Looking Ahead: 10/29

Hello! sorrY thIs is LATE but here’s what I’m listemimg to this week.

Julie Holter makes a wildly adventurous blend of experimental baroque and art pop and her new album Aviary is utterly MASSIVE.  90-Minutes, huge swells of vocals, and cavernous instrumental cacophony; it’s a wild ride.

Robyn remains singularly enthralling after an eight year hiatus.

Looking Ahead: October 19th

Empress Of-Us

Young producer and songwriter Lorely Rodriguez continues her rise with an inspired collection of moods ranging from self doubt and loss to emboldened bliss.

Neneh Cherry-Broken Politics

Longstanding legend of experimental and neo-soul links up with Four Tet for a laid back but vivid collection.

Arca-Arca: Album Review

Arca’s video “Reverie” is a good marker for the overall effect of his self-titled work and a true must see of 2017.  Stilted up like a gazelle, Alejandro Ghersi painstakingly inches back and forth on screen, before an animalistic phallic shape emerges out of his groin and takes control of his body, leaving his face in even more pain.  From his rear, the viewer sees blood stains.  It’s confrontational, unsettling, and carries the scars of the queer experience.

Sonically, this is embodied with the violent, minimal sound space that underpins Arca’s whispery vocals—a new addition to his songwriting.  With lyrics in Spanish, I’m admittedly not listening for a lyrical or poetic experience.  Those interested can find translations online, but Arca also conveys his message with his sound alone.  His sense of space is breathtaking and the vocals offer another gateway to his psyche.

The album requires a front to back experience.  With a couple stand-alone tracks coming towards the end, the listener needs to hear the way the work builds up into “Reverie” and “Fugaces” to fully get absorbed.  Pressing play on the opener “Piel,” there’s just a presence there with vocals harping on a simple descending melodic pattern.  Florescent flashes come next with high drones squealing to add to the atmosphere and white noise giving a cushion to the low end.  “Anoche” beefs itself up a little bit at the chorus, but it still carries the same patience as instrumental cues come only with the lilt of the vocals.

“Reverie” becomes the first singular piece, as all the ideas thus far coalesce into one jolting mass.  The tempo is still a bit abstracted, but as the catchy chorus seeps into your pores, smearing rhythmic activity gives the illusion of speed and spilling noise.  Three tracks later, “Desafio” falls along the same wavelength with another sing-able chorus and a great deal of rhythmic activity making the track sing, but before then Arca takes a step back.

“Castration” sees the absence of vocals and a rumination on a single industrial loop, whereas “Sin Rumbo” shifts back to the vocals with some stunning high notes.  Arca isn’t necessarily adding songs to the world for other folks to sing, but the experience of the ups and downs of the recording makes it emotionally moving.  Perhaps by the standards of a more straightforward pop artist, his sonic design wouldn’t be so strong, but within the atmosphere of this project, they stick out.

Arca’s talent for pure sound also comes through in his use of sound effects and fascinating textures.  The track “Whip” presents the most obvious example with his on-going artistic connection between sex and violence coming through in the BDSM sounding whip sample that opens the track.  Elsewhere, sound-art type decisions are more used to highlight the space.  “Saunter,” for instance, evokes sci-fi with alien surface noise.

The record’s “ballad”—if you will—is beautiful, but perhaps could’ve been blown out a bit more.  Drones and keyboards float in and Arca’s voice is deeper than most spots on the record.  The chorus is pure bliss with a cushion of backing vocals and a distant melodic device, but it just fades out a bit too quickly.  This could’ve been a five-minute mammoth, making for a slightly more flourishing centerpiece.  After that, the record wraps up with a vocal epilogue of sorts in “Miel” and an instrumental epilogue of sorts in “Child.”

Arca’s got such a unique sonic fingerprint.  Everything he does is completely left-field, but relatable at the same time and the addition of his voice is flawless.  Perhaps some architectural issues could sort themselves out on the next record, but his self-titled has again left a great impression on the electronic art-musical landscape.

-Donovan Burtan


The Uncoverables Podcast: Kevin Sun (Earprint) Interview

Click Here to Download

This week’s podcast features an interview with Earprint’s Kevin Sun, a new jazz group that has recieved much critical acclaim since the release of their self-titled debut in 2016, including a spot on NPR’s jazz critics poll.

If you’re in Montreal, they play tomorrow evening at Cafe Resonance!


