Blood Orange-“E.V.P.”_Ear Worms

Blood Orange effortlessly combines a wide range of musical styles through brilliant production and sly transitioning.  Over the course of the first five songs, the album evolves from a gospel-tinged opening number into more dance-induced funk tracks with interludes and surprising changes in aesthetic coming in different parts of each song.

“E.V.P.” develops from a spoken word sample about blackness into a Michael Jackson influenced drum beat with slap bass and retro keyboards eventually coming into the picture.  Devonte Hynes’ vocals remained very subdued making for an especially moody texture.  One of the best moments in the track comes when a big drum fill comes into the picture eventually cooling down into the digression that cues up the next tune. This serves as a great example of how the album flows.  It always feels like Hynes is thinking about what’s coming next.  Although the song be structured in a semi-typical fashion, with choruses and verses trading off, Hynes hides these structures amongst unpredictable developmental style.

The title of the song stands for “electronic voice phenomena” which is a reference to paranormal activity investigators who pick up on mysterious voices with electronic recorders.  Perhaps this is Devonte Hynes’ tongue-in-cheek commentary on his own vocal styling, but the lyrics generally obtain a tone of unknown and mystery: “How could you know if you’re squandering your passion for another?”  Hynes also seems to question aspects of his own character with “It makes me wonder/Will I ever be enough?”  The exact topic of the song remains a bit esoteric, but this seems to be an aspect of Hynes’ style and the overall themes of the record come through very clearly when hearing the full soundscape.

Blood Orange have come through with a great record here. “E.V.P.” provides something to dance along to, but Hynes is careful to explore every other emotion through seemingly every other possible sound aesthetic.




Pascal Niggenkemper-“Gyres Océaniques”_Ear Worms

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The idea of painting a sonic representation of an object or idea has always been a staple of musical composition.  With more emphasis on aesthetic and production coming in contemporary music, the concept now pushes music makers to take more risk in their sound-rooted depictions of real life imagery.  Serving as the muse for “Talking Trash,” the newest release from Bassist Pascal Niggenkemper, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch presents themes of unknown, fear, and mystery.

Throughout the work there is a rampant feeling of anxiety particularly in the tune “Gyres Océaniques.”  Although this tune may be the track-list’s closest attempt at a groove, the song putters along at a slow pace with prepared piano providing a strange percussive element atop the inner-workings of the instrument.  Melodically, the piece combines modern tonalities with the indistinct, with piano lines developing a sing-able motive opposite the airy popping sounds of clarinet and flute. Niggenkemper lives up the the name of his instrument with his syncopated rhythm providing the foundation for everything.

Another aspect of the garbage patch is texture.  The imagery of a bunch of trash floating along in the ocean evokes a sense of crunching, crinkling texture particularly when taking all of the plastic into consideration.  By avoiding anything remotely related to typical bass lines and choral playing, the piece attains the aesthetic of the subject matter.  Also, prepared piano serves as a perfect crinkling sound for the plastic bags it represents.

Niggenkemper fools around with texture and production a lot on this album, elements that are not emphasized enough in the jazz idiom.  All too often, musicians play in spaces that have always been the main focus of the genre rather than working to create an album specific to that time in their career.



Nick Fraser-“Minimalism/416​-​538​-​7149″_Ear Worms

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Tony Malaby’s tense melody on album opener “Minimalism/416-538-7149” perfectly sets the tone for the piece and the rest of the album that follows.  His minor, dark tonalities are surrounded by oscillating strings with Fraser’s textural drum approach serving as the group’s glue.

“Minimalism” serves as a concise rundown of the band’s skills as they quickly move from abstract beginnings to a more hectic climax without over-emphasizing any particular level of energy.  As the album moves forward more exploration is done and time spent on specific levels of energy and dynamics, however, by lightly touching upon the band’s conception of sound development, “Minimalism” obtains a lot of replay value.

The group’s aesthetic is extraordinarily malleable with any player prone to work in the foreground or background depending on the stage of the song’s development.  This dynamic aspect of the ensemble’s sound conception is accomplished through the lack of stagnant root.  Fraser dances around the meter expertly while the absence of piano, an instrument prone to chordal repetition, allows the group to be extremely collective as all of their ideas may bounce off of each other in the non-hierarchical space.  Another symptom of the piano-less void is a certain lightness that the songs carry.  On this track in particular the plucking strings complement Malaby’s staccato.

Starer is a fantastic album.  It’s development and dynamicism combine for a beautiful level of musicality with the quick-hitting natures of the song maintaining the attention of the audience through every nook and cranny.


Deerhoof-“Learning to Apologize Effectively”_Ear Worms

The Magic cover art

Deerhoof are a quirky art-rock band with a knack for progressive musical composition with fun, catchy vocals.  Their new album The Magic serves as a perfect run-down of their skills nearly 20 years into an aggressively cool indie-rock career.  On “Learning to Apologize Effectively,” Deerhoof provide a grungey level of distortion with a hell of a chorus.

