Gauntlet Hair – “Human Nature”
Dark electro with a No Age-esque edge. Deserves to be played at high volume, so you get the power of both the dubby backbeat and the noise-rock counterpoint. (insound)
Hauschka – “Paige and Jane”
Delicate yet rich, a piano and cello weave together and create something heart-stopping. This album is short but absolutely exquisite. (serein)
Lotus Plaza – “Monoliths”
Spooky Action at a Distance
It’s hard to pin down the sound exactly – Jesus & Mary Chain crossed with Women? However you define it, this Deerhunter side project makes solid, fuzzy psych-rock and “Monoliths” is an ebullient nugget of just that. (insound)
Brambles – “Salt Photographs”
Another subdued album of what might be called ‘enhanced chamber music’ from the label that owns that space, Serein. This song, the longest on Charcoal, combines atmospheric noise and percussion with delicate and precisely-placed strings and keyboards. I love the transition and slow build, like a cross between early A Silver Mt Zion and label-mates Nest — a nearly flawless ambient work. (serein)
Bach – “Ei! wie schmeckt der Coffee süße”
BWV 211, the “Coffee Cantata”
Ei! wie schmeckt der Coffee süße, / Ah! how sweet coffee tastes!
Lieblicher als tausend Küsse, / Lovelier than a thousand kisses,
Milder als Muskatenwein. / smoother than sweet muscatel.
Coffee, Coffee muss ich haben, / Coffee, I must have coffee,
Und wenn jemand mich will laben, / and if someone wants to treat me,
Ach, so schenkt mir Coffee ein! / ah! my cup with coffee fill! (wiki)
Black Moth Super Rainbow – “Forever Heavy”
I wrote off BMSR long before this album came out, finding much of their output only partially accomplishing what it sets out to. Looks like they got their ducks in a row, because this excellent opener is a truly glorious combination of wah-wah synth, UFO noise, and the guy’s distorted voice. If a robot did mushrooms, this is what it would hum. (insound)
Hildur Guðnadóttir – “Leyfðu Ljósinu (prelude)”
This astonishing piece is the work of one Icelandic woman, performed live and without any post-production. Its delicate beginning only hints at the tonal richness of the rest, in which her cello and voice (looped and layered) intermingle in otherworldly, spine-chilling fashion and gradually build to a near-frantic conclusion. The best modern chamber music I have heard in years. Listen to the whole thing here.
Phantogram – “Make a Fist”
Somehow combines the mystical, rhythmic insight of Gang Gang Dance with the best aspects of today’s electropop. Every buzz, echo, tomtom, and break in this song is placed with extreme care and precision, manifesting in unremitting urgency and variation. (insound)
A Sunny Day in Glasgow – “100/0 (Snowdays forever)”
The last track on this album epitomizes it well, and is perhaps also the best one, assembling a truly broad assemblage of tones and instruments into a cohesive and powerful whole. The bass is great, the keyboards sharp, the random synths, echoes, and breaks well-placed. They also successfully make a minor key upbeat and ebullient. Still, their “klangy” noise-pop isn’t for everyone. (insound)
Nico Muhly and Nadia Sirota – “Part I: Material In D”
Drones & Viola
Part of a series of short contemporary chamber music EPs by Muhly and collaborators, this track is perhaps the most listenable (some of the pieces are a little— bangy), yet is also fundamentally elusive. The “drone” aspect acquires different tones throughout the piece despite remaining in essentially the same key, causing an interesting tension: Are the ever-present strings or the itinerant piano driving the melody? (insound)
Mojave 3 – “My Life In Art”
Excuses For Travelers
Mojave 3 may be cuddling music, but that doesn’t mean their solid songwriting can’t be acknowledged. This classic album has more than a couple tracks I’ve been whistling for years, but “My Life In Art” is the low-key, porch-sitting, significant-other-squeezing centerpiece.
Lake Trout – “Look Who It Is”
Another One Lost
An ominous, Lynchian instrumental that seems at odds with the rest of the album, which is energetic but uneven. Really impressive second half, channeling Angelo Badalamenti’s “Go Get Some” from the Mulholland Drive soundtrack.
Juno – “The Great Salt Lake”
This Is the Way It Goes & Goes & Goes
I missed out on Juno when they were a Seattle band, though I had their split with Dismemberment Plan and later taught Travis’s daughter at preschool for a couple years. It seems they helped lay the foundation for later indie rock bands, and present a sort of middle ground between earlier alternative bands and post-punk stuff, like The Wrens mixed with Built To Spill, if that makes any sense. This track is not representative of the album at all, but is too good not to share with anyone who likes atmospheric rock and hasn’t already encountered Juno. (insound)
The Wind-Up Bird – “Violin & Trumpet”
Conduction, Convection, Radiation
This excellent (but rather somber) split between 1 Mile North, Colophon, and The Wind-Up Bird has a number of great, near-ambient tracks. 1 Mile North’s “Ashes & Dust,” with its spare piano and texture, is a departure from their usual guitar noodlings, and Colophon’s contributions acquire perhaps too much poignancy once you know their context (probably better not to learn). But it’s The Wind-Up Bird’s tracks, shimmery and otherworldly, that stand out most to me — this one in particular. (insound)
Wye Oak – “Talking About Money”
It’s uncommon that I’m exposed to an artist through their latest album, but then find I prefer their earlier work — especially when the latest album is as good as Wye Oak’s Civilian. But The Knot does everything Civilian does, with more variety, grandeur, and power in general. From the setup and punchline of the first two tracks to the unbelievably confident “Talking About Money” to the shoegazer “Mary Is Mary” and triumphant “Tattoo,” there is hardly a misstep on the album and a surfeit of just plain excellent music. (insound)
Murcof – “Spring In The Artificial Gardens”
The Versailles Sessions
The occult quasi-baroque meanderings of The Versailles Sessions seem a strange sequel to Murcof’s dubby, Loscil-esque Martes and Remembranza. But a lot can change in a few years, and the artist’s experimental leanings were already evident. Still, it’s a fairly baffling 50 minutes. The focus is on space and ambience, not (as the compelling but ultimately frustrating “Louis XIV’s Demons” shows early on), and this track embodies that without being terminally weird.
Marielle V Jakobsons – “Crystal Orchard”
An ethereal but sonically fascinating album. Jakobsons creates wonderful atmospheres, and the journeys through those soundspaces occasionally resemble songs. The first three tracks (this is the second) are especially intriguing. (experimedia)
Sin Fang – “Strange House”
An excellent EP packed with some just plain great songs. This one in particular has a wonderfully varied structure, swinging from jangle to piano-and-surf to Elephant 6 psych. Calming but still upbeat and musically interesting. (insound)