Zola Jesus-Okovi: ALBUM REVIEW

With the release of single “Siphon,” it was clear that Zola Jesus would be seeking life affirmation upon the release of “Okovi.”  The song is addressed to a friend who had just attempted suicide and Jesus seemingly offers the exact kind of comfort someone in that low of a position needs: “you drain it out we clean it up for free…because we’d rather clean the blood off a living man.”  As roughly the midpoint of album, “Siphon” becomes the crux of the work, with the front half generally about demons and the second the triumph over them. Unfortunately, the former is a lot more successful than the later, making for an album that almost feels half done, but the songwriting wins are big enough to make the work necessary.

The album signifies a sonic sweet-spot.  Jesus’s last effort suffered from a heavy, crowded texture. Here, bass lines are pummeling and huge, and the decorations sleek, making for a much more mature work. “Exhumed” is the most adrenaline drenched as the whirring violins intensify the combative percussion beneath soaring rebel yells.  “Soak” turns to a much different mood without over doing the brightness.  Jesus’s glorious vocal lines are underpinned by a sluggish feeling rhythmic structure with atmosphere found in the subtle white noise in the head room.  “Ash to Bone” is bit more of an acoustic approach as bass and percussion sounds only gently caress a rhythmic drive. It’s understated compared to “Taiga,” but Jesus’s ridiculous voice constantly electrifies the energy.

Lyrically, the work is rather direct.  “Witness” is sort of the sister track to “Siphon” as Jesus again tries to protect her friend from the demons of depression: “to keep that knife from you…to pull you from the wreckage of your mind.”  Another pair of related tracks comes with “Soak” and “Vek.” Both capture a sense of triumph sonically and they seem to harp on the idea of agency against the aspects of life generally thought to be unchangeable: “Born into debt, a line of no request/Pay what I can but the rest, I have no chance/So, I pay nothing instead/I pay nothing instead.” “Vek” is a bit more abstract lyrically, but the line “Who will find you, When all you are, all you are is dust?” again addresses the doom of life as the triumph taps back into “Soak’s” mood.  It seems to give the listener and Jesus herself an ownership over the dark demise us humans eventually face.

Certain aspects of her songwriting seem to come back to bite her on the album’s deep cuts. The lyrical bluntness on “Wiseblood,” for instant, comes across as rather hamfisted: “If it doesn’t make you wiser/Doesn’t make you stronger/Doesn’t make you live a little bit/What are you doing?”  Coupled with the rather lazy melody, the track is a total throwaway.  “Remains” also has a throwaway chorus: “What remains of us? (x4),” as well as a drum machine that just seems totally out of place on this album.  The short outro track sort of implies resolution against the intro’s tension, but these triumphs over the darkness of life don’t go over so well making the storyline incomplete.

“Okovi” is disappointing to some degree. However, it’s disappointing because it offers a great introduction followed by six sharp tracks that flow into one another impeccably before the album trails off to an unearned outro of glorious strings.  Had this been an EP, it would’ve been  mistake free, but it just sucks to hear weakness from Jesus alongside some hardened career highlights.

-Donovan Burtan



Laurel Halo-Dust: ALBUM REVIEW

“What’s In my Bag?” can go a lot of ways, many of them rather inconclusive—New Order bought a Lady Gaga remix album for a daughter, Lightning Bolt seemingly bought a bunch of random shit with cool covers, and Krist Novoselic was included for some reason.  In the case of Laurel Halo, however, the results are telling.  Citing a rather misfit bag of avant-weirdoes—cult figure Father Yod turned out to be an interesting Wikipedia search seeing as he died by hang-gliding accident “despite having no previous hang-gliding experience”—Halo illuminates the loose rhythmic and melodic sensibilities of her latest album “Dust.”

Artists like the Art Ensemble of Chicago or Henry Flint only sidestep typical song-form and allow for jarring cuts in the program and the blurring of rhythmic structures as their acoustic collages fly through space.  Halo fascinatingly places this ideology through an electronic music lens with tunes that throw together sketches of club beats and dive into complete abstraction in seemingly the same breath.

