Friday, September 23, 2022

Primal Inquiry into Provocative New Music Releases

Alternative, electronic, dreamgaze, power pop and progressive jazz all share space here for this month of September. The artists chosen for review are not random, but selected via thoughtful consideration. Familiarity with the quality of their work and a willingness to take interest is what is being written about them is weighted heavier than other factors (like mass popularity or aggressively financed PR campaigns). Chances are taken on new stuff as well, but are ultimately held to the previously stated criteria.

Turning attention to one of Shoredive Records recent releases finds this site focusing on the recording project Xeresa. Simply titled “IV” (as in album number 4), the fully named Nicolas Pierre Wardell (previously only known as Label boss Nico Beatastic) serves as the bands primary catalyst. Painstakingly recorded between 2019 and 2022, each song features guest vocalists, some who have full releases on the parent label. Each track was built in the more common now than ever way of sending instrumental basic tracks to each respective artist for their creative additions (predominantly vocals).

Opening cut “Wish” pairs Wardell's basic track composition with first collaborator Daydream Deathray on vocals and guitars. Emerging out of synth tones and light percussive pulsing, classic-gaze pitch-bended guitars propel a fragmented time-signature chord progression forward. As the ticking percussion gets busier, melodic guitar figures enter the mix as an alternate foil against the initial tone. Ghostly voices commence over top as ticking, pulsing movements churn underneath. Dramatic breaks emphasize quick-burst-clatter stops, against those dual guitar melodies. This cycle morphs and evolves with dream-like qualities with a reverential nod towards the vague beauty of MBV's “Loveless.”

Deep buzzing bass-synth notes introduce “Untouched,” a co-write collab with vocalist Dorothea Tachler. “They say – don't touch – don't touch each other” are the first lines from this bewitching female voice ascending over synthetic hiss-clacks and open note guitar figures. As the rhythm continues to develop and fill out, further exhortations of “don't shake my hand – don't hug me” play against an increasingly busier backdrop. Additional developments present vocal lines delivered with quicker urgency, cleverly built on top of that initial basic synth-pulse intro. Guitars, higher-register synths and electronic drumming all share sonic space with this lovely harmonized voice that ultimately shifts the narrative to (post-pandemic) human contact again. Dorothea also delivers a cool guitar solo and optimistic vocal end-out over a rising synth backdrop.

Abrasive guitar textures usher in “Bye Bye,” a pairing with vocalist Hiacynta Szulc. A loping drum pattern lays out central movement against those modulating guitars, while yet-another appealing female singer straddles the edges of Liz Fraser/Cocteau charm with her delivery. The title-line chorus pivots away from harsher tones, emphasizing romantic overture, and contrasts well against the rougher guitar undercurrent on verses. A lengthy final minute coda merges vocal mantra (“I'm not as strong”) with hybrid melodic and drone guitar textures.

Rising swells and bird-like warbles (reminiscent of Yes's “Close To The Edge” intro) usher in the Omega Vague partnership “Burn.” The swirling void gets stretched out further, now moving deeper into The Orb's “A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain” point of reference. Voices ultimately emerge, with understandable lyrics “soon it all it ends the same – through it all we can't refrain – setting fires to the flames – just let it go to pieces.” What started out as a potential ambient music soundscape, ultimately evolves into lyric-heavy storytelling. “All you ever need is someone to be on your side.”

Plunky open note guitar chords and buzzing synths serve as introductory basis for “Fall Into Unknown” featuring Phil Wilson (aka The Raft) on vocals. “All I can do is wait for you,” Phil coos - “wait to lose control” over a bed of quick-pulse electronic percussion. Subtle changes oscillate through those beats, generating forward motion under Phil's soothing vocal style. A dramatic halting just past the midpoint emphasizes synthetic strings approximating full orchestra. Vocals resume with climbing stair-step cadence and gentle passionate payoff, ultimately fading out with a final :15 seconds of tubular bells-like tones.

