapes resemble Dean Garcia’s work. “She Stands On a Storm” is unsettling and Andrea Kerr’s vocals barely lighten things up. The industrial beats add a chilly backdrop, and I am greeted with Curve*-like percussion. Nice! “Swimming Through Noise” is lovely, cinematic dream pop and is my favorite track here. “Teeth to Grey” has a *Dead Can Dance feel to it, which is no surprise considering John’s work with This Mortal Coil. Everything is widescreen and could stand as the perfect addition to any soundtrack you care to name. “Treasured Lies” is another cool example of gothic dream pop, and for once, I don’t mind the treated vocals. “Warning Sign” is possibly the most upbeat tune here, with a great female vocal from Kendra Frost. Really cool and highly recommended.
Dead Gurus – Acid Bench (Wrong Way Records)
Dead Gurus is a heavily psychedelic outfit that includes Jason Edmonds of Magic Castles. It’s all about the drone here, as well as the lysergic mashup of fuzzed out guitar. It’s not nod off and bliss out music, because there’s too much going on. Imagine Iggy Pop backed by Blue Cheer and you may start to get an idea. But not before this music fries your brain and incinerates your being. Opening track “Vibrations” is the perfect example, while the cool “Mistress X” stomps all over Jesus and Mary Chain and Brian Jonestown Massacre territory and kicks the jam into high gear. “Starlight Sisters” resembles A Place to Bury Strangers wall of skull killing sound, so listen at high volume to experience it. In summary, you know what to expect with this type of loud psych, so do the right thing and turn it to 11.
Elan Vital – Shadow Self (Fishrider Records)
Many music aficionados consider New Zealand to be a hotbed of excellent jangle and psych pop, and that is certainly true. But there are other types of music that might go unheard, but for the efforts of cool guy Ian Henderson of Fishrider Records. Case in point: this trio Èlan Vital, formed in 2015 at Dunedin’s None Gallery, an undefined artist-run community. The name Èlan Vital describes the vital force, or impulse of life. They specialize in a somewhat abrasive form of dark synth pop that is hard to categorize. Pairing that with psychedelic organ and echoing voices only adds to the mystery, making this a compelling listen. Opening track “Shadow Self” is truly ominous, with dark throbbing synth, found sounds, and a wall of distorted guitar. “Hologram” is more straightforward synth pop of the Kraftwerk variety, featuring voice synthesizer and an upbeat melody. “Space” is dystopian cold wave with an organ straight out of Phantom of the Opera. And the vocals are deeply unnerving, adding to a musical haunted house that will delight goth and horror fans. “Possession” has an entrancingly dark feel, yet it’s highly melodic, sucking the unsuspecting listener straight into its nettles. “Janina” is a rainy day single, gray and introspective and slightly atonal, only saved from complete darkness by Renee Barrance’s childlike vocals.
“Albtraum” is slightly over three minutes, and reminds me a bit of Sweden’s Death and Vanilla. Finally, “Dreams” is the capstone of this somewhat brief album. It mixes classic synth pop structures with dreamy electronic washes and is my pick for top track on this cool release. Do check it out if you like the genres and artists mentioned here.
Monster Movie – Keep the Voices Distant (Graveface Records)
Monster Movie is Christian Savill of Slowdive and Sean Hewson. During an eight year span, they put out four full length albums, a mini album, and a few EPs, most of which were released on Graveface. And here they are again, with this great new album, which contains all the requisite elements of shoegaze and dream pop: majestic soundscapes and billowing layers of heavenly sound. “Going Backwards” struck me immediately with its upbeat, accessible riffs and expansive backdrop. “In The Pines” is transcendent, and will send you soaring into orbit. “Keep the Voices Distant” is shimmering dream pop, a bit like the modern version of Slowdive. “Shouldn’t Stray From the Shadows” is the first single, and it’s a noteworthy effort, as is the short and sweet pop of “Don’t You Want to Love Us”. In summary, this is a good record from a talented group that is recommended for Slowdive fans and anyone who enjoys well constructed dream pop and shoegaze.
Novella – Change of State (Sinderlyn Records)
UK based Novella deftly mixes Krautrock with dream pop and presents a comely front with three attractive woman and one guy. First thing that strikes me is how good the singing is, reminding me a bit of The Bangles. This is especially notable on the album’s title track, which also has really cool distorted guitar. It all seems like it emanates from another era, perhaps a flashback to the early 60s. “Desert” is equally notable, and I give it high marks for its sweet melody and wistful singing. “Elements” has nice harmonies and laid back guitar. It continues this way throughout this record, a fine follow up to their debut album. Highly recommended!
Palehorse/Palerider – Burial Songs (Self-released)
I must thank my fellow writers at Echoes and Dust for turning me onto this gem. It is a marvelous, long form example of doomy psych gaze. It also could pass for post rock, mostly due to its cinematic edges. The shortest song is just over nine minutes, so it needs time to breathe and expand in your mind. The opening track “Sundowning” is stunning and passes by in a flash. I love the drums and what sounds like a sitar droning at the start. The bass lays a foundation under it all, and it charges at you full force. “Tamám Shud” is your desert soundtrack, with swirling sonics enveloping you as it unfolds. It is both unsettling and gorgeous, and the heavy riffing only adds to its weight. If there is any band I could pull from memory that resembles this one, it might be the sorely missed Black Sun Ensemble. But in the present, we have meticulous and marvelous work of such a high standard that few things I have heard this winter measure up. “Into the Abyss” has more vocal work, and it works nicely. Finally, “Nero” closes it down with a bang. It’s powerful and evocative with tribal drumming and the flat out assault of guitars. Then at around 7:30, it dials it back to simpler structure and ends with a flourish. Great stuff!
