Trivial Shields: Levity (self-released, 2021)

January 4, 2022 at 6:09 pm | Posted in Reviews | Leave a comment

Trivial Shields: Levity

Christian Carpenter is the musician and producer behind Trivial Shields, a project blending smooth rhythms with lovelorn vocals. Carpenter attended the University of Michigan several years ago, and he’s joined here by fellow U of M alumni Theo Katzman and Woody Goss of Vulfpeck. Sarah K. Pedinoti of LIP TALK guests on the opening title track, a bittersweet sundown reflection with a vaguely “Purple Rain”-like vibe. Angelica Bess, member of Body Language and Kalbells as well as vocalist on standout album tracks by Machinedrum, Chrome Sparks, and Giraffage, sings on the upbeat “For the Best”, an easy highlight which just elevates with sheer optimism. Sandu Ndu of Bells Atlas adds complex, truly mesmerizing vocals to “Rejection Therapy”, easily the most otherworldly track here. Instrumentals of the three songs are included, but all of them actually sound far better with the vocals included, for a change.

Ayesha: Potential Energy EP (Scuffed Recordings, 2021)

December 29, 2021 at 11:14 am | Posted in Reviews | Leave a comment

Ayesha: Potential Energy EP

The title track is my leftfield club jam of the moment, and immediately got me hooked on this EP. Nice big globby alien synths that just elevate when the bass kicks in. Not heavy, rigid, factory strength, precision-tooled dance music, this is music to flap around to like you’re made of jelly, or you just don’t have a body. The second track adds breakbeats and is more of a starry rush. “We Be Bubblin” emphasizes Ayesha’s preoccupation with fluid, bubbling textures rather than hard, blocky ones. “Dark Matter” is continuous movement, but never feels like it’s specifically going in one direction, it’s several at once. Free Your Body And Your Mind.

v/a: Now Thing 2 (Chrome, 2021)

December 28, 2021 at 9:47 pm | Posted in Reviews | Leave a comment

v/a: Now Thing 2

The Mo Wax-issued Now Thing compilation exposed a lot of fans of electronic music to the innovations of dancehall reggae producers two decades ago. I actually haven’t heard that comp, but this second one is strong enough to be possibly the best compilation I heard all year. Focusing just on instrumental riddims, the album consists of warped, skeletal beats with inventive effects, like Ward 21’s sirens and sinister voices or Lenky and Andrew Thomas’ rhythmic dog barks. Crown Star Productions’ “Fire Cracker” is an easy standout for the rave aesthetic synths, and there’s an extra crunchy second part. Also the dubby “Are You That Somebody” rework is worth noting. So much of these tracks just do so much with a limited amount of sounds, and some of them just feel huge, like Madd Spider’s “Hot Water”. Can’t get enough of this.

Oscar Peterson: A Time for Love – Live in Helsinki, 1987 (Mack Avenue, 2021)

December 16, 2021 at 8:28 pm | Posted in Reviews | Leave a comment

Oscar Peterson: A Time for Love – Live in Helsinki, 1987

Documenting a 1987 gig in Helsinki, this previously unheard set presents the Oscar Peterson quartet at their most joyous and spontaneous. As customary for their gigs, the setlist wasn’t predetermined, and Peterson let his musicians know what to play by launching into the song intros himself. All of the first disc is taken up by Peterson’s own compositions, while most of the second is standards. “Sushi” is an early highlight, just an incredibly fun, exuberant performance. “Love Ballade” is a soft piece which seems to consist of nothing more than piano, and “A Salute to Bach” starts out similarly, but then unexpectedly gets incredibly joyous when the full band joins in, and keeps going for 20 minutes (with pauses in between movements). “Cakewalk” just flies, the band is so full of energy that it’s absurd, and even a bit of mic feedback can’t bring them down. Benny Goodman’s “Soft Winds” is one of the full-band highlights of the second disc, while Bill Evans’ “Waltz for Debby” showcases the intricacy of Peterson’s playing. Guitarist Joe Pass plays “When You Wish Upon a Star” solo, adding some playful embellishments to the familiar melody, and then the whole band plays a lengthy Duke Ellington medley, stunningly flowing between several well-worn classics and adding their own personalities. Peterson especially takes off during “Caravan” at the end, almost making it sound like a player piano reel sped up at least five times its regular speed. The band then launches into Peterson’s own speedy “Blues Etude”, which feels like a victory lap.

Joy on Fire: Unknown Cities (Procrastination Records, 2021)

December 15, 2021 at 8:08 pm | Posted in Reviews | Leave a comment

Joy on Fire: Unknown Cities

New Jersey’s Joy on Fire play progressive jazz-rock that’s much easier on the ears than black midi. Most of this album’s songs are instrumentals, with charging saxophones criss-crossing over driving rhythms. “China, North Carolina” is the album’s winding epic, gradually arriving at some scorching solos, and pushing even further during the second part. “The Complete Book pt 4” is closer to alternative rock influenced by Krautrock, at least at the beginning, then the saxophone takes it on a wilder ride. “In Speaking Like Thunder” introduces vocals in the form of a paranoid, close-miked narrative, then it’s taken over by stretched-out guitar effects, and the drums slow to a queasy crawl at the end. “Unknown City” is a pretty different vibe, with programmed electronic drums and a 303-sounding bassline, as well as more vocals which are closer to spoken than sung.

v/a: Heaven on Fire (Fire Records, 2021)