It's not too long before shearing guitar distortion returns, this time providing the fade-in on “Ghost In Your Mind” (Ft Ural Mountains). Rat-a-tat drumming soon joins the fray as the fuzzy wall of sound pushes forward. It all suddenly drops back as the surprising romantic vocal style of the mysteriously named Ural Mountains commences. A pleasant mix of clean guitar chords and mixed-bag percussion provide undercurrent for a vocal style similar to the band Crowded House. When the wall-of-fuzz guitars return, both vocal cadence and rhythmic propulsion become more active. A quieter plateau is eventually reached, featuring spacious guitar chords, rumbling undertow, synth strings and further vocal recitations.

Gentle chiming guitar chords open "Where Could It Have Been" (Ft Aura Zorba). A syncopated electronic drum pattern soon joins the mix providing counter-rhythm. With ethereal vocals commencing, a pliant guitar figure bounces between those lines. Deeper bass synth enters in after the initial cycle, conjuring a rising step melody. Along with the title line, other fragmentary thoughts emerge like “what's on your mind?” The final minute presents a descending coda of instruments, “ooooh's” and spoken word.

The albums only solo-penned cut “Slavic Stars” is a tour-de-force of low buzzing synths, gentle guitar strums, electronic percussion and higher-register synth-melodies. With clearly defined chord changes and structured segments, this is no rambling instrumental soundscape. Vocals appear a third of the way in, adding to an overall wistful feeling. Bright clarion guitar notes are carefully slotted in open spaces for one more level of audio delight. “Where the sun you gaze at meets the water” becomes a thematic mantra in subtle changing forms (“where the sun meets the land meets the water”) of psychedelia.

A 1-2-3 time signature establishes the basic cycle for “Could Have Done Better Than That,” Ft Jackie Kasbohm on vocals. Alternating lyrical segments place emphasis on contrasting singing styles and associated rhythm cadences. Jackie's repeated title line follows that primary descending thirds pattern, while the second voice moves in contrast to it. A quieter centerpiece lays down one more counterpoint, before the circuit begins again with blended voices going forward.

Odd timbre spiky synths herald in the album's final offering “Retrospection,” which features the artist Glassmanet on vocals, strings, extra guitars, keyboards and programming. Bright drumming and a clearly defined melody soon joins the mix, setting the stage for the gossamer vocals that follow. The voices are soon amplified with layered harmonies, enhancing the listening experience. That primary melody line is meted out via a deep-hued synthetic horn texture. There's a violin quality to segments of the synthetic instrumentals along with open air wind-instrument tones supporting downy vocals. It all floats to a glorious conclusion of Cocteau-level beauty and wonder.

Listen to this glorious music here:

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UK Power Pop Rockers It's Karma It's Cool recently released the first of what is to be 6 singles over the next few months. Initial track “A Gentle Reminder” comes accompanied by an in-studio style video performance, providing visual imagery of the band performing. Along with James Styring on vocals, Martyn Bewick (Guitars / Recording / Production / Mixing), Danny Krash (Drums) and Mikey Barraclough (Bass) is the inclusion of noteworthy multi-instrumentalist Peter Holsapple (of The dB's, R.E.M., Hootie and the Blowfish fame) on keyboards.

The song opens with a gently reverberated acappella reading of introductory lyrics “We outgrow the ghost, and get gone - With our slogans and cold ones - Turn the stereo pop on.” The band then kicks in full throttle with thematic title lines “Here's a gentle - Here's a general Reminder for you. Don't you look up with vertigo, if so, the sky comes fallin.' Along with the basic guitar, bass and drums plugging away, you can clearly hear the Peter Holsapple keyboard additions adding a richness in those open spaces between. As the band bounces along with crisp precision, there are elements of Feargal Sharkey's well-known vibrato in Jim's vocal style. A cleverly turned reference to XTC also pops up in the lines “Drive into the city and the radio was makin' plans for Nigel.”

