Better known for his series of dance floor-friendly electronic singles, Michael Red has adopted the moniker Souns to release nine affecting ambient and avant-garde pieces as Aquamarine, the first full-length of his career. Although the Vancouver musician strips down his usual busy sound here — removing his hypnotic and pulsating drum beats — there’s an element that’s unmistakably his.
Rather than relying on slick polyrhythms, Red moves each song forward with strategically-placed synth sounds, whether it’s the syncopated bells that make up the foggy opener “Echoes in the Forest (Part 2)” or the random-generated decayed thuds of the sci-fi-esque “Sun Inside the Sun.” Then there are tracks like “To Sleep” and “Untouched,” which come off impossibly cinematic and epic due to Red’s tight, sparse arrangements. As Red closes off the LP with two of his most patient ambient tracks, the not-much-more-than-a-hiss of “Open Face Sun” and the tone-shifting hum of “The Sound,” it only demonstrates how many mechanisms Red operates throughout this quiet piece of art.
On Aquamarine, Souns shows how recognizable and sophisticated his sound has become, no matter which way he chooses to package it. (Subtempo Records)
As a member of London, England band Three Trapped Tigers, Tom Rogerson blends an invigorating mix of noise-rock, math rock and heady electronic music. On Finding Shore, the immortal Brian Eno helps bring out the beauty, resourcefulness and simplicity of the keyboardist’s sound.
Meeting outside a bathroom after a concert, Rogerson and Eno bonded over the vast, heartland landscapes of their Eastern England upbringings, and sought to capture that serenity over the album’s 13 tracks. Rogerson does all of the tactile work here, playing the piano and synths that largely make up the album, while Eno set the musician up with a piece of equipment called the ‘Piano Bar,’ designed to break the piano notes into midi signals that the elder musician would then manipulate.
The results find Rogerson and Eno working with a plethora of sounds, as no two tracks sound quite alike. The duo play a stickily cascading score on “Motion in Field,” display naked piano virtuosity on “One-ness,” dabble in post-electro ambience on “The Gabbard” and make humming synth explorations on “Chain Home.”
Many avant-garde instrumental albums exist to strictly craft a mood, and Tom Rogerson and Brian Eno somehow seem to merge these moods, sounds and themes together effortlessly and radiantly on Finding Shore. (Dead Oceans)
Those who find Fever Ray and Grouper’s brand of warped, left-field electronics absorbing will find a new favourite in Islaja. A singer/songwriter at first, Merja Kokkonen has experimented with her craft over the past dozen years, and LP number six, Tarrantulla, finds the Finnish musician releasing her most exploratory and fully realized album to date.
Once loosely lumped in with the short-lived freak-folk movement of the mid ’00s, Islaja retains that ethereal element in her sound, incorporating lo-fi synths, gloomy live instrumentation and loads of disjointed arrangements into the mix. “Ghost from the Future” lays the groundwork for this nine-track/38-minute LP, as Islaja travels through four-and-a-half minutes of warped and distorted vocals, sparse beats, strings and cunning lyrics. But Islaja expands exponentially on that sound too, adding danceable rhythms and punchy vocals to “Peace Pilot” and chopped and screwed industrial beats to the haunted but beautifully delivered “Robot Arm.”
Throughout much of the album, as highlighted by the raga “Sadetta” and affecting album closer “Sun luona taas,” Islaja uses vocals, instrumentation and arrangements interchangeably to create something otherworldly. Tarrantullafinds Islaja breaking free from traditional songwriting, creating an album that fucks with the formula in just the right ways. (Svart)
Whether due to the fact that both artists have been known to record their music alone in their homes, or the fact that both have expressed their love of opera and classical music, Will Wiesenfeld’s music has often been compared to the bedroom pop of Michael Angelakos (Passion Pit). But with the release of Romaplasm, Wiesenfeld’s third LP under the moniker Baths, the connection between the two has grown even closer. Over 12 joyful and crisply produced tracks, Wiesenfeld thrusts his habitually complex beats and rhythms straight to the forefront here, allowing the album to simply pop like nothing he’s produced before.
