Oblique Contours is a "sheer articulation of postmodern anxiety," in which angular guitar lines serve as a protective expression of "despair and unease."Read More
Rather than have an explicit lead, rhythm, or harmony, most of the tracks on Vox have foreground, background, color, and texture.Read More
Ruins is a clear demonstration that sound art is not merely intellectual self-gratification posing as contemporary art but a form capable of immense expression.Read More
Chrissybaby Forever is a record with an incredibly ambitious mission statement: to succeed within a counter-cultural indie art scene by challenging all of its assumptions about art.Read More
"This album has the clear marks of an artist with enough time to dip into every genre that catches his attention."Read More
Written by Jesse Silbert
Kamasi Washington is a saxophonist on Brainfeeder Records, who composes, produces, and plays jazz. At first glance, Washington may seem out of place among the other musicians on Brainfeeder, who, if we are casting a wide net with respect to genre, are almost exclusively hip-hop or electronic artists. However, he fits in with the group better than one might think. Brainfeeder was founded by Stephen Ellison (ie Flying Lotus), the grand-nephew of legendary jazz saxophonist John Coltrane and jazz pianist Alice Coltrane. The way in which Ellison, and the artists signed onto his label, conceives of electronic music is aligned with that jazz tradition; Brainfeeder's music contains tension and release, thematic and momentary misdirection, constant violation of musical expectations, odd time signatures, rhythmic, harmonic, and melodic complexity, improvisation, or a general headiness absent in most electronic dance music. Thus, Washington, as someone who has recently lent his talents to Flying Lotus’s most recent full-length You’re Dead! and Kendrick Lamar’s most recent project To Pimp a Butterfly, fits right in with the Brainfeeder crew; The Epic is a progression of, rather than a departure from, the trajectory of the label's discography.
The Epic is aptly titled; seventeen songs make up the triple album, clocking in at just under three hours of music, and those seventeen songs were themselves chosen from around two hundred that were recorded. The album was created with a ten-piece core band of some of LA’s best up-and-coming jazz musicians, as well as a thirty-two-piece orchestra and a twenty-member choir. The album spans a wide range of different jazz sub-genres, from fusion and post-bop to vocal standards or more contemporary, genre-defying styles of jazz, all of them containing a mix of composition and improvisation. Although there are so many players on this album, the arrangements dexterously manage large swathes of textures, and Washington’s horn shines through with his Coltrane-esque solo runs, his funk-influenced riffs, and his hyper-emotive over-blowing that frequently had me on the verge of tears.
There is too much musical content to explore on this record to try and carefully review all of it track by track, or even to nail down some musical content-based thesis, so instead the largest cohesive factor for the album becomes its direction and its spirit. Undoubtedly some will call The Epic the revival of jazz. However, it is difficult to label anything as the revival of a genre, mainly because it is hard to identify the exact impact an album has, or because “revival” is difficult to define. Some might even question if jazz is in need of a revival since it is already so alive and well: for fans of contemporary jazz, people like Hiromi Uehara, Vijay Iyer, and Eldar Djangirov are proof that the genre is thriving and evolving. Moreover, bands like BADBADNOTGOOD are proving that jazz is interesting younger audiences.
So what is The Epic’s place in the current state of jazz? Its place is a calling to the spirit of jazz, as life-affirming music, as emotional, exploratory, and energetic art. All over the album, Washington and his band explore stories, emotions, and ideas with so much energy that is at times overwhelming. Harsh critics of jazz who call it an old and campy genre would be hard-pressed to say the same about this vibrant and colorful piece of work. Washington doesn’t break any barriers, but what he does is place a mammoth seventeen-track long, almost three-hour footprint on the face of contemporary jazz, one that definitely will excite jazz’s current audience and hopefully attract a newer audience with its immense vitality.
The Epic personnel:
Kamasi Washinton - Tenor Saxophone
Ryan Porter - Trombone
Igmar Thomas - Trumpet
Cameron Graves - Piano
Brandon Coleman - Keyboards
Miles Mosley - Acoustic Bass
Stephen "Thundercat" Bruner - Electric Bass
Tony Austin - Drums (Right Side)
Ronald Bruner Jr. - Drums (Left Side)
Leon Mobley - Percussion
Written by Nick Tario
With one full length album, a couple singles, and an EP under their belt, it seems as though Sydney-based band Day Ravies has joined a long line of artists, from Joy Orbison to Com Truise to Natalie Portman’s Shaved Head, who have named themselves after a celebrity with zero connection to the music they make. In the case of Day Ravies, this is Ray Davies, the singer, guitarist, and all-around mastermind behind The Kinks. But where The Kinks made their name by writing intricate British Invasion pop-rock about the complexities of British life in the 1960s, Day Ravies is more interested in the indecipherable vocals and fuzzed-out guitar sounds of modern shoegaze music.
