Molly Burch-Please Be Mine: Album Review

On Please Be Mine, Molly Burch showcases her prowess as a frontwoman with simply crafted songs that rely heavily on her charismatic delivery and expressive inflections for success.  There’s sort of an element that Burch never sings the same thing twice on the album.  When a song has two repetitions of the chorus, Burch finds a way to make each one more convincing.  Each song follows a loose, love-song classification, but Burch and her band make each moment shine with their ear for riveting detail.  From the occasional moody modal jazz chord, to the distant sonic sparks and the impressive, yet coy guitar solos, Please Be Mine lifts folk tunes to soaring heights.

The album is certainly a bit monochromatic in terms of lyrics.  Downhearted paints a picture of a person who hasn’t quite come around: “I could be your dream girl/your whole world/if you let me,” then Wrong For You talks about loving the wrong person “you said I was the only one, but I know you say that to all the girls.”  Some other highlights include Loneliest Heart’s gloomy take on the changes we go through in our time alone and Not Today’s sorrowful, nostalgic glance at past relationship’s demise.  Overall, Burch isn’t really breaking any rules with these subject matters, but the sonic material makes things meaningful and she also sticks in some particularly biting lines on occasion: “you say my name it feels like fire.”

Burch’s singing shines on every track.  Again, it’s not necessarily that she uses any flashy material, but she adds so much expression into the mix with dynamics and rhythmic deviations.  On Try—for instance—Burch merely breathes the vocal melodies for much of the track, but then she barks out “I’m your little baby, your little baby PET” to contrast the slow, sweeping instrumental backdrop—it calls attention to itself immediately and shows that Burch has really got the audience by the throat.

Fool, on the other hand, is a prime example of Burch digging in deeper with each repetition of the chorus.  Burch first has this addicting pre-chorus with this big interval jump on “ha-RD,” then the chorus is a bit more anthemic.  First time around, Burch doesn’t too much other than sing out the melody, but during the second verse she plays around with the rhythm much more and just before the chorus she barks out another jolting line “you were not ni-ah-ICE” to kick off her belting reinterpretation of the refrain.

This track is also a good example of the other little sonic details that help along Burch’s expressive gestures.  The chorus has this cool call-and-response with the splashing backing vocals on ahh.  Also, the distant guitar solo compounds the sense of detachment.

The record’s treatment of piano is also particularly stellar throughout.  For Fool, it plays these pressing chords that are only fully realized at the climaxes of the tune.  With Loneliest Heart, there’s these tiny staccato plucks deep in the mix that add a lot of movement to the lethargic tempo.

Burch still needs to develop a little bit as a songwriter.  On later projects, it would be nice to hear other introspective topics or perhaps some sort of storyline, but Please Be Mine is a worthy collection of songs that show just how much of a presence Burch must have in the studio.

-Donovan Burtan

7.5/10

 

The Uncoverables Podcast: Evan Shay and Kyle Hutchins (Run and Hide) Interview

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Evan Shay and Kyle Hutchins are Montreal musicians whom you may already know, but Run and Hide is a stark change of artistic pace for both of them.  Comprised of a pair of sax players, Run and Hide is a highly melody/improvisation driven work involving a lot of conversational playing.  On this episode we talk about improvisation, purple cows, and finding inspiration in and outside of the classroom.

Playlist:

Jessica Ackerley Trio-“Clockwork” from Coalesce

Run and Hide-“Which Way is the Highway? ” and “The Well Lit Road” from Run and Hide

Craig Taborn-“Phantom Ratio” from Daylight Ghosts

The Uncoverables Podcast: Ellwood Epps Interview (Togetherness)

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Ellwood Epps is a versatile Montreal improviser and trumpet player.  Togetherness is his new project, which began with some collaboration with Cape Town’s own Rus Nerwich in the summer of 2016.  Throughout Febuary and March, the group is playing–with new saxophone player Eric Hove–in various Montreal venues, including a show this very evening at Cafe Resonance.  Topics of discussion include groovin’, collaboration, and historical potency.

Playlist

Abdullah Ibrahim-“Calypso Minor” from Sotho Blue

Togetherness-“Togetherness” and “Angel Nemali” from Secret Live Bootleg

Trouble Kaze-“Part II” from June (brand new release!!)

