Looking Ahead: 4/20

Here’s some new releases that I’ll be thinking about this week:

Sunn O)))-Life Metal

For a band so notorious for creating some of the loudest live experiences ever, Sunn O))) also somehow have a talent for life affirmation.  Titled after a joke the band formed on the road, Life Metal is typically droney and deep, but overtones blossom and shine like a summer afternoon as the smolder burns on.

Available Now on First Listen

Kevin Abstract-Ghettobaby EP

I have to say that if anyone in Brockhampton is going to make it as a solo artist it’ll probably be Kevin Abstract.  His singing and rapping kind of combines to create the true heart of the group anyways and throughout this EP both shine.

Listen to it on Spotify


To some degree, there’s no more to say about this.  Of course, Beyoncé delivered the greatest Coachella set of a generation.  Of course, the glance at her every era is immaculately planned, arranged (and even mixed and mastered).  But, that’s kind of her magic.  Beyoncé is a singular auteur, one who painstakingly betters herself and pushes forward with immaculately intricate ideas, pulled off effortlessly.  To have a document for her unmatched live feats somehow continues to up the ante.

Listen on Apple Music

-Donovan Burtan




Solange-When I Get Home: Album Review

If A Seat at the Table was a highly thesis-driven work, When I Get Home is almost entirely abstracted.  It’s a kind of classic move, at least in recent memory most akin to Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange to Blond evolution, where an artist is relatively easy to understand at their breakout and follows that with something not easy to understand at all.  It’s already spawned some jokes and relative hate, but When I Get Home absolutely holds its own with expert flow, undeniable vision, and unpredictably excellent use of sounds and features.

There’s a lot of people out there who can give you a much better run down of how this all relates to Texas, but there’s a palpable specificity to the work here, like Solange is speaking directly to the people that made her and bringing new life to their message.  The most obvious is likely DJ Screw, who would slow down records to create a gelatinous, sludgy sound.  Solange’s voice is as pure as it was in the past, but it’s more free flowing, over sparse instrumentation, that’ll occasionally get slowed down literally Screw style (see: the tale end of “Down with the Clique”) and generally doesn’t feel like pop music, rather constantly repeating and unraveling.

Still, the pillowy keys and plucky bass continue from the past, maintaining Solange’s trademark sound.  The way she incorporates literal collaborations, in particular rappers, is akin to the way these influences come through.  ASATT’s “Mad,” for example, saw Lil Wayne over a beat that sounded like nothing he’s ever rapped over before (and what hasn’t Wayne rapped over before) and here the likes of Gucci Mane and Playboi Carti creep in, but don’t alter the velvety smoothness of the work.  Sampha will show up and pick up on the melodies Solange is working with and help lift a song to its cresting climax, but never take over completely.  And just like this, Screw’s ghost hangs over the work, but doesn’t infiltrate in the way that, say, The Police bleed through Bruno Mars’s “Locked Out of Heaven.”

Similar to the flowing song forms, the lyrics that don’t lay out their messages to you in the way that songs like “F.U.B.U.” did in the past.  The opener features Solange toying with the title Mitski style, of course creating some fodder for twitter jokes, but the phrase is evocative, whether she be imagining liberation for a community or a world without the dichotomy of high and low culture, a more perfect world can seem within reach even if its unattainable.

There’s more direct imagining on Alameda, which speaks of resilience: “Black baes, black days/These are black-owned things/Black faith still can’t be washed away/Not even in that Florida water.”  However, Dreams moreso describes par for the course, with more vaguely evocative talk of hope: “I grew up a little girl with/Dreams, dreams, dreams.”

I can agree that When I Get Home is not for everybody, but a patient listener will likely get a lot out of it.  It’s a document of a different pop world, one where the listener isn’t allowed a road map, rather a collection of shapes and angles to explore and ponder.  Always fascinating to hear this from such a pillar of contemporary mainstream culture.

-Donovan Burtan



Ossia-Devil’s Dance: Album Review

Dan Davies definitely gets the underground epoch. His work as Ossia casts a hyper-large net through dub, punk, techno, you-name-it.  On Devil’s Dance there’s 14 minute songs that float along, highlighted by a spacey sax solo and a quasi-pop single in “Dub Hell” that could maybe end off a late night Laurel Halo DJ set. The album could’ve probably used a bit more focus, but like the intentionally low-pressure second half of the surprise Grouper/Liz Harris release as Nivhek, the work doesn’t always demand attention, rather electing to build a well-developed environment for the listener to live in for a little while.  Maybe let it soundtrack a late-night study session or something.