On their most recent release, the Under the Lamp EP, Day Ravies explore a series of shoegaze tropes as old as the genre itself. While the opening song to the four track EP, “Sleepwalk,” has both male and female vocals (singing the verses and choruses respectively), the rest of the songs feature female vocals on lead exclusively. The band’s sickly sweet vocal stylings will familiar to anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the genre: the male vocals here sound fey, the female vocals bittersweet and bordering on malaise. Like much of shoegaze, what the vocals are actually saying is beside the point. Listening to shoegaze for the lyrics is like listening to progressive rock for conciseness or punk rock for technical virtuosity. There are occasional snippets of lyrics throughout the EP that are mostly decipherable (the vocals found here, while obscured, are much clearer than a vast majority of shoegaze), but for the most part the lyrics on Under the Lamp seem just a bit beyond the realm of lucidity (during the song “Perennial,” I’m able to catch the phrase “I left you wondering,” which more or less sums up my feelings towards most of the other lyrics on the EP).
But there’s much more to Day Ravies other than a series of hastily cobbled together genre tropes. While there’s nothing startlingly new about Day Ravies, they do manage to hit a certain sweet spot between pop sensibility and noise that’s innately enjoyable (if you’re looking for a game of X band plus Y band equals Z band, imagine a cross between the pop of The Pains of Being Pure at Heart with some of the mess of Yo La Tengo. If you’re not interested in that game, imagine catchy, immediate melodies with lots of distortion, guitars that wind their way through the songs like snakes through grass, and the occasional post-punk bassline). And of course, what Day Ravies may lack in novelty they more than make up for in enthusiasm; never does it feel like the band is just going through the motions, and from the first couple seconds of Under the Lamp, when all the instruments strike at once, until the very end of the EP eleven minutes later, the band brings a sort of youthful energy to their performances that gives all four songs here an element of halcyon bliss. Even when the vocals are singing “I left you wondering, I caused you suffering” it’s impossible not to smile.
Listen to more Day Ravies on their Bandcamp.
Susanna De Martino on Juan Wauter's elegant simplicity.Read More
Written by Nick Tario
When listening to Flame Rave, the latest EP by the British electronic musician Clark, it’s tempting to associate the music with words and phrases like “nocturnal” and “late night drive.” But this isn’t exactly the sort of music that easily fits into any mold, and the “nocturnal, late night drive” descriptors may give off the wrong impression, suggesting music similar to either ambient music or (on the other end of the spectrum) the poppy first half of the Drive soundtrack. But Flame Rave is too kinetic to belong to the likes of subdued ambiance, and too harsh and menacing to belong sandwiched between Riz Ortolani and Chromatics. Instead, the music occupies the realm of flashing lights and sirens, bursts of adrenaline, and imminent danger.
The first song on the EP is entitled “Silver Sun,” and starts off with an off-kilter, almost broken melody, as a propulsive krautrock percussion fills up the song. That sense of propulsion helps drive “Silver Sun,” as well as the majority of the other songs on the EP,
giving each song a distinct sense of movement, and the analogy between the propulsive nature of this music and the aforementioned act of driving is clear. As the percussion continues throughout “Silver Sun” it becomes almost militaristic, crushing all opposition that stands in its way.
The next song, “To Live and Die in Grantham,” has that same sense of propulsion, but with a more danceable feel, and it’s clear on this song where the “rave” part of the EP’s title comes from. I’m not sure where Grantham is, if it is anything like the song that shares its name, then it’s the sort of place where dystopian science fiction movies à la Blade Runner are set, the eerie synths that pervade the track giving a sense of claustrophobia as the music advances.
Third song “Springtime Linn” is where the EP reveals both its greatest strength and greatest weakness. While the propulsive beats behind each of the three songs thus far have given the EP a distinct atmosphere, the beats themselves leave something to be desired when it comes to variation. On occasion, the loud thumping beats get monotonous when going from one song to the next, and it’s easy to see how Flame Rave would be a stronger body of music with more sonic variation; while “Springtime Linn,” on its own is certainly a fine song, it’s placement in the EP initially feels more than a little redundant after the similar “Silver Sun” and “To Live and Die in Grantham.” Thankfully, the song ends up breaking the mold after the four minute mark, when the beat fades away and the song transitions into an almost cheerful secondary section.
The song to close out the EP is entitled “Unfurla Cremated,” and it’s the one song here that doesn’t feature that same percussive style. In fact, “Unfurla Cremated” almost seems to be the antithesis of the first three songs, as the synths drone on like a funeral march. As the music starts to swell around the track’s two minute mark it’s clear that the song is the resolution that the EP needed — if we’re going back to the driving analogy, it’s the musical equivalent of turning onto your street and heading towards the driveway. It’s the EP’s homestretch, and the climax that happens four minutes in is satisfying, although ultimately not as memorable as some of the highlights on the first two songs. And as the song closes, it’s apparent that Flame Rave is a short and to-the-point EP, one that leaves you wanting more of his nocturnal soundscapes.