R. Stevie Moore and Jason Falkner – Make It Be (Lost Colony Music/Bar-None Records)
It’s easy to love this collaboration between lo-fi meister R. Stevie Moore and power pop veteran Jason Falkner (Jellyfish, Three O’Clock). Moore is known for his overly prolific solo career, having recorded more than 400 albums including the classic Phonography and Delicate Tension, releasing them via various labels as well as on his own on handmade cassettes and CDRs. In addition to the bands mentioned above, Falkner worked with the Grays and Jon Brion, finally scoring a solo deal with Elektra. He’s released numerous solo records and has worked with artists ranging from Beck to Paul McCartney. So with this impressive musical genealogy, the results are highly melodic, a bit twisted, and a lot of fun to listen to. Take the misanthropic opener, “I H8 Ppl”, with an insanely catchy melody and a sing along chorus. You can’t help but dig it, despite its subject matter (I can attest, having corresponded with Moore years ago via his cassette releases, that this song is spot on). It’s followed up by the excellent “Another Day Slips Away”, which channels XTC in a reverent way. Most folks can relate to the way our lives fall into a mindless routine over time. Other songs have hints of The Beatles, classic power pop, and weird psychedelic noodlings. Even through the warped voice overs, the musicianship is solid and stellar. Falkner and Moore have disparate backgrounds, but their personal styles mesh together seamlessly. “I Love Us, We Love Me” has a lot going on, and it reminds me of Todd Rundgren’s work in the early 70s. “Stamps” is a groovy garage stomp with amusing lyrics. “Horror Show” has a 70s feel and features some swell harmonies. “Sincero Amore” has guitar that echoes George Harrison’s lovely playing, and a fine main melody. The remainder of this record (18 songs worth) goes on in a very pleasant fashion and will please fans for all the reasons mentioned above.
Rancho Relaxo – Polarized EP (Wrong Way Records)
This Norwegian psych collective is releasing this fine EP in early May. The band favors strong melodies, drones, and general trippiness. The music is spacey and chill with gentle percussion, and you can imagine yourself floating away as it envelops you. It’s the same feeling I get when I listen to Chatham Rise and other bands that inhabit this musical space. “Spooky Satisfaction at a Distance” perfectly illustrates this, as does the equally gentle and gorgeous “Augen Zu”. The latter tune is mesmerizing and is possibly my favorite of the set. The first leaked song ‘Tell Me Something” has warm keyboard washes that caress and enhance your auditory experience. In summary, this is another quality release from Al Boyd’s terrific label.
The Bats – The Deep Set (Flying Nun Records)
The Bats are steady and true, a band whose music you can always count on. This new release, their first in six years, is no exception. It’s chock full of shimmering folk rock, memorable melodies, and insightful lyrics. “Rooftops” blows the doors open and the magical feeling you get when you heard music this good stays with you for the entire record. It first hit me over thirty years ago when I became acquainted with their lovely Daddy’s Highway, and it’s stayed with me through their entire musical career. Their sound is cohesive yet laid back, something not easily attained except through long, affectionate acquaintance between friends and spouses. Robert Scott is on top of his game here, with his unmistakable and comforting voice, backed by guitarist Kaye Woodward’s pretty voice at times. Witness that on “Looking For Sunshine”, a song that reminds us to look beyond the darkness for the brightness in every situation. “Rocks and Pillars” is another shining gem, with a seamless perfection to it that I cannot put into words. It’s possibly the best tune here, amidst a collection of great songs. Other highlights include the catchy “No Trace”, the luminous “Diamonds”, and the slightly trippy “Steeley Gaze”. In short, you can’t go wrong here. Recommended for all Bats fans and also anyone who enjoys vintage Kiwi pop.
The Greek Theatre – Broken Circle (Sugarbush Records)
My friend Daniel Wylie tips me on a lot of great music, and that is how I found the amazing, pastoral soft psych of the Swedish band The Greek Theatre. This is their second album (the first one is great too), and they have concocted an uncommonly beautiful record of a quality not often heard these days. They have a keen grasp of late 60s West Coast pop as well as the British folk I savor so much. This new record is more about the fountain of excellent music that poured out of California in the 60s (think Moby Grape, Jefferson Airplane, and Byrds circa Gram Parsons). And oh, I love the instrumentation I think I hear (recorder, trumpet, and other instruments I cannot identify). “Paper Moon” is also glorious and transcendent, while the title track is a dappled journey along a lazy river with fingers and toes dipping in refreshingly cool water. It also reminds me the most of the Airplane, with beautifully twined voices. And onward it goes, one superb song spilling into the next in an intoxicating mix. There are so many high points and fantastic songs here that I could go on forever, but alas, I have limited time. Suffice it to say, if you fancy this genre of soft psych, you should jump on this immediately. It’s that good! Could be my album of the year!
Thunder Dreamer – Capture (6131 Records)
This wonderful, dream pop group hails from Evansville, Indiana, and their sound is cinematic and emotional, painting a windswept sonic landscape for listeners to revel in. One listen to opening track “Why Bother” immediately reminded me of Jeremy Enigk’s past work, more in the feel of the music than in the vocals. It shimmers and slow burns with the best music in this genre, and besides the gauzy layers of guitar, there is beautifully rendered piano. The title track is an object of great beauty, one I savor each time I hear it.
There is a slight melancholy to these tunes that I find very appealing, like the pensive feel to “St. Malo”, or the song that reminds me of Shearwater (“Live On Without Me”). Recommended for anyone who enjoys a rich sonic experience married to memorable lyrics.
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