December 14, 2021 at 7:08 pm | Posted in Reviews | Leave a comment

v/a: Heaven on Fire

Essentially a mixtape compiled by Jane Weaver, Heaven on Fire mainly draws from Fire Records’ recent catalog, with a few selections from other labels. It mainly focuses on psych-folk and hauntological pop, although there’s some modern classical pieces as well. Vanishing Twin’s “Big Moonlight (Ookii Gekkou)” approaches the magic of latter-day Stereolab, but feels more foresty than loungey. Mega Bog’s “Station to Station” feels like dark sophistipop, and Virginia Wing’s “St. Francis Fountain” is a glittering synth pop gem which makes you question where you’re going. Islet’s “Geese (Gwenno Remix)” is a low-key bedroom dance jam that bursts into noisier drums later on. After the ethereal pop of Lucy Gooch’s “Rain’s Break”, a brief piece from Faten Kanaan’s excellent recent album is included, providing a bit of fuzzy, BoC-ish atmospheric nostalgia. After a delicate folk tune with hand drums by Brigid Mae Power, the album concludes with a piece from Okkyung Lee’s acclaimed album Yeo-Neun, and it’s a delicate, harp-kissed piece rather than the caustic, twisted work Lee is sometimes known for.

Razorlegs/Maximum Ernst: split tape (Fadensonnen, 2021)

December 13, 2021 at 7:20 pm | Posted in Reviews | Leave a comment

Razorlegs/Maximum Ernst: split tape

On the first side of this split cassette, noise-rock duo Razorlegs play 4 songs with raw, powerful drum cadences and a ton of noisemakers that aren’t guitars, including keyboards, stylophones, and slide whistles. Three of the songs are brief, 3-minute exercises, but perhaps the best one is “Acetone & Mercury”, a nearly 8-minute toboggan ride of fried, wavy keyboards and manic, tom-heavy drumming. “Fluted Plain” is the one that makes prominent use of a slide whistle, making whimsy with shakers and shuffled drums. Maximum Ernst occupy the second side, starting out with snaking feedback and shivering drum machines before switching to a more percussive beat and noisy blasts of steam on “Phosphorus Cum Nux”. The growling bass gets a bit more agitated, and the echo makes everything feel trippier and off-balance. “UFA-USA” is a more voltage-blasted psych trip with vocoderized vocals, which seems like it’s headed for a nuclear meltdown but remains pretty consistent for its four and a half minutes. Finally, “Half-Staff” is a brief burst of driving instrumental alt-rock which fades out as unassumingly as it begins.

Galactapus: You Better Not Cry (self-released, 2021)

December 11, 2021 at 2:03 pm | Posted in Reviews | Leave a comment

Galactapus: You Better Not Cry

Willfully bizarre Christmas-themed music from a bunch of weirdos from Minneapolis. They dress up in weird costumes and sing with weird voices, and they remain anonymous, so it’s not hard to compare them to The Residents, but I like this better. They deconstruct familiar yuletide standards, playing offbeat synths and toy instruments, and repeating some lyrics rather than sing the songs straight. They open the EP with an evil-sounding song about joy. “Santasm” is short and ends in an explosion. “You Better Watch Out” is a synth-punk laser-fest which repeats the first line of “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town”. “You Could Have Been Nicer” gets pretty chaotic and not all that Christmas-y. “Sleep In Peace” is a pretty stunning “Silent Night” which starts noisy and droney and then turns into goofy minimal synth a la Crash Course In Science. “Gingerbread Man” is a mega silly song with cartoon sound fx that basically sounds like it was actually made by a gingerbread man. “Masters of Joy” is goofy art-punk. “Sugar Plum Soldier” is a “Carol of the Bells” with drum machines and a voice saying he told himself he wasn’t going to cry this year. And an unexpected shift into a weird shouty part at the end.

Kiln: Tungsten (Ghostly International, 2021)

December 7, 2021 at 8:55 pm | Posted in Reviews | Leave a comment

Kiln: Tungsten

A long-running Michigan group that’s been part of the Ghostly International family since the early 2000s, Kiln sporadically surface every so often with an indescribable type of live band IDM which feels scientific yet loose and jammy. This EP is basically additional material from the sessions that produced last year’s Astral Welder full-length, and it works on its own accord. “North Bar Lake” is a surprising country venture, with steel guitars caressing its fluid machine rhythm. “Cat Paw Spiritual” gently sneaks through a back alley at night, keeping its cool while wading through trash and grime. “Argon Pedestrian” seems brighter and more joyous at first, but it also seems to crawl through sludge for a moment, only to shine bright when an acoustic guitar comes in. Finally, “Pinyon” is a short violin-based piece which rocks gently on the ocean waves as we drift out to sea.

x.nte + Elevation: Angel 933 (Never Normal, 2021)

December 5, 2021 at 5:53 pm | Posted in Reviews | Leave a comment

x.nte + Elevation: Angel 933

Atlanta duo x.nte + Elevation released a collaborative album called Angel 93 on Cock Rock Disco 4 years ago, and its successor now appears courtesy of Suzi Analogue’s Never Normal Records. Released in conjunction with an RPG game (according to the Bandcamp blurb), Angel 933 is another massive block of glitch-infested breakcore that never hesitates to push the decibels far in the red and make the breakbeats as sudden, choppy, and explosive as possible. Some of the newer breakcore folks are favoring shiny, atmospheric d’n’b textures and rave throwbacks, or endless anime samples, but this is more deconstructed art school noise jungle, with some more rolling-out passages, but lots of chaotic interruption and non-linearity. But it’s not entirely that way, either. There’s glimpses of beauty scattered throughout. Like the last track, which has a part featuring layers of pianos twinkling throughout its trash-compacted breaks and nu-metal-ish vocals. It’s hard to really name a favorite track here, since it’s all amazing, although the appearances from NO EYES are always welcome, and “haigan newboss anthem” shreds particularly hard.

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