Reaching the high-point peak catchy chorus that goes “We all find our feet, when we run - And our shoes have come undone - Spark-out the circuit breaker,” finds the Holsapple touch churning organ tones and rhythms to delightful effect. The chorus continues with those opening acappella lines now fully embedded where they clearly belong. Multiple camera angles keep the video fresh and unpredictable, with shots of tapping feet and some really amusing “rawk” faces from drummer Danny. Also kudos to bassist Mikey for best overall hide-in-my-long-hair moves. Two minutes in drops everything out to a single guitar figure before launching into a full-on ride with rolling keyboards, distant-effect vocals and more distinct rising guitar melodies.

Check out this perfect slice of powerful pop music right here:

The song is available from all the usual digital platforms and direct from the IKIC Bandcamp.

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It's a rare occurrence when an instrumental jazz album inspired by the Sumerian mythology of ancient Mesopotamia turns up here for review. However, that is exactly what you get with pianist & composer Connie Han's latest release “Secrets of Inanna.”  Drawing inspiration from the 1900-1600 BC poem The Descent of Inanna, Han crafts 12 sophisticated piano driven compositions based on this detailed metaphor of femininity, grace, and poise.  To that point she's also mastered the art of stunningly gorgeous imagery.  Being young, pretty and physically sculpted is a great starting point for all that.  What follows here is a detailed track-by-track review of the entire album.

Opening track “Prima Materia” instantly establishes the modern jazz trio concept with graceful affluence. Lightly reverberated electric piano serves as initial melodic source, accompanied by an expected high level of bass and drums. A flute tone provides additional melody, with quick-burst piano lines woven inbetween. As a point of sonic reference, the overall sound design is akin to Angela (Theme From 'Taxi') by Bob James. The extended piano flights on this over 5 minute piece are next-level sophistication, however.

Ereshkigal of the Underworld” comes on quicker with an angular time-signature, driving deeper into the finesse of jazz trio interplay. The drums and bass are allowed to expand their repertoire under the free flowing piano improvisation. “Gilgamesh and the Celestial Bull” continues with a similar tonal quality, while incorporating that “hammering” technique inside the piano melody. An impressive left-hand lower-note rhythm creates counterpoint for the high-flying right-hand forays across the keys. A sense of similarity with the master Chick Corea comes to mind.

Morning Star” employs brushes on drums and a sensual saxophone melody, leaving the bandleader to support with block chords at first. Midway in the sax drops out for an extended piano solo, before returning to close it out. “Vesica Piscis” continues with the tenor sax as slower moving melody over active piano figures. The mood is melancholy and subdued, going without bass and drums that place emphasis on melodic instruments only. “Young Moon” returns to the Fender Rhodes electric as primary keyboard tool, with Ms. Han exploring melodic possibilities against attentive and accent-laden drumming. A bass guitar driven interlude provides space for that essential instrument.

Ninshubur’s Lament” is a half-minute tone poem on drums, with toms receiving up-front focus before closing out with a perfect snare press-roll. That leads into the buoyant seven minute piano and sax driven “Wind Rose Goddess.” With a sense of joy embedded in it's rhythms and overall vibe, ample room is given for extended piano improvisation, with equal emphasis on saxophone phrasing. “The GallĂ» Pursuit” revisits Corea's Return To Forever hyperdrive style, with fluid piano lines driving both melody and rhythm. The bass and drums hustle to keep up with a frantic pace that encourages the listener to hang on to this wild ride.

Check out this wonderful composition here:

Dumuzi of Uruk” doubles down on the Wayne Shorter-style saxophone, with shifting rhythms underneath. Momentary space highlights piano movements, before lurching back in to the full band drive. A walking bassline sets a pillar in which flowing piano lines can improv off of. A quieter presence initiates the nearly eight minute (and album's longest track) “Desert Air.” Brushes are once again employed on the drums and the extended time allows for a number of sub-movements within the overall framework. Space is once again provided for stand-up bass improv against that soft brush drumming. What remains consistent however, is the tinkling of keys on multiple flights of fancy that frequently pay homage to the inspirational influence of Kenny Kirkland. Final track “Enki’s Gift” is a relatively quick study with emphasis on flutes, bass, rim-clack drumming and (as one might suspect) quick-fingered piano.

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