Looking Ahead: 3/15

American Football-American Football (LP3)

In the wake of the news of Tame Impala coming back, I took another glance at Currents and of course it holds up, but more importantly it took me back to the stereogum review of the album, where writer Ryan Leas says that the album starts with a seven-minute behemoth and then turns into a slow burn to build up to the finale.   Maybe I was a little overly influenced by this, but that’s how the third American Football LP felt on first take.

As previously discussed, “Silhouettes” is likely the most adventurous tune the band has ever come up with and it’s also, quite literally, a seven-minute behemoth.  Then the band calms down for a minute, however, with three-minute tunes that feel comfortable, leading into more substantial work on “Doom in Full Bloom” and the Rachel Goswell featuring “I Can’t Feel You.”  Though it may not feel like a massive rekindling initially, by the end it’ll certainly feel blissfully new and expertly crafted.

Listen to it Now! on First Listen

Dis Fig-Purge

Self described as a super dark answer to the likes of Portishead, Dis Fig combines radio static and apocalyptic vocal work.  Check out my thoughts on lead single “Unleash.”

Out today!

Nilüfer Yanya-Miss Universe

In Your Head was a perfectly straightforward piece of pop-rock that might’ve raised some concerns that Miss Universe would be too simple, but by no means is that the case.  Though the album is a bit long and regrettably features a collection of De La Soul like vocal interludes, it sees Yanya deliver blissfully punchy tunes alongside long form pieces that truly spread their wings–sax solos and all.

Listen to this one on NPR today

Looking Ahead: 3/1

Solange-When I Get Home

Solange hit us with a surprise release last night and you gotta sit down and listen to this thing immediately.  When I Get Home feels like an instant-classic, seemingly taking all the energy on A Seat at the Table and filtering it through a vaporizer.  Little cells of melody lilt and repeat over sparse but lively production making for one of the most adventurous and avant-garde mainstream albums this side of Blonde.

Little Simz-GREY

Little Simz has been a talent in rap and introspection for a while and it looks like it’s only up from here—GREY Area promises to be her most developed work yet.

Yves Jarvis-The Same But By Different Means

Having released more indie rock oriented stuff as Un Blonde, Montreal’s Jean-Sebastian Audet has changed his name and rebranded as a sort of abstract soul artist.  Single “That Don’t Make It So” sounds almost like Flying Lotus produced a tune with D’Angelo.



Valeda-Unearth: Album Review

I’m insanely late on this but I heard an interview with this artist on my beloved CKUT and I’ve been listening to the project quite a bit for a couple weeks.

Valeda is a solo electronic artist who is a part of susy.technology, a Montreal-based collective who—not unlike the great Kohlenstoff crew—are interested in multi-disciplinary artistic endeavors.  Their website specifies the “creation of audio-visual art engaging with the futurity of interactive media, cyberculture and augmented reality.”

Although Valeda is yet to release a music video, her music lends itself to immersive audio-visual experiments and her position in the collective is sure to lead to some great live experiences in the coming years.  On Unearth, she keeps her lyrics and sounds abstract and sparse, but also manages to offer an intimate, moving experience.

The album opens with cacophonous drones that remain constant as melodic sounds both gentle and violent grace the ear drums and frame Valeda’s quiet voice—the only source of brightness in the rather dark musical experience.  On the eight-minute opening track, for instance, pointed samples that sound like plucked strings are the first real “moment” before quick hits of ridged, high-pitched electronics and subdued quarter notes.

The world is bleak but active leading into the real entrance of Valeda’s voice around the half-way point.  Much less erratic, but sort of in the same melodic shape, her vocals model the high-pitched electronics of the beginning of the tune with quick ideas that eventually turn to full-fledged lyrical phrases: “never forget you.”  Her songwriting doesn’t lend itself to sing-able hooks and verses, however, the album is ridiculously enveloping and the excruciatingly gradual path to full lyrical ideas keeps you focused on every detail.

