Nilüfer Yanya-Miss Universe: Album Review

Admittedly Nilüfer Yanya isn’t offering a completely new perspective on musical texture or what a song can do, but Miss Universe does more than simply pass the test for “singer-songwriter given a bit of a budget for their real debut.” With Yanya herself offering a bunch of goofy interludes to narrate her speak of self worth and its intersection with validation from others, the album offers a unique glance at its auter. Unpredictable, wirey melodies, build and caressing alongside synths, guitars, and horns that draw on everyone from Aaliyah to Blink-182. It’s sure to be relatable to anyone familiar with those musical references as well as those plunging into the depth of the teenage years today.

“In Your Head” certainly acts as a bit of a thesis. In it Yanya tells a potential love interest that she cannot act until she hears an exact description of how they feel.  Though she doesn’t play this manic type of character throughout, the songs paint a vivid inner dialogue about the growing pains inherent to that time where you have to figure yourself out as much as those who interest you.

“Safety Net” might just be the heart of the record where Yanya seems to find the upper hand in a battle of whether or not she deserves more out of a partner: “I’m not trying to be someone/I’m not/So stop trying to be someone.”. It’s undercut by her self doubt “I’ll find nothing instead/because I’m not good looking,” but that tug and pull between doubt and worth represents the tension between the moment you realize you have to leave and the moment you actually do it.

Closer “Heavyweight Champion of the World” also explores the tension as Yanya pleads for herself to realize that the one she’s chasing will never truly commit. Then there’s tunes like “Heat Rises,” which more metaphorically address anxiety or “Melt” which more devilshly wish for another’s pain.

These songs are well accomplished sonically, though I can’t help but feeling like there’s a little bit to be desired in terms of singularity. Not quite, but if you ignore some of the musical flourishes, sax solos, there’s an inclining of “this product was manufactured to please indie rock and R&B markets,” whereas something SZA’s Ctrl more endearingly combined the two. But overall, Miss Universe is a worthy debut from someone with potential to speak to a generation.

-Donovan Burtan

7.5/10

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Dis Fig “Unleash” Track Review

Felicia Chen’s music as Dis Fig will likely make a lot more sense to you if you get to the part of her Mixmag set where Portishead’s “Morning Air” peeks out of the industrial machinery, sounding like the distant radio song heard in the background of a Matrix fight scene.  Though single “WHY” centers on her voice, the way it’s introduced later on in the set follows in this path as an electronic sunset blends into the tense background of the track.

Her other single “Unleash” is actually built like this, which gives the impression that her debut album will exalt the tension between isolating electronics and intimate, deeply human vocals.  Beginning with a stab of distortion and some sparse, gradually building drums, “Unleash” sees Chen’s distant, distorted vocals build up in drama and intensity as the rhythm become steadier and the drones more menacing.  The finale sees echoing cries of “GET OUT” met by brutal, pounding drums.  Known for very loud and very genre-less DJ sets–somehow both Danny Brown and Godflesh are staples–Chen seems to be following in the footsteps of the Berlin’s crop of avant-vocalists like Laurel Halo and Lotic, blending wild textures and general harshness into moments that’ll fit with her singular brand of dancefloor readiness.

-Donovan Burtan

Neneh Cherry-Broken Politics: Album Review

I don’t know if I would call it the most interesting producer/pop-elder combination right now, we live in a Bjork (feat. Arca) society after all, but Neneh Cherry working with four-tet is certainly a mark of her ability to stay with the times and explore ideas on her own terms without falling into trendy mainstream trappings.  Someone who’s career started with buoyant 1989 MTV hip-pop hit Buffalo Stance and intersected with Michael Stipe in 1992 and Tricky in 1996, Cherry has always been able to stay on top of the times in a tasteful way and 2018 is no exception.

For perspective, Tom Morello is the same age as Cherry, but his latest album sees contributions from Steve Aoki and Portugal, The Man.  Wouldn’t refer to those choices as indicative of someone with their on the pulse, but complemented by sounds concocted at the same time as 2017’s New Energy–an album that captured many on both the fan and critic side of music twitter–Broken Politics sees Cherry airing ideas about her identity and power amidst the political climate of the day with the mature, artistic backdrop of Kieran Hebden.

Perhaps the most quotable line is Synchronized Devotion‘s “it’s my politics livin’ in the slow jam,” which refers to the continuously vital “the personal is political” argument as Cherry’s idea of her own identity becomes increasingly political in these trying times.  From her understanding of her past “Don’t live for nostalgia/but the impact of everything resonates,” to her understanding of her innate ways of living and thinking “My name is Neneh/March tenth/Water sign,” seemingly innocuous ideas are brought under a new light.

This “slow jam” idea is also important considering Cherry’s career path. Someone who’s released roughly 5 projects in a near-thirty year history, Cherry is an artist who takes time to breathe and stew over ideas, rather than prolifically pump out material.  With the times increasingly looking utterly devastating, many folks who may not have had anything to say previously are feeling the need to get involved–perhaps the politics are Broken because everyone is feeling the need to get involved with the daily onslaught of devastation.

