Leaf Erikson: A Canvas Of Hope (self-released, 2019)

May 18, 2019 at 1:35 pm | Posted in Reviews | Leave a comment

Leaf Erikson: A Canvas Of Hope

Leaf Erikson represents Detroit to the fullest on his excellent new album. Produced entirely by Meftah (whose sister Tanya used to be a DJ at WCBN several years ago), the beats are abstract and jazzy, filled with vinyl crackle and lo-fi grittiness, but they avoid sounding like a direct copy of any other well-known producer. The lyrics are what really make the album shine, however, celebrating Detroit in spite of all of its problems. “D.R.E.A.M.” flips Wu-Tang’s anthem, declaring that “Detroit Rules Everything Around Me”, while “Foreclosure” talks about how various suburbs of Detroit (and even Detroit’s midtown) are becoming the hippest places in the area, while the hood is still being ignored. “H2O” also touches on gentrification as well as the contunuing Flint water crisis. Still, there’s an extraordinary amount of hope and humility throughout, particularly on tracks like “Rescue Mission” and “Gospel from the North End”. Strongly recommended.


Forest Management: Passageways LP (Whited Sepulchre, 2019)

May 5, 2019 at 1:53 pm | Posted in Reviews | Leave a comment

Forest Management: Passageways LP

This is already in the running as one of my favorite ambient albums of the year. Its five tracks range from horizontal drones to patches of haunted ballroom music. “Various Sources of Light” rolls on for 15 minutes, gradually becoming brighter and clearer, while “Blue Leaves” (probably my favorite) is deeper and more obscured, seemingly hiding an intense spirit under the festering distortion. This album can be relaxing if you just leave it on in the background, but it seems like there’s something more sinister going on underneath.

Curved Light: Flow and Return tape (Constellation Tatsu, 2019) + Airs of Modality tape (Unifactor Tapes, 2019)

May 4, 2019 at 7:14 pm | Posted in Reviews | Leave a comment

Curved Light: Flow and Return tape

We didn’t hear much from Curved Light last year, but the ambient artist has returned with two tapes so far in 2019. Flow and Return mainly consists of short pieces flowing in and out of each other, producing a sequence of light flickers, audio pinwheels, and the occasional haunting moment. “Flow and Return” sustains its mood for a much longer period, extending to 7 minutes of a glitchy loop and wave-like textures, bringing to mind Justin Walter’s solo work.

Curved Light: Airs of Modality tape

Airs of Modality starts out sounding like music for a haunted temple. The track titles themselves point out a sort of mystic journey that could potentially be the plot of an RPG, and it gets a bit more action-filled during the more frantic “The Search” and the unexpectedly beat-driven “Hidden Ritual, Pt. 2/Revelation”. “The Invocation/Final Encounter” surrounds chanting monks with disorienting, trippy synth swarms and an accelerating bass throb which then rockets up galaxy-ward. There’s a lot of paths this album goes down, making it one of Curved Light’s most unpredictable and exciting releases.

Todd Modes: New Life LP (100 Limousines, 2019)

April 26, 2019 at 7:36 pm | Posted in Reviews | Leave a comment

Todd Modes: New Life LP

Detroit’s Todd Modes, whose previous releases include an EP on Fit Sound and a track on a Detroit Electronic Quarterly compilation, inaugurates a new label called 100 Limousines with this short album of laid-back, reflective tracks. Starting with a loungey intro, “Waves In Love” is where the deep house beats kick in, backed by drifting guitars and dubby traces of vocals. “Time Frame” is on more of a dusty downtempo tip, with carefully folded vocals and sax loops, and it seems to fade away before it really starts to take off. “The Archer” similarly establishes a deeply zoned-out downtempo groove, and before you know it, it’s over. The half-melted “That’s Right” is the album’s trippiest and most addictive cut, and of course it’s only two and half minutes. “Finding Balance” pairs forceful but carefully beting drums with expansive, droning synths and a very sparse bassline and Brazilian-sounding vocals. “Breathing New Life” feels like an unraveled deep house track, with very loose, vamping kick drums and hi-hats that seem like they’re going to a kick into a steady beat but don’t, yet it sounds fine anyway because the pads are so soothing. “Continue In Peace” is a candid but bittersweet reflection focusing around a sample of an old timer talking about how kind and gentle his grandson was as a youth, saying “I keep talking in past turns because that’s how he used to be”.

Thee Reps: Minimal Surface (Gold Bolus, 2019)

April 26, 2019 at 6:50 pm | Posted in Reviews | Leave a comment

Thee Reps: Minimal Surface

Thee Reps play a form of minimalist instrumental rock which seems deceptively simply at first, but once all the layers add up, you’re not quite sure the group managed to fit all the parts together. Some of the parts are jaunty and friendly — the keyboards almost sound like they could’ve been played by a kid — but the parts are arranged into patterns that sometimes aren’t quite in sync, but begin to make sense later. “Head for Sand” ends up with a sparse breakdown, but the group generally keeps an interlocking rhythmic pulse. “Punisher” has a consistent pounding beat, and the stringed instruments and backing vocals play back-and-forth head games. “Music ti Watch ’97 Flyers Highlights To” has a bit more of a complex, proggy arrangement. Things get a bit shadowy with “Qumran (Don’t Spit in the Sacred Place)”, but “Nature Rides Again” ends the album on a breezy, optimistic stride.