-Donovan Burtan


Sarah Davachi-Gave in Rest: Album Review

Considering how quiet her droning electro-acoustic music typically is, you might be surprised at how jarring it is when Sarah Davachi leaves chunks of silence between drone sounds at the very beginning of her new project, but these phrase markings catch the listener off guard and bring them closer in to these little cells of sound that gently lilt up and down over the course of the track.

Although it might not be audible from a pure listening standpoint, the sounds here are a small microcosm of what Davachi does.  Pulling a piece of early music, namely recorder, and pushing it to the future with some sort of electronic device, here: slowing down the sound to a massive degree, her work sounds of the earth yet distant–allowing for newness to seep out of Davachi’s renaissance musical era inspirations.

After the first track, Gave in Rest largely sees Davachi sticking to her guns.  Lyrical musical lines played on violin float over subtle drones on the follow-up track, before “Evensong” evokes a more haunting feel with ghoulish vocal “oohs.” “Matins” provides another act in “pulling the listener in real close” as Davachi captures the sounds of a bow just barely gracing the strings of her instrument.

There’s not too many unexpected calls on the album, which is to be expected considering the clip at which she releases new music and even the genre–not to discredit anyone’s work, but I don’t think anyone is looking for William Basinski to take some radical new direction.  Like Basinski, Davachi has crafted a world and every new album is an extension of that place with subtly different focus areas.

Don’t think there’s a bad time to start following along and certainly don’t think there will be any blemishes on the horizon.

-Donovan Burtan


Tim Hecker-Konoyo: Album Review

There’s a variety of reactions to ambient music.  A genre that values waltzing around in a beautifully detailed but static–and of course, meterless–place, sometimes listening to an album can take its inhabitants on a emotional journey and other times the effect is more singular as if the listener has been staring at the same painting for an hour.  Crafting an especially textured landscape, Tim Hecker’s Konoyo feels like a group of lines coalescing to a center that doesn’t exist.  The bowels of Hecker’s deep, electronically crafted bass sounds swirl against dancing, high strings from the work of Japan’s Konoyo ensemble, all seemingly swept up into the fog of Hecker’s higher frequency electronic sounds.  The work is breathtaking and emotionally charged in it’s melodic choices, perhaps not making its fans into different people, but validating the ebb and flow of their introspection.

Now, of course this album has a more nuanced roadmap than say “The Disintegration Loops.”  The communication between Hecker and the rest of the ensemble is quite varied despite also achieving a somewhat singular emotive collage throughout.  We hear swells of Hecker’s bass sound accompanied by gestures from the instrumentalists at the very beginning and the two simultaneously increase and decrease their intensity throughout This Life, making for a natural, breathing effect.  The two musical forces are not joined at the hip for the whole album of course, there’s places where Hecker is alone, supplying a heave of electronic lights, and elsewhere the ensemble is left to its own devices.  Inflected with drums, the group can supply plenty of noise to stand on their own and particularly towards the tail end of In Mother Earth Phase, it’s as if the group is creating the sound of the beginning of the work acoustically.

As we continue to move into a new era in Hecker–one in which the synth mastermind scavenges the diverse world of instrumental world music to find new sounds to synthesize in his vision–we see how willing the composer is to adapt without losing his voice.  Konoyo is a new color for the musician to explore but even as his imprint shifts in and out of focus, the album maintains all of the qualities that make his work so capturing and forward thinking.

-Donovan Burtan


Marissa Nadler-For My Crimes: Album Review

If 2016 saw Marissa Nadler flesh out her tunes—perhaps more than she ever has—with the lush arrangements of “Strangers,” 2018 is purely a glance at that which makes the songwriter so special. Sticking mostly to muted guitar, string, and vocal arrangements, “For My Crimes” features Nadler’s haunting vocal paintings bathed in her signature dark production atmosphere with tiny sonic details giving the work a glistening aura.  

The songs are mostly addressed to the past—memories, former friends or partners, and the objects that come with are all at play.  On the title track, Nadler hopes that her faults won’t define her image in the memories of others and elsewhere she admits to herself the extent to which a former relationship resulted in her own pain.  Standout track “I Can’t Listen to Gene Clark Without You Anymore” features Sharon Van Etten’s similarly smokey drawl and a specific type of sadness that us music folk feel around artists that remind us of past relationships.

If you’re not on the Nadler bandwagon already, now’s as good a time as any. Although some may mention that she’s not breaking down and re-creating her aesthetic in a super substantial way, the sonic environment she’s spent years crafting remains singularly timeless—sure to capture for years to come.

-Donovan Burtan 


Looking Ahead: September 7th

Steven Hauschildt-Dissolvi

Producer provides a range of looser minimal techno atmosphere and fleshed out song forms.