 

 

Astvaldur-At Least: Album Review

On his debut record At Least, Icelandic producer Astvaldur paints a grim industrial picture that never really reaches the level of violence that the anticipatory tones allude to.  Instead, the tunes play with the listener’s ear, holding a cloud of approaching danger over every musical decision.  Aesthetically, the work features constantly shifting sands that pass key musical themes and motives through different contexts and instrumentations.  To some degree this results in a bit of a mixed bag as it can a bit difficult to grasp the individual songs, however, the variety of sounds presented makes for striking textural explorations and an especially dynamic overall sonic portrait.

“Hark” kicks things off with an almost incomplete sounding rhythmic motive that obsessively repeats itself.  Following the anxious pulses that begin the track, the motive is first uttered in the high range by this icy keyboard sound, before getting transferred to a more mellow instrumental sound.  Tense machinery sounds surround the action constantly from metallic quarter notes to more pressing, arpeggiating synths.  This track perfectly exemplifies the anticipatory nature of many of the tracks on this album.  The whole thing feels like a build-up, making for an almost off-putting emotional affect as we’re never treated to a stagnant dance beat.

Following is “Rotary Credo” with a more acoustic-sounding opening provided by circulating violin samples.  Popping surface noise enters, serving a bit of a rhythmic function as tense countermelodies building up the anxious nature of the track.  Here, we get an example of Astvaldur’s skill of changing the context of a melody.  At the beginning of the track, the aesthetic is especially human-sounding, but by the end the song is more metallic and sterile.  Rather than building layers and layers in a traditional dance way, the track takes one set-up and puts it through a different lens.

“Flesh” is perhaps the most traditionally contrived song structure.  Opening with non-specific robotics, the track eventually dives into an almost hand-drum patterns with quick, subdued rhythmic sounds.  This becomes the foundation for the track as sweeping electric sounds develop over top serving a quasi-melodic role.  Still, there’s a bit of a detached mood to the track, but this would probably be the tune most worthy for the trance/dance setting.

The last major accomplishment of the record is probably the intriguing textures that Astvaldur is able to put together.  This is something that’s achieved over the course of the whole picture.  It’s not just that Astvaldur achieves a unique sound-space and works with it on each track, it’s moreso that he’s consistently able to offer new musical findings.  From the scratchy acoustics of the beginning of “Rotary Credo” to the swirling candy of “Mother” that gets bottomed out by pressing piano pulses and even the plucked electronics of “Punture”, At Least proves that Astvaldur’s bag of sounds is especially large and unique.

At seven tracks, the album is certainly a quick listen and the slight lack of standout singles makes it a bit forgettable.  In the future, it would probably be best for Astvaldur to focus his energy on structured pieces, but his ability to play with anticipation and conjure unique sonic spaces is clear and his work could offer a nice balance between dance-able and violent experimentation with a bit more focus on songwriting down the road.

-Donovan Burtan

7/10

The Uncoverables Podcast: Seamus Williams (TVE) Interview

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This week’s podcast features the man behind the music project TVE, who released a tape called “Anormal et troublant” this past year on Falt Records.  Williams is also a big community radio head so we also speak about scouring record collections for fascinating old noise experimentation.  You can catch his radio show “Music Under the Moon” on archive.org or facebook or 91.3 WCUW if you happen to live in Worchester, Massachusetts.

Playlist

Christian Maclay and Otomo Yoshihide-“Sliced and Diced” from Moving Parts

Chemiefaserwerk-“Stromern” from Collagen

TVE-“#4” from Anormal et troublant

Remnants-“Dark Passage Excerpt”

Emilie Girard-Charest-“Avec Marc à Barcelone – Track 2 Master 1” from Avec

Sampha-Process: Album Review

Sampha has been lurking in the shadows for years as a songwriter and collaborator; Kanye, Frank, and Solange look good on a resume, but this album was Sampha’s chance to jump out into the spotlight.  On all accounts, Process is a victory.  Perfect instrumentals fill every corner of the work from modest piano/voice tracks to risky drum charts and sweeping backing vocals.  Sampha’s words are heartfelt throughout, addressing everything from the importance of his mother, to the tough aspects of relating to one’s family members and a few tunes about overcoming heartbreak.  It’s an emotional journey that also happens to include some early contenders for best single of the year.