(all available to listen via bandcamp)

Nouveau Jazz Libre Du Québec (NJLQ)-“Scrapple From The Apple” Out on Small Scale Music

Jonathan Finlayson-“All of the Pieces” from Moving Still out on Pi Recordings

Steve Coleman-“Acupuncture Openings” from Synovial Joints on Pi

Steve Lehman-Sélébéyone: Album Review

S�l�b�yone album cover

Jazz and hip-hop coexist along similar planes, however, a fusion of the two often results in a tendency towards one particular aesthetic.  For The Roots, the soundscape certainly leans more towards hip-hop, with the jazz induced horn improvisations providing a throwback sound.  Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly falls under a similar category, despite the tune “For Free? (Interlude),” which places Lamar’s fierce flow alongside be-bop influenced quartet playing.  Robert Glasper and Christian Scott lean in the opposite direction.  Their records breathe improvisation, an occasional hip-hop beat or rap verse sneaking into the ensemble sound to achieve a sense of modernity.  On his new record Sélébéyone, Steve Lehman is nearly dead center.  His angular, modern-jazz melodies perfectly complement the jumping overtones of Gaston Bandimic’s flow with vivid production pulling from both idioms.  Rhythm also plays a big role in the album, each song encompassing different influences in the underlying bass line, challenging the soloists to exist outside of their typical comfort zone.

“Laamb” kicks of the album intensely; the ominous drones complement the vocal urgency with anxious piano arpeggiations adding to the menacing ensemble sound.   Slowly a beat emerges with both rappers presenting brief verses, before ceding the space to Lehman and Maciek Lasserre for a long-form sax duet.  The song serves very well as an open-ended introduction: none of the soloists completely expose themselves with the lyrics remaining relatively esoteric alongside subtle improvisational melodies.  “Are You in Peace?” carries a bit more weight.  Many layers of Lehman’s sax playing linger over the modern jazz groove with highly articulated meter changes adding to the impact of the vocal and instrumental solos.  Both rappers touch upon moving on in the world while staying committed to their roots.  HPrizm suggests that his career “Depend[s] on the pen” but he “still spray[s] an aerosol,” implying that he has made it as a rapper, but still uses graffiti on the streets.  Bandimic also talks about his community, first suggesting that they are on stage creating art: “we’re flourishing as God intended,” then reminding the world that they are still at war: “There is no peace and no love today, only war.”

The following tune, “AKAP,” provides a decline in sonic activity.  Bandimic simply shares words over an electronic beat to release some of the tension that has been amassed over the first two songs.  “Origine” essentially throws the listener back into the thick of things.  Another ominous synthesizer beginning leads into a heavy beat with verses from each rapper as well as high intensity improvisations from keyboard and saxophone.  Similar events occur on “Cognition” with a bit more time given to the instrumentals.  The back side of the record may stand out a bit less than the front, but “Dualism” provides a dramatic high point as HPrizm is left in ambience with eerie melodies courtesy of Lehman; “Bamba” then ends the album off on a high note, its seven minute length filled to the brim with fiery performances.

The fact that Lehman’s group have placed rap within an advanced rhythmic space is no small feat and it may be the driving force behind the album’s ability to speak as both a work of contemporary jazz and hip hop.  Syncopated underlying bass lines provide the listener with varying rhyme schemes as the rappers are forced out of their comfort zone.  The rhythmic conception is also not entirely comfortable to the more jazz experienced players.  From bass-driven, African rhythms to slight London grime-tinged electronic beats the album presents a variety of sounds with the soloists guiding each other throughout.  There truly is a trade-off taking place.  Another product of these varying rhythmic approaches is contrast.  Although the album is a bit lacking in memorable vocal hooks, Lehman and his ensemble achieve contrast with each tune presenting different rhythmic motives in different ways.  Just as the rhyme scheme is made more advanced by varying metric schemes, the melodic development is constantly being shifted as well, leaving the soundscape open for variation.

Sélébéyone comes together extremely well.  Not only do all of the soloists present well-constructed material, they successfully construct a fusion of idiom without over-emphasizing any individual player.  By displacing each other rhythmically, the players open a cultural dialogue in which style and delivery constantly oscillate, resulting in fresh sounds and musical conceptions.

-Donovan Burtan

Steve Lehman presents a fantastic example of jazz/hip-hop fusion. Perhaps the album could benefit from stand-out singles but the overall experience is fantastic. 8.5/10