Satomi Matsuzaki begins the song with her signature vocal phrasing and abstract lyricism suggesting that “the song is waiting for another song.”  Her voice cuts through the band’s soundscape like a knife contrasting the slightly brooding texture with clear high notes.  Also the general wackiness that seems to follow the band’s approach to time signature is reflected by the lyrics particularly in the chorus:

“Never say you’re sorry until

Chicken Little shouted at you”

Deerhoof is extraordinarily talented instrumentally.  In seeing them live, drummer Greg Saunier showcased his technical playing chops, continuously playing around his cymbols and toms.  Also, guitarist Ed Rodriguez convinced the crowd of his wild guitar chops with impressive solos.  Despite the capabilities for technically advanced musicality, the group never over-indulges leaving room for fun in their somewhat complex landscape.

The song develops in an extremely mature way giving insight to the band’s long-standing career.  The pressing, repetitive high notes continue from beginning to end with the laid back power chords accompanying Matsuzaki’s words.  The bridge changes up the chord progression considerably, adding variation to the standard bass.  Every change comes so naturally, never sounding like some sort of math equation.

Deerhoof are DIY gods.  They’ve been able to maintain such a longstanding career through their art-first mentality and general creativity.  Rather than booking up a studio with and producing an epic, symphonic album, 20 years into their career the band booked up an office space to record The Magic singlehandedly.  Their resourcefulness and musical prowess is truly astounding and the result is one kick ass album.


Mitski-“Crack Baby”_Ear Worms

Puberty 2 opens with a song that speaks to the emotion of happiness as real person, providing a first hand look to at Mitski’s fleeting ability to remain happy.  Throughout the album Mitski maintains this discussion through a series of telling metaphors.  On “Crack Baby,” Mitski provides a particularly dark look at depression and sadness suggesting that a depressed person seeks happiness in the same way a “Crack Baby” seeks cocaine.

The metaphor works extraordinarily well.  Happiness is what keeps people going in life, but depression provides people with extreme levels of sadness without knowing how to rid themselves of this pain.  Mitski makes parallels between depression and babies born addicted to cocaine:

“Crack baby you don’t know what you want
But you know that you need it
And you know that you need it bad”

Essentially, Mitski suggests that depressed people are in withdrawal of happiness, but they do not know how to give themselves another dose.  All of this combines for an extremely dark song.

Aesthetically, the song matches the darkness of the lyrics.  Mitski’s melody is writhe with pain.  Dark keyboards accompany extremely low bass tonalities and somber guitar tones culminating in a moving texture.  The production is especially vivid providing the song with an extremely heavy impact with no brightness in sight.

Although there are moments of soaring pop melody on Puberty 2, Mitski seems to be putting as much effort as possible into darkness providing her listener with an in-depth look at her internal struggle.


Ingrid Laubrock and Tom Rainey-“Thunderbird”_Ear Worms

The year 2015 marked an astounding accomplishment in composition for Ingrid Laubrock.  With the release of “Roulette of the Cradle” and “Ubatuba,”  Laubrock provided the jazz community with two intriguing pieces of music that contrasted each other quite nicely.  On her new album “Buoyancy,” Laubrock has left composition by the wayside, instead electing to hash it out in a completely free situation with drummer Tom Rainey.

Generally speaking, the album contains a lot of ups and downs.  This is not to say that the way certain events unfold is completely predictable, however, the duo tend to juxtapose loud and soft with slow digressions and ascensions filling the space between.  On the final portion of the album, “Thunderbird,” something slightly different happens: the group plays with subtlety never fully leaving the territory of minimalism.  Laubrock repeats long drones on a single note growing from the sound of air to more concrete vibrations with tiny snare sounds accompanying her the whole way.

Rainey mostly plays the tonalities of his toms and cymbols during “Thunderbird,” but in one moment he transcends his subdued playing space with a small collection of spirited snare hits.  Rainey has a brilliant sense of musicality and his input on this quiet piece complements Laubrock perfectly.  By providing one specific moment of power, Rainey adds a perfect level of vivid imagery to the abstract soundscape.

With the addition of this particularly somber ending, the album leaves the audience with something to think about.  Instead of growing into one final climax with both members of the group playing as fast and loud as possible, the audience is forced to listen tightly to the nuances of abstraction.




Jessy Lanza- “Never Enough”_Ear Worms

Jessy Lanza has a particularly poised dance music sound.  Her influence pool is wide and her new album “Oh No” encompasses a brilliant collage of different contrasting songs.  On “Never Enough” the production is as juicy as ever with a driving kick drum driving in to extremely dance-able territory

Although she’s making dance music, Jessy Lanza maintains a dark, smoldering aesthetic, never emphasizing too many bright sounds at once.  At the most dance-able moments of “Never Enough” the aesthetic remains subdued committing to it’s ridged tempo and funk-tinged bass line.  This combined with Lanza’s echoing vocal parts make for a mysterious tonality.  Perhaps Lanza’s generally quiet voice pulls the sounds that surround her in a certain direction, but the result is quite musical.

Lyrically the song is relatively straightforward.  Lanza’s significant other constantly bombards her with criticism on every little thing she does, saying that she’s “never enough” for him, which is definitely an issue in feminism. Women are judged more heavily then men in terms of personality.  There’s always some level of a man thinking something a woman is doing is too posh or unladylike.  By repeating the phrase “Never Enough” constantly throughout the song, Lanza defines herself as just that.

Lanza has a great sound.  At first I wasn’t into her ballads, but the album flows really nicely as a whole making for a great dance record.