The Uncoverables Podcast: Ernesto Cervini Interview (Myriad3)

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This week’s podcast features an interview with Myriad3 drummer Ernesto Cervini in anticipation of their gig March 22nd at Casa Del Popolo alongside Montreal’s Parc Ex Trio. Topics include tourin’, rehearsin’, and composin’.

ENJOY

Playlist:

Trio3 (Andrew Cyrille, Reggie Workman, and Oliver Lake)-“Bumper” from Visiting Texture

Myriad3-“Skeleton Key” from Moons

Aki Takase and David Murray-“A Very Long Letter” from Cherry-Sakura

 

 

Parlor Walls-Opposites: Album Review

Armed with konked-out free jazz saxophone and no-wave punk sensibilities, Parlor Walls paint an emotionless, futuristic void to speak about modern mundanities, societal constructs, and relationship tensions.  Self-described trash-jazz musicians, the walls pit Alyse Lamb’s raucous vocal deliveries and scrapping guitar musings against Kate Mohanty’s screeching horn over open-faced drum grooves from Chris Mulligan in a number of different aesthetic realms.  Crime Engine Failure opens with a straightforward distorted landscape, but tunes like Me Me My and Cover Me jump into a more industrial realm, leaving the tumultuous jam session Teach Me Where to Roam out in left field as an outlier.  At this point in time, the lines between free jazz horns and punk-induced yelps have been drawn before, but Mohanty’s lyrics leave room for interpretation and the dynamic songwriting approach makes for a riveting experience.

The lyrics on the project certainly require a bit of interpretation, but Lamb’s way with words makes her lines particularly unique and enticing.  Crime Engine Failure opens with passing remarks: “cut it into little watches/I got the script you hear my voices/running images across the screen/scan for the one’s dear to me.”  The idea of running images across a screen is decently discernable as something to do with technology—Instagram?—and the script implies something rehearsed, whereas the last line touches upon emotional meaning.  I sort of draw this together as the faux-emotions of the internet where you almost have a script of things to do in order to convince your friends that you still care.  The chorus bursts out with “but you pulled the chord right out of me and now I don’t know how to call out,” which again touches upon technology as Lamb doesn’t know what to do when she’s unplugged.

Other areas on the album allude to various figures in Lamb’s life.  Play Opposites seems to be about gender, particularly when one’s parents feel as though their children didn’t turn out as expected: “Is this what you wanted mother/empty shells to fill your hole.”  The “play opposites” tag refers to some sort of binary, perhaps a childhood game in which brother and sister play opposite.

With pounding 7/8 in full swing throughout, Hesitation creates a particularly violent atmosphere for a dystopian take on having feelings for someone: “crawl through your infatuation/can you say my name.”  With a chorus about tearing down the walls between each other that gets delivered in complete anarchy: “welcome through I’ll leave my light on/rearrange my shade/we can imagine partition/see it fall away.”  The mood of the tracks is always reflected in Lamb’s words and although the line “burn it to the ground” seems to be rather all-encompassing for the record, there’s a great deal of variety throughout.

Sonically, the group is grounded in a certain aesthetic, but the subtle changes at the beginning of each track make for a new context for their improvisatory gestures.  On Teach Me Where to Roam, the cacophonous drums make for a particularly bleak environment.  Mohanty’s smoldering saxophone lines add to the haunting moodiness, trading ideas with the lofty guitar melodies.  Cover Me is even more daring in its improvisation as Mohanty’s manipulated saxophone unleashes idiosyncratic lines throughout, to match the brooding, looped electronic bass sound.

The instrumental, Carstairs, is brought to a much more mellow sound space with glistening, textured electronics.  Of course, Mohanty carries the track into a slightly more anxious place with her melodic climaxes, but it’s interesting to hear a bit more of a barren landscape for their gushing energy than the usual heavy riffs.

Opposites showcases a punk band that’s primed and ready to wreak havoc on DIY spaces all over the continent.  Parlor Walls certainly pay homage to the no wave era, but their integration of improvisation into the punk idiom is pristine and Alyse Lamb’s poetic lyrics inspire deep listening and contemplation.

-Donovan Burtan

8/10

Nikki Lane-Highway Queen: Album Review

With a song called 700,000 Rednecks and lyrics about “muddy waters” and “viva las vegas,” Nikki Lane truly wears country on her sleeve.  At the same time, her mellow voice and moody band sound don’t necessarily pander to the commercial country crowd.  Highway Queen comes across as a log of Lane’s young adulthood.  First, we get a confident lone wolf, but then, Lane beats herself up for depending on her love interest and by the end she’s heartbroken over the break-up.  It’s not entirely a concept album or a break-up album as some of the tracks are a bit off-topic, but Lane delivers earnest, heart-wrenching material between raucous fun, while also placing country within reach of the modern indie rock crowd.