Armand Hammer-Paraffin

Underground rap vets bring magnetic chemistry to rich and vivid production world.

Sarah Davachi-Gave in Rest

Prolific as hell Montreal musician continues to evolve her ambient sound world with another chilling release.

(out next week but very much on my radar)


Hanna Benn-Unfasten EP

A glance at Hanna Benn’s resume wouldn’t necessarily lead one in any specific direction in terms of genre or sound–she’s touched upon in basically everything this side of 1900 including Alice Coltrane, Gospel, and a five hour immersive opera experience (no, not Einstein on the Beach).  Somehow, however, all these experiences seem to come into play on the densely packed Unfasten EP.

The work holds somewhat of an enveloping, ambient connotation, yet rhythm is very much part of the equation–most obviously on Divide: Sing Persist which features layers of hand-percussion, but even the more meditative moments find a sense of propulsion with flourishing vocal cornucopias.  

Although the influences are steeped in a bit of an academic connotation, her soundcloud hashtag of #classicalcrossover certainly holds truth.  The rhythmic drive doesn’t test the patience too ferociously and the electronic music nods also help satisfy the more college radio-oriented ear drums.  The end of the EP truly epitomizes this wide reaching array of appeal as light and airy strings complement a kelly lee owens style bass line, with Benn’s smoldering voice piercing the middle ground.

Benn’s done it all and the Unfasten EP is a testament to her ability to step into a new lane, with a new timeline and audience while also carrying those experiences with her. Most importantly, it feels effortless–a rare talent, not to be understated.


Bibio-Phantom Brickworks ALBUM REVIEW

Adding to a long, eclectic discography, Phantom Brickworks sees the English electronic musician’s acoustic side ruminating in ambient space. Although Bibio describes the work as a collection of improvisations, there’s an effortless flow between the tracks, particularly in the first six, where he alternates between hollow, somber energy and more uplifting piano flourishes, culminating in the stunning moment of clarity in “Phantom Brickworks III” where loud pillars of piano descend in shimmering glory. Perhaps this could be seen as a return to his pastoral explorations, but these productions are more muted and meditative with an amplified sense of vulnerability — a hauntingly beautiful collection.

Four Tet-“New Energy”: ALBUM REVIEW

On the apply titled “New Energy,” esteemed prince of subdued UK dance Four Tet finds inspiration in his older material and later explorations.  The singles operate as such with pulsing, driving grooves and complementary melodies, yet the album blooms in a gradual manner, making the moments where the planets align truly pop.  It’s an album for fans true and casual, sure to suit the boiler room stage with a bit more dance-able material.

After an intro, “Two Thousand Seventeen” is the slow burn highlight of the work.  With the pillow of soupy base lines and the sparks of high vocals crafting the atmosphere, Tet’s huge bastion of a centerpiece looms.  Despite priding himself on his minimalist recording process, Tet manages to find a great deal of different textures throughout the album.  Here, the big melodic force evokes strings with its plucked timbres and oddly paced loops.

Foreboding melody marks the next string of tracks as melodies allude to oncoming action, before “Lush” and “Scientists” give it to you.  Light on its feet, “Lush” remains sensible, but it’s biting speed reaches for the rafters as a mixed bag of gentle melodies combine for a heavenly atmosphere.  “Scientists” is Four Tet’s songwriting at its finest.  The pillars of bass line bounce over the acoustic sounding high-hat.  Gradually more drums enter, before the track implodes with smoldering vocal combinations and a rogue trumpet solo.

“You Are Loved” is life affirming with its humanist, simmering synths, before “SW9 9SL” delivers the summary track.  With the mean straightforward beat setting in right away, this track doesn’t mess around.  Even the head room isn’t too lofty, focusing all energy on the rhythmic energy.  Momentum seems to completely shift around the midpoint as Tet builds a “bass drop” type of effect out in open space.  Melodies wander without a true rhythmic foundation, growing and boiling to a climax that immediately cuts back to the distilled groove that opened, except this time it’s adopted one of the signature warmly emotional bass melodies beneath it.  The overall spirit of the work is funneled into this track as the tried and true dance spills into ambience, then brings something back for the fans.


“Daughter” is another standout with a gorgeous combination of bright vocal loops and more warm synths, before “Planet” brings it home with a pummeling victory lap.  Perhaps some would classify the work as Four Tet doing Four Tet, however, his career path is evident in the music.  Even on tracks that burn with dance energy he seems to find a bit of “Morning/Evening’s” ambient meditation to underpin his ideas.  It’s a front to back experience that also features some of the guy’s best songwriting.  There’s not many on his level right now.

-Donovan Burtan