On his first album in four years, the California musician makes this newly unveiled sheen work, as tracks like “Yeoman” and “Out” weave Wiesenfeld’s trademark falsetto through driving and dipping synth rhythms, leaving nary a moment for the listener to catch their aural breath. Just to add to the audio commerce of Romaplasm, Wiesenfeld inserts gratifyingly listenable flourishes like the sped-up vocal hits on “Adam Copies” and the synthetic violin on “Superstructure.” Even when Wiesenfeld slows things down, like on the shimmering “Lev” or the piano-assisted “Coitus,” there’s still a strong melody pulling the songs together and giving them a sense of buoyancy. With Romaplasm, Baths has released his most extroverted album to date without sacrificing any depth. (Anticon)
Over the past decade, Peter Broderick has worked with artists like Dolorean, Horse Feathers, She & Him and, most recently, Efterklang. On his latest release, All Together Now, the Portland composer collects compositions he was commissioned to write, whether it’s an original piece for a wedding anniversary (“Emily”), a film (“Robbie’s Song”) or even a ferry boat ride in Istanbul (“A Ride on the Bosphorus”), showing a true ability to work within another person’s creative framework.
These nine pieces demonstrate why Broderick is such an in-demand musician, as the simple but affecting rhythmic piano piece “Our Future in Wedlock and the Walk” and the haunted, lo-fi guitar and voice meditation of “Seeing Things” convey his emotional personality while still coming off direct and purposeful. The album’s strongest two compositions — the sweeping, violin-led opener “If I Were a Runway Model” and ambitious, cinematic 16-minute album closer “Unsung Heroes” — act as bookends here, helping the compilation feel like a proper LP.
All Together Now is a surprisingly and satisfyingly listenable collection of compositions that weren’t necessarily recorded for this type of public consumption. (Erased Tapes)
Throughout her illustrious 48-year solo career, Mavis Staples has never stayed musically stagnant, melding her radiant sound with some of the best musicians of the era including Curtis Mayfield, Prince and Ry Cooder. But after last year’s M. Ward-produced Livin’ on a High Note, the 78-year old soul legend returned to work with her most frequent collaborator, Jeff Tweedy.
Written and produced entirely by the Wilco frontman, Staples’ 16th full-length is a classy, enlightening look into the politics and issues of post-Trump America, showing the civil rights activist assertively in her wheelhouse. But even if this ten-track, 35-minute LP didn’t boast such insightful lyrics like, “If all I was was black, looking at you, you might look past all the love I give” (“If All I Was Was Black”) or “when they tell their lies, spread around rumours, I know they’re still human, and they need my love” (“We Go High”), it would still stand as an achievement in Staples’ discography. Mavis’s delivery here is impassioned and insightful, and it’s paired nicely with Tweedy’s raw and imperfect guitar playing and his son Spencer’s perfectly hands-off percussion.
If All I Was Was Black is another late-career winner from Staples, an album that perfectly captures her gentle, loving and elegant way of making a political statement without sacrificing the passion she’s built her career upon. (Anti)
When James Holden released his superb 2013 LP The Inheritors, critics likened his synthetic psychedelia to first-wave electronic experimenters like Can and Cluster. On his followup, The Animal Spirits, the British musician explores this brand of tactile songwriting to its fullest, employing a band (featuring a cornet player, saxophonist and drummer) and recording much of this nine-track, 47-minute LP live off the floor — and often from single takes.
Listening in, it makes sense that Holden started his career off in the late ’90s releasing trance singles, as tracks like the aptly titled “Pass Through the Fire” and the rhythmically sweeping “Thunder Moon Gathering” turn into riotously unbridled abstractions that somehow also feel locked-in and groovy.
Although any capable group can record live in the studio, it takes a skilled bandleader to control the energy of the room and pull out great performances. Luckily, Holden does just that, helping the cascading “The Beginning & End of the World” and the noisy-but-stylish “The Neverending” build and unfold at tempered and palatable paces.
On his third LP, James Holden establishes a sound wholly his own, allowing The Animal Spirits‘ gorgeous, absorbing and wonderfully unkempt mix of psych, jazz, folk and electronic to infiltrate the listener’s psyche. (PIAS)