Although a hyperdub signee, Halo’s beats aren’t the straightforward, dance-able type.  On the opening cut, sparse bass lines juggle non-militant snares as her slightly juxtaposed vocal lines clash over top.  “Jelly” incorporates odd surface sounds that almost sound like taking a bite out of an apple.  The mid-range again is disorienting as a reliable, but disjointed bass sound rumbles beneath.  Perhaps the catchiest moment comes on “Moontalk” with the dazzling sounding sample and the fluid vocal lines, but overall Halo leaves you in a sort of liquid space not entirely dedicated to dance or abstraction.

The shorter cuts amplify this.  As “Jelly” reaches its space-bound completion, “Koinos” centers odd ball rhythmic motions around a subtle, looping melodic device.  Then wildly pitch-shifted vocals come through, adding to the hypnotic disorientation.  “Nicht Ohne Risiko” is a jolting mix of angles as textures bathe between the minimal “Who Won?” and the album’s closest pop moment.  Somehow, Halo never loses momentum on the album, but these tracks certainly pull the concept of time into a lot of different zones.

Halo’s lyrical sense is appropriately odd and occasionally charming. “You don’t meet my idol standards for a friend” charismatically bounces out on “Jelly.”  “Who Won?” throws together some masterful political undertones as saxophones wander over top: “what’s the password…the house is very big I only have five dollars.”  “syzygy” remains equally vague as Halo paints a despondent scene to complement her sonic gloom: “I was in a dead devil’s car she said get ready I turned my eyes away and she release an evil laugh…I said get up, I said tough love.”

On the other hand, Halo does tend to sneak up on her listener, which accomplishes an addicting aura as her collage somehow coalesces into one entity.  As the despondence develops on the six-minute burn “syzygy,” that “tough love” couplet becomes a kind of hook with a lushness gradually building up with each passing repetition. “Do U Ever Happen” follows with rumbling undertones that eventually turn to late night synthy glory with layers of soulful earnesty.

Halo’s sonic world is wholly unique and her understanding of past avant-garde endeavors seems to drive her aesthetic ideology, making for an album equal parts out and slow burn.  It won’t make sense on first listen, but you’ll come right back.

-Donovan Burtan


Downtown Boys-Cost of Living: ALBUM REVIEW

There’s a lot of ingredients that make Downtown Boys the premiere punk band of the moment. “A Wall is just a wall” they preach on the opening track before fighting against the portrayal of Latinx people in current political rhetoric with lyrics in Spanish. However, on songs like “Promissory Note” — a reference to Dr. King — the band promises to never stop fighting for freedom no matter which imperialist is in charge. Coupled with a virtuosity of performance and occasional infectious hook, you’ve got an album that will require constant listening and inspire direct political action for years to come.

-Donovan Burtan

Waxahatchee-Out in the Storm ALBUM REVIEW

On her fourth effort under the Waxahatchee moniker, Katie Crutchfield howls out the truth of a relationship doomed from the start over a sharp 10 tracks. Despite a similar runtime to that of her previous works, the slightly more streamlined rock sound and hardened song structures make for a quick, digestible sound. Self-deprecation remains central as Crutchfield finds fault in herself at every corner — even though her ex seems to supply most of the toxicity. The album strikes a sense of resilience and restoration sonically, but Crutchfield’s true battle of coping with having to leave without being heard adds complexity to the triumphant tone.

-Donovan Burtan

The Uncoverables Podcast: Ethan Cohn Interview

This week’s episode features a talk with Montreal-based bassist Ethan Cohn, who released his debut record “Plastic Waste” over the summer.  Topics include Einstein’s theory of relativity, Italian rain, and finding cohesion in a mixed bag of influences.  His album release party takes place on October 2nd at Cafe Resonance for those in the area.

Some slight microphone issues at the start my apologies.

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The Uncoverables Podcast: Matthew Shipp Interview

This week’s podcast features a talk with underground New York legend Matthew Shipp who first gained recognition as a member of David S. Ware’s band in the 1980s before collaborating with the likes of Roscoe Mitchell, El-P, Evan Parker, and everyone in between.  He comes to Montreal on September 18th to play with Thomas Lehn (AT/DE) and John Butcher (UK).

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