The record opens on dramatic ambience and suddenly Lane comes in and yelps off a “yippie ki yay” that echoes off into the canyon as her methodical guitar lick gets going.  There’s a lot of ways that the “yippie ki yay” strategy can go wrong, but right after we’ve jumped into a well-mixed bluesy sound space with Lane’s smoldering vocals surrounded by acoustic and electric guitars, the occasional rip-roaring solo and some distant, vintage backing vocals—the goofiness overstay it’s welcome so to speak.

This tune is a fun start to the record that talks about all the people you got to get through to get to the top, but Highway Queen follows with a bit of a dive into Lane’s psyche.  Opening with some soaring slide guitar and pulsing bass, the tune is clearly a travelin’ song and the lyrics speak about a woman who doesn’t stick around for too long and never falls into a dependent relationship with a significant other.  This tune is probably about Lane herself to some degree, but—considering the love songs that come later—it also comes across as an ideal that Lane was striving for at one point or another, which sort of becomes a reoccurring songwriting strategy.  Lane often talks about topics vicariously through other characters making the record simultaneously dynamic and focused.

On Lay You Down, for instance, Lane takes on the underlying anxieties that the lone wolf experiences by discussing the death of a man around town.  We start with him venturing off alone, but his story takes a turn for the worse and Lane paints a depressing portrait of dying alone: “Who’s gonna lay you down tonight?/Put aside the fear and the pain/And hold your hand while you die.”  Lane’s voice on this one is particularly striking.  The chorus is in that slightly strained high range, so you hear her inner fears dripping out of her.  Also, the guitar solo reaches symphonic heights with big tom movements from the drummer and a chorus of Lane’s offering “oohs.”

Next in the story is a fun gambling tune, but Lane also uses it as a metaphor for dating and falling in love. It seems like the thought of dying alone has pushed her to pursue a relationship of some kind and Companion follows with a love song about the honeymoon phase.  Companion is a great example of Lane’s sonic prowess.  The sonic elements—such as plucked bass, arpeggiating guitar, and classic vocal countermelody—are panned left and right and continuously pile up making for a thick instrumental texture.

The second half of the record goes through depending too heavily on someone and dealing with distance, before delving into the end of a relationship.  Muddy Waters offers poetic self-reflection.  Lane talks about her own stubbornness and how her significant other may not have meant to harm her, but she can’t pull herself to believe him and she really rips her heart out on the final track: “And anyone could try to say we didn’t keep the vows we made/But they’d be lying/Cause we said ‘til death do us part and it was true/Cause my heart feels like it’s dying.”

Admittedly, there’s some hamfisted lyrical moments on the record.  Between those heartbreaking words on Forever Lasts Forever, we hear a bit of excessive bluntness with “Yeah, we swore for better or for worse/And it was better at first, and worse at the end.”  Also, Big Mouth is a bit high school for my tastes: “Well, I just heard a dirty secret/Should have known you couldn’t keep it/And now the shit’s done hit the fan.”  It’s also hard to say that the record offers groundbreaking artistry.  However, Lane avoids autopilot and honors the country tradition with great introspective reflection and telling your own story through the plight of others.

-Donovan Burtan

7/10

On The Monthly: February 2017

Best of February. No Particular Order.

Sampha-Process

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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.

Read Further

Priests-Nothing Feels Natural

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Stormzy-Gang Signs & Prayer

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Stormzy will tell you himself that this debut record was a long time coming.  Since gaining recognition as best grime act in the 2014 MOBO awards, he’s been a bit aloof, releasing only singles, mixtapes and music videos.  The air gets cleared quickly on Gang Signs & Prayer as each of the first three tracks hit hard and emphasize—convincingly—that there’s nothing to worry about—Stormzy is clocked in a ready to go.  He also quickly convinces us that he’s not one dimensional with a gospel number and later features offered by Kehlani and Nao.  Perhaps the album is a bit of a mixed bag and perhaps a few too many tunes gush with excess, but this record showcases a dynamic songwriter who commands each and every minute with his striking personality.

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Julie Byrne-Not Even Happiness

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There are certain formulas that have stood the test of time and the folk singer/songwriter equipped with acoustic guitar is clearly one of them.  Although the pillars of the 1960s and 70s—Dylan and Mitchell—might still be the ones truly at the tip of your tongue when the topic is brought up, Chapman, Elliot, and Sufjan have carried us on to modern day.  Aided by some blissfully subtle decisions from producer Eric Littman, Julie Byrne has carved out a nice niche for herself on Not Even Happiness.  The album’s transient landscape effortlessly maintains a natural sensibility, while also tapping into some gorgeous electro-acoustic findings.  Byrne’s lyrics are beautifully introspective and focused so the album reads as a personal journey with words of wisdom for all people.