The album is primarily dedicated to similar material to this slow burning personal dissection, with the exception of one pop moment–the bouncing horn feel of “Natural Skin Deep.”  Perhaps the lack of stand-out material will not nail it into the history books, but Neneh Cherry remains a mature musical force both of the moment and out of time.

-Donovan Burtan

7/10

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

8/10

Yves Tumor-Safe in the Hands of Love: Album Review

I’m certainly not going to say that Yves Tumor came out of nowhere, as TEAMS he made music that drew all sorts of lines between sonic exploration and pop-minded accessibility, but this past is so fluid and unpredictable that it’s hard not to listen to Safe in the Hands of Love, his most fully realized work to date, as evidence of time or space travel.  Similarly to SOPHIE’s debut earlier this year, the work smashes ideas of song form, album flow, genre all in one feel swoop and somehow lands on its feet for the most part.

Single Noid is the most focused exercise of the album.  The album opens on an intro track that pushes and pulls a trumpet sound over static energy; followed by Economy of Freedom which again takes sound and stirs it up like soup, eventually adding yearning vocals; and the more structured Honesty, a song that almost sounds like something off of Laurel Halo’s Dust with an actual meter and lyrics about the early stages of love when you’re both unsure and infatuated.  All this amounts to a gradual focusing of ideas, which to an extent is what Yves Tumor is all about.  The listener is put out in the dark before a gradual sense of familiarity eventually sets in.

The beginning of Noid is thus both sudden and expected as the gradual decline from the no-man’s land of the very beginning of the album climaxes with some sort of indie-post-disco world with a tightly wound drum part and fat bass line.  Here the lyrics somewhat approach protest music, showcasing how black people feel unsafe basically anywhere outside of their homes due to police presence: “Have you, have you looked outside/I’m scared for my life/They don’t trust us.”

From there, the project meanders a bit in this familiar-ish space before blasting off with distortion on the final track.  A solemn string melody here, some punchy, sharp drums there, contrasted later by a distant maniacal preacher.  More rockist tendencies set in with the vocals between the barked out verses and screamed out choruses of Lifetime or the (dare I say new metal sounding?) calls of “I CANT RECOGNIZE MYSELF” of Recognizing the Enemy.  Even when the songforms somewhat make traditional sense with something approaching normal album flow, there’s a sense that you don’t know where anything is coming from.

The project is certainly an important exploration of sound, but to an extent its ambition is a bit over the top.  Sure, we’ve been given great albums that don’t necessarily give a lot of hooks to hold onto, or leave the listener out in the dark for periods of time to eventually bring them back to light with a big pop moment, but there needs to be some sort of sonic through line, whether it be Sophie’s hyper-fake plastic sheen or Laurel Halo’s crunchy texture feel, or the dark cloudy feel of say Massive Attack;  Tumor’s throughline seems to be the lack of one, which creates a unique experience but also makes it a bit hard to listen to repeatedly.  He’ll for sure develop as a songwriter, however, and the project is certainly going to leave a mark on a particularly vivid year of fractured musical approaches.

-Donovan Burtan

7/10

Profligate: Somewhere Else: ALBUM REVIEW

Riding a wave of arpeggiated synths, minimal drum machines, and dance-able bass lines, Noah Anthony’s Profligate conjures a seething aura on Somewhere Else.  A mainstay of the DIY electronic community, Anthony steps into somewhat of a new realm here.  The ominous landscape that sets in with distant percussion and oscillating keyboards on the title track finds a mood not unlike 2014’s Finding the Floor, but the rhythmic drive is left up to swells of the instruments and noise at his disposal rather than a consistent techno sensibility.

After Somewhere Else sputters out, A Circle of opens with screaming shots of noise, eventually jolting itself into a post-punk feeling groove highlighted by eerie high vocals from Anthony’s new collaborator Elaine Kahn.  Enlist exhilarates with a punchy bass line and another spike in energy as a massively distorted melody draws viciously outside the lines.  The project is remarkable in its unity, always seeming to pick up where the last track left off and over the first three tracks, the album evolves from a muttering wind to a barreling freight-train.

Elsewhere, the rhythmic momentum stalls and Kahn’s lyrical side adds complementary poetic imagery to the anxious darkness of the sonic pallet.  After the haunting melodic line on Lose a Little dissipates, she takes over the droney landscape, speaking about “the water’s grey narcotic web” and how “to live is to disorganize.”  Anthony’s vocals tend to remain contained and monotone and Kahn’s ability to both match that and add instances of heightened energy elsewhere helps flesh out the swells of activity.

Between the loosened rhythmic feel and the edition of Kahn, Profligate has reached a new zone.  There’s room to grow from here, but Somewhere Else is a masterful amalgamation of DIY experiments.  Who’s counting but a singular work spanning noise, spoken-word, post-punk-rock, electronic feels so right on Wharf Cat Records and so fresh in the year of our lord 2018.

8/10

The Uncoverables: Jane/Kin LIVE on CKUT

Next up in the live line-up was Montreal experimental duo Jane/Kin. Bridging the efforts of saxophonist Ida Toninato and laptop musician/Foley artist Ana Dall’Ara-Majek, Jane/Kin seeks to blur all lines and boundaries and provide the listener with an immersive musical experience.  I’m sure even the most trained ears will be shocked to hear what was used in this particular creation.

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