Perhaps the most impactful example of this lyrical strategy comes in the final tune, “Convent/Peril.”  Only four minutes long, the song mostly distorts its words with a mix of pitched-down, conflicting vocals, sound effects, and textural devices, before Valeda finally stands in the clear with the cutting line “my skin remembers what you can’t” around three minutes in.

The whole project has this tumultuous nature that alludes to trauma with the underlying sonic violence, but here is the most obvious allusion to past traumatic experiences and it really brings the work full circle.  Also, the use of the pitched-down vocals in the beginning of the song almost sounds like another person’s voice, invading in Valeda’s space so to speak.  Whether or not this exact interpretation was intended, the work offers a lot of room for multiple interpretations by keeping its themes cloudy, but also articulating specific bits and pieces.

Valeda’s middle two tracks are also great and the impeccable manipulation of space on each song carries over to the overall flow of the project.  “Under Ice” sort of reverses the approach to vocals in the first track by uttering the main lyrical idea first and continuously reinterpreting it throughout the track. It’s also the most rhythmically concise song, expanding on the rhythmic momentum of the first track with a stagnant beat from beginning to end.

“Losteling” is certainly the loudest song on the work, mostly by virtue of a single melodic strand of crackling sound that continuously inches up and down.  From the first track’s subdued beat to the more forward beat of the second, the third’s blasting melodic idea is quite logical and the brooding backdrop of the track helps along the seamless transition to pure force.

Unearth is emotionally moving and showcases a great deal of contrasting talents from Valeda without any real misfires.  I hope to hear more extensive, ambitious projects in the future, but 23 great minutes is a promising start.

-Donovan Burtan


Miwon-Jigsawtooth: Album Review

After a nine-year hiatus, the return of Berlin’s Miwon sees a sensible addition to his catalogue with more bright ambient landscapes and techno sensibilities.  True to the nature of N5MD records, the album continuously emphasizes melody with each 4-5 minute tune having a great deal of replay value while also expertly navigating open sonic terrain.

The album somewhat loses the rhythmic directness of 2008’s A to B and perhaps strikes a less emotionally moving tone.  Save the late-album dives into darkness, these songs are breezy and light. Still, the project keeps the listener engaged with spot-on songwriting with each passing track.

The beginning of the album serves as a decent representation of much of the project.  Opener “Fuzzy Words” builds swells above the active rhythmic foundation before the simple, but infectious melody comes in gently over the top.  This track doesn’t dig too deep as it sort of stagnates forward, but it works great as an introduction to Miwon’s particular aesthetic.

“Wolkengedoens” and “Shutter” are a bit more of the meat of the work.  Here, Miwon works in more drastic developments by continuously pilling on layers and emphasizing new melodic ideas. “Wolkengedoens,” for instance brings in a high synth melody towards the last 30 seconds of the tune to give a new splash of color that contrasts the slightly melancholy melodic centerpiece of the song.  “Shutter” is sluggish in tempo, opening the space for a blissful, wandering melody that gradually gets surrounded by more and more rhythmic activity, making for a natural, unpredictable development.

“Mondharke”—track 7—serves as the first full-fledged look at violence and darkness.  The crackling industrial sounds put the song on edge with pulsing low-end synths adding to the drama.  “Cool Your Jets” doesn’t necessarily read as violent, but it maintains the dark, smoldering nature of the previous track with an especially bouncy melody over brooding chords and low-end rhythmic sounds.

Although these two tracks contrast the sonic pallet of the beginning of the project, the exploration of this territory comes a bit late into the work.  Without these additions, the album would’ve been a bit one-dimensional, but it doesn’t feel all that well integrated into the project.  If Miwon had issued one of his more violent songs sooner into the track listing and then let that sound influence the tracks that followed the tug and pull between smoldering darkness and bright ambient sounds would’ve been more constant.

There’s no shortage of great songwriting and it’s great to hear a long-anticipated work that bites like “Jigsawtooth,” but it might have been a bit more impactful had Miwon dabbled into the violent, smoldering side of his sound aesthetic more often in the work.

-Donovan Burtan