Full Review

Lisa Mezzacappa-avantNOIR

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On AvantNOIR, Lisa Mezzacappa showcases a knack for achieving a great overall ensemble sound in an aesthetic that strikes a balance between noisy avant-garde jazz and more straight-ahead materials.  Beginning with a quirky three-minute tune, diving into some ambient realms in the middle, and ending with a floating, back-beat jolt, this album truly offers seven contrasting tunes, yet there’s a moody quality that connects each number.  Mezzacappa has been around the bay-area jazz scene for quite some time now, but this is my personal introduction to her music and it’s clear that she will become a staple of my jazz listening for years to come.

Review

Thundercat-Drunk: Album Review

We’ve always been living in a world where bass master Thundercat gets to do whatever he wants all the time.  Past albums haven’t taken themselves all that seriously—as exemplified by his ecstasy anthem “Oh Sheit It’s X”—and his features have popped up all over the place, entirely dependent on where Thundercat’s computer took him that day.  But Drunk is peak random and takes the album experience to astoundingly sarcastic heights.  It’s an album where falsetto oohs and ahhs suddenly turn into raucous be-bop lines, with 60 seconds about Japan and anime here, a 20 second instrumental there and a Wiz Khalifa drinking tune for kicks.  The result is unfortunately far too choppy of an experience that also somehow attains the same general aesthetic throughout, making for a bit of a dry addition to the catalogue.

Save standouts like “Show You the Way” and “Friend Zone,” the first three or four tracks are pretty much all you need to hear to know what happens on “Drunk.”  Opener “Rabbit Ho” is 39 seconds long and comprised of one jazz motive, then “Captain Stupido” follows with lyrics about waking up after leaving your wallet at the club over a quirky bass melody.  Thundercat then trades off solo ideas with a pianist on “Uh Uh” before singing about the addicting nature of cell phones in a quasi-reading-rainbow style on “Bus in These Streets.”  Each of these tracks are just so short and underdeveloped that it’s hard to really grasp anything and even though Thundercat is offering a lot of different musical ideas in the short spurts, his vocal capabilities just aren’t versatile enough to really alter the impact from track to track.

“Show You the Way” shows that Thundercat is at his best when he’s working in something of a pop-music format.  Sporting awesome features from Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald (yes, you read that right), the tune has clear verses tied together by a catchy chorus and a fun, danceable bass line.  The lyrics are poetic and a bit undefined, but they’re focused.  In the refrain, Thundercat asks for trust in an upcoming journey: “Let me show you the way/A burning light on the edge of dark/We’ll live with dark, just take the ride.”  Then, each verse talks about how love can carry us through whatever lies ahead: “Wake up and dream, tear down the wall/Of all you believe that might not be true/Long as love lies waiting there.”  The track also has the perfect balance of personality and legitimacy as Thundercat semi-ironically introduces each feature with a lounge-singer tone followed by light-clapping—it’s a tune that doesn’t take itself seriously, but it’s still a TUNE.  It’s just unfortunate that it took nine half-assed tracks to get to a well put together composition.

Immediately following is a Kendrick Lamar feature that goes wasted as the track is far too mellow, to the point of being bland.  “Tokyo” is a hilarious ride through fandom that again suffers from bland delivery and “Jameel’s Space Ride” is fun, but simply far too short for notoriety.  By track 14—“Friend Zone”—we finally hear another focused pop tune, however, it’s tainted by the shitty lyrics (I thought the stupid concept of the “friend zone” ended in 2014).  Past that there’s little to talk about besides the demo quality of the Wiz Khalifa feature and the slow decay of all that could possibly be considered interesting in the last five tracks.

At 16 minutes in length, The Beyond/Where Giants Roam—Thundercat’s last offering—got away with the same whispery mood on each of its four short, fleeting numbers and pulled together two memorable stand-out tracks with the help of Kamasi Washington and Herbie Hancock.  “Drunk” is 52 minutes long and delivers roughly the same amount of memorable material—including a repeat performance of “Them Changes”—over 23 tracks with far too many mellowed-out, two-minute-or-less gusts of wind coming in between.  Perhaps if lyrics like “I’d rather play Mortal Kombat anyway” or “gonna blow all my cash on anime” came with a bit more of an inspired vocal delivery, the album would be more fun and energetic but, the over-arching impact falls completely flat.

-Donovan Burtan

5/10

If this is harsh it’s because I really love Thundercat and felt really let down by this album.

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