There’s hints of narrative on the album.  “Plastic 100°C” and “Blood on Me” begin with general words about fame, before “Kora Sings” and “Like the Piano” focus in on the loss of Sampha’s mother: “You’ve been with me since the cradle…you’re my angel/Please don’t you disappear.”  Sampha further complicates his relationship with his family in mentioning how family encourages people to come together and support each other, but can hinder focusing on self-care and mental health: “But with family, I/I don’t have the time/The time to be questioning life.”  This also comes through with “no one knows me like the piano in my mother’s home” as music and songwriting is truly how Sampha expresses himself in the world.  Obviously Sampha doesn’t express any disdain for his family here, but he adds depth to the relationship by discussing his own troubles with truly being himself.

The next five songs mostly focus on different stages of a break up.  “Take Me Inside” ponders a significant other that’s moved on “Does he still make your blood rush/These days I’m just not sure how to feel,” before “Reverse Faults” contemplates some of Sampha’s shortcomings.  He admits that he’s a tough person to love and harps on his tendency to push people away when their relationship gets serious.  “Under” contrasts with Sampha placing more of the blame on his ex: “Sophisticated bitter queen/You’re the ghost in my machine/I wonder, sit and watch you wonder/I see you manipulate your lover,” then he comes to terms with the relationship on “Timmy’s Prayer” and reflects on “Incomplete Kisses”: “Don’t let your heart hide your story/Don’t let your mind hide your story/’Cause if you deny others inside/It gets harder to move along.”  It’s great to hear such a cohesive story behind the varying sonic colors and Sampha’s development in character from track to track makes the album an unstoppable force.

As stated, the instrumentals really couldn’t be much better. “Blood on Me” is the danceable single that offers a lot of replay value.  Then you’ve got some serious tear-jerking material on “Like the Piano.”  Sampha’s falsetto offers an effortless delicacy that fills each word to the brim with meaning, but he also has the potential to soar over cutting toms like on “Kora Sings.”  Speaking of, “Kora” is probably the most unique sonic piece on record.  We open with haunting melodies and vocals with plucked strings offering a biting texture.  The chorus comes together with some rigid synths deep in the background complemented by this lingering flute melodic line underlying the powerful hook.  It complements the heavy emotional nature of the lyrics with a tense drive.

The second half of the record continues to offer single-worthy hits with “Incomplete Kisses” and “Reverse Faults.” On the former, brooding synths beckon in icy keyboard stabs making for an unsettling verse before the beat drop at the front of each chorus finds a blissful state as Sampha journeys out on the road.  Considering that this track is about his relationship with his significant other and how every time they get closer he pushes her away, the sonic material drives home the juxtaposition between that which Sampha feels at home and that which he finds in driving away on his own.  “Incomplete Kisses” finally settles all the baggage on the record as Sampha croons out all the lessons he learned in the relationship over a playful bassline and bright acoustic piano within the electronic landscape.

Noting offerings from Solange and Frank from last year—and even looking back a bit further to FKA Twiggs—it’s clear that neo-soul is still home to some of the best songwriters out there.  With Process, Sampha certainly earns his spot in the conversation.

-Donovan Burtan

8.5/10

 

The Uncoverables Podcast: Nick Fraser Interview

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This week’s episode (is four days late….) features excerpts from an interview I did over the summer with Canadian Improvising Drummer Nick Fraser.  We spoke a bit about his philosophies surrounding improvisation and the process behind his latest album Starer which you can find at nickfraserthedrummer.bandcamp.com!  New music from outside the jazz world included after the interview portion.  Tune in!

(photo credit: Christer Männikus)

Playlist (artist-“tune” from album)

Nick Fraser-“Sketch #20/22” from Starer

Gintas K-“Minmi” from Under My Skin

Sarah Davachi-“Ghosts and All” from Vergers

Sneaks-“Inside Edition” from It’s a Myth

The Courtneys-“Silver Velvet” from II