Listen to more Clark on his SoundCloud.
Hazily make your way "through a surreal landscape of strange and wonderful sounds" with this 2005 release.Read More
Shaanz's music isn’t in service of being punk. The punk aesthetic is in service of her higher musical aspirations.Read More
Frenetic, dirty songs meant for unapologetically blasting at maximum volume.Read More
Glimmering pop and fizz from electro-funk artist McFabulous.Read More
Sheer Mag's new release is one more indicator that contemporary rock is not about pushing boundaries.Read More
ASHA manages to craft a comprehensive, honest, and uplifting debut that leaves us with something to contemplate.Read More
Written by Susanna De Martino
Brazilian Money’s latest project is an eponymous album, fronted by Johnson, who is supported by a revolving cast of musicians—Ily & Oliver Barnes on drums, Catlin Kuzyk on guitar and vocals, Daniel Sedmak on the upright bass, and Liam Trimble on the violin. The album, a compilation of re-masters and re-recordings of tracks on past releases, has the distinct sound of an artist that enjoys making music. Johnson has described his genre as “weird pop,” and this anthology showcases his brand of bizarre at its best.
Take opening track “Slowly Soaking Up Some Rays On a Sofa,” in which high pitched cackling and wailing are seamlessly integrated into an echo-y surf pop song. Or “Why Am I Still Standing Here,” where voices shriek and croon behind Johnson’s vocals. “Bored in Space” is the closest the band comes to apathy or nihilism. It features a simple guitar melody underneath Johnson singing, “nothing lasts forever, except for space, except for space.” But even here, Johnson veers wildly towards the unexpected, dissolving the track into static noise and a two-man spoken discussion of outer space.
When not covering aliens, the band’s lyrics are primarily concerned with the trappings of life as a young artist in a big city: jobs, restlessness, money, inertia. On final track “Big Money” Johnson sings, “I’m sick of all my clothes, sick of where I go….I wanna be something more than wasted,” and, “I can’t look in the mirror.” But despite the uneasy subject matter, Johnson’s easygoing nature remains in the music itself, the dissatisfaction of his lyrics offset with languid guitar fills. It changes the track from a complaint into reflection, a song acknowledging problems without wanting to whine.
Listen to more Brazlian Money on their bandcamp
Drawing from shoegaze, dream pop, and a little funk, Washington, DC-based band The Sea LIfe has, with their latest EP Transitions, successfully delivered both a technically impressive and immediately enjoyable sound.Read More
Kate Ellwanger is the founder of Unspeakable Records, member of the weekly Cypher beat-cypher group Team Supreme, and the artist known as Dot, author of the masterfully produced Playtime EP.Read More
The latest release from Miguel Gallego's project Dicktations is one of the finest of the year, blending solidarity-style social activism, irreverent genre juxtapositions, and adroit production.Read More
Written by Jahbril Cook
p.stmdrn is a California-based electronic artist whose work is characterized by smooth, ethereal instrumental loops. Since December 2013, he has released a prodigious ten full-length LPs, the first nine of which were purely instrumental records showcasing his beatmaking. His latest album, February’s X — stylized PXSTMDRN — is the first to layer rap vocals over jazzy, graceful instrumentals.
The twenty-seven tracks on X are each generally short, clocking the total runtime at around an hour. A few exceptionally succinct tracks — around 30-60 seconds each — intermingle with the longer, fuller remix tracks to make the LP feel deceptively like a compilation of tossed-off drafts and ideas, though this self-effacing front is a deliberate compositional choice by the artist.
Unlike the straightforward titling of his previous LPs, X’s track titles are highly stylized. The track “NXSTVLGIV[gr.wnvpp]” — presumably “NOSTALGIA[grown up]” — features a light, pretty synth-guitar and drum loops over a vocal track of Danny Brown’s “Grown Up.” The subject matter of the sample vocals and the mood set by the soft instrumentals combine to create the reminiscent theme that the title suggests.
Another recurrent theme of the album is the contrast created by mellow instrumentals paired with aggressive rap vocals. The airy, floating organ synth which opens “SXHVRD[$trtdrm$]” underscores a couple sampled verses from Nas’s hugely successful 90’s single “Street Dreams,” a poignant commentary on drug dealing as a necessity and an aspiration for kids growing up in the hood. While this track definitely presents a much different tone from Nas’s original song, p.stmdrn’s instrumental restyling successfully complements Nas’s vocal track, and the intention behind the lyrics is preserved.
Download X and listen to p.stmdrn’s other projects on Bandcamp.