Watabou: Coaxial Chaos LP (Realicide Records, 2019)

April 21, 2019 at 3:17 pm | Posted in Reviews | Leave a comment

Watabou: Coaxial Chaos LP

Several years (really, an entire lifetime) in the making, Watabou’s first vinyl LP is finally here, and it’s a tangible monument of everything the project has come to represent over the past decade or so. Even though the bulk of it was recorded around 2015 and the songs stretch back a couple years before that, and so some of the specific sentiments and issues might come from a different place and time, it’s still highly relevant and highly relatable. The music is advanced as Watabou has ever been, with very dense, complex song structures and more of a chiptune influence than can often be heard in her live sets. It comes with a huge booklet explaining every song in detail, and while there’s way too much about this album to unpack for a short record review, there’s just so much insight to be gained from reading it all, and hearing it all expressed in such an elaborate, aggressive manner. Particular highlights include the soul-searching isolation of “Winding Backroad”, the gender dysphoria reflection “Gabber Punk Girl”, the spiraling anthem “Upward and Outward”, and the overwhelmingly awesome dream interpretation “Phantasmagoraphobe”. Absolutely vital listening. Purchase digitally from Bandcamp, and physically from Realicide.

Efrim Manuel Menuck & Kevin Doria: are SING SINCK, SING (Constellation, 2019)

April 21, 2019 at 12:28 pm | Posted in Reviews | Leave a comment

Efrim Manuel Menuck & Kevin Doria: are SING SINCK, SING

Efrim Menuck (GY!BE, Silver Mount Zion) and Kevin Doria (Growing, Total Life) toured in support of the former’s solo album Pissing Stars, and they ended up forging a new project which distills their respective sounds into a form of existentialist protest music constructed using maximalist electronics. The songs hinge around themes such as not trusting the cops (opener “Do the Police Embrace?” threads an ominous police siren throughout its alarming electro-drone) and standing strong and refusing to back down. Menuck’s vocals maintain a weary but persevering tone, and the music is like tall, vibrating towers of light transmitting radiations of hope for miles around. There’s no crescendos, it never reaches a crashing peak and there’s no hangover-like comedown. This brief album is just the beginning, promising grander things from this duo.

v/a: Felt Presence 2xLP (Vanity Press Records, 2019)

April 20, 2019 at 4:24 pm | Posted in Reviews | Leave a comment

v/a: Felt Presence 2xLP

Vanity Press Records’ first compilation isn’t a round-up of its artists, which would be pretty killer, but a selection of tracks by a scene of young Brooklyn artists. The artists here seem to love ravey breakbeats, but they aren’t aiming for any sort of hardcore revivalism. They approach the breaks somewhat in the way that Jersey club producers do, but without as much of the heavy, frenetic club energy. There’s an IDM-ish calmness to tracks like Ronan’s “Riverside”. Some of this would fit in an intelligent d’n’b set (if you play the tracks at 45, that is), yet it doesn’t seem entirely accurate to categorize it that way either. Even further, there’s sort of an MBM-ish astral dub spaciness to some of it, especially combined with the hard breaks. Teleself’s “Calcination” pushes slamming Amens against starburst synths, yet it all retains a steady, measured rhythm. Yogic’s “Transe Maris” is somewhere in between breaks and garage, yet with a sort of shimmer that takes it somewhere farther away entirely. Super fresh, unbound hybrid sounds from this Brooklyn crew, curious what else they’ve got in store. Available digitally from Bandcamp.

Grandmaster Masese: 7″ (Dagoretti Records, 2019)

April 20, 2019 at 2:50 pm | Posted in Reviews | Leave a comment

Grandmaster Masese: 7″

Kenyan poet/musician/teacher Grandmaster Masese plays an eight-stringed lyre called an Obokano, which has a thick, buzzy sound. This single preserves Masese’s strange, hypnotic music on vinyl, and it’s a wonder to behold. “Orogena” features whistling, fast chatting and singing, and bells over a rickety Obokano rhythm. “Obokano Outside” is a bit looser and more of a headrush. It was recorded outside, as the title states, so you can hear animals and passers-by, and it just sounds even more energetic and in-the-moment. The Bandcamp version of the single adds an additional track, “Mama n’omuya”, which is similar but has more upfront sung vocals. A fantastic, otherworldly shot of energy.

Heart of the Ghost: II LP (Dagoretti Records, 2019)

April 20, 2019 at 2:26 pm | Posted in Reviews | Leave a comment

Heart of the Ghost: II LP

DC-area free jazz trio Heart of the Ghost recently played at Ziggy’s in Ypsilanti, and they damn near blew the roof off the place. So much controlled, chaotic energy. This LP captures them at their peak powers. The tracks all bounce off in several different directions, from splattered, unhinged ecstasy to more spiritual pursuits to unexpected hypnotic grooves, and every path they take hold the audience in rapt attention. Simply unmissable. LP available from Bandcamp.

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