Released in the middle of the 2020 pandemic, Marcus Church’s cover of Robyn’s 2010 hit single “Dancing on My Own” had a certain poignant resonance given the circumstances of that time and nearly a year later it remains fairly relevant. Rather than the R&B electro pop of the original, Marcus Church has turned the song, an ode to emotional self-reliance in the wake of a painful reminder of a breakup, into a delicate, jangle rock/power pop ballad. Dustin Habel’s frail vocals are a fine reflection of Robyn’s own powerful delicacy. Musically it’s reminiscent of what might have happened if The Cars came along after and influenced by C86 or some Mitch Easter band. In a year of deep uncertainty and heated political turmoil followed by another in which those tensions continue, Marcus Church’s interpretation of the song demonstrates a gentle hesitancy to look back on the past that brought us here with warm feelings of nostalgia, as is the case with the Robyn original, with an undercurrent of yearning for a time when vulnerability and sensitivity are qualities that are cherished and cultivated rather than mocked by a culture poisoned by a need to express bravado in every situation. Listen to “Dancing on My Own” on Bandcamp and connect with Marcus Church on Facebook (linked below).
Plume Varia moved away from Denver, Colorado to Placitas, New Mexico right around the same week the lockdowns for the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic were going into effect. The move reinforced a sense of isolation from friends and family that was already going to happen with the planned move. The dream pop duo’s new single “Hold On To Me” with its visually striking music video evokes the uncertainty, desperation and imposed sense of not just isolation but a mindset of reflecting and meditating upon the things you appreciate that you took for granted. Whether that’s moving from a city that had rapidly become expensive and crowded to a smaller town where you can still earn your living working remotely while still having relatively easy access to cultural centers only to not have that as an easy option going into an indefinite future or feeling a deep sense of dislocation for not being able to fully settle into your new home physically and psychologically, Plume Varia’s signature downtempo, chill, sultry songwriting style is a perfect vehicle for exploring that emotional landscape with an engagingly intimate portrayal of the sense of stasis, repetition and yearning for the world to make sense again by discovering ways of not getting lost along the way to what comes next for one’s life, one’s society and perhaps human civilization itself. The jury’s still out on the future of the human race. But to the band’s credit the song works for any time when life seems to be spiraling out of control. Watch the video for “Hold On To Me” on YouTube and follow Plume Varia at the links provided.
Swedish synth pop duo Kite released the single “Teenage Bliss” in 2020 with production help from Benjamin John Power aka Blanck Mass who was one half of experimental electronic group Fuck Buttons (which went on hiatus in 2021). The latter’s distorted drones, propulsive rhythms and engulfing yet accessible soundscapes was an inspiration for “Teenage Bliss” which is reminiscent of a more industrialized Organisation-period Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark in its evoking of nostalgia for reflective moments in the present. It’s a song that bemoans how as adults you’re disconnected from a sense of newness and freshness for love and life itself the way maybe everything felt super significant all at once when you were in your youth. Though melancholy in sentiment the song is nevertheless ebullient and uplifting in its tonal dynamics. Listen to the song on Spotify and connect with Kite at the links below.
Siv Disa’s single “Fear” is a soulful contemplation of the way experiences and people in our lives leave a lingering influence and connection that we hold onto in ways that escape our conscious thinking. Yet she sings about wanting to break those connections and associations and move on and not be bogged down by them establishing an unhealthy emotional pattern . She references doors she’d like to leave shut and that she doesn’t “like to think about that too much.” Yet the truth of the consequences of her impact on others and others on her looms large on the edges of her psyche and the fear of being overwhelmed with examining what she’d rather not explore in depth keeps her on the run. And who, that has lived a life worth living, hasn’t had thoughts and feelings like this. Sometimes you need to wait until you’re in the right headspace to adequately and honestly deal with life’s unpleasantness just to survive, so you bury things that affect you deeply or simply leave them out of your focus of your consciousness yet if they’re strong enough they will affect you in ways that seem mysterious except in retrospect of having taken the time to process whatever it is haunting you unbidden. The lush, languid, downtempo R&B production on the track by Sam and the Sea gives what might otherwise be dark personal reflection about more or less being in denial a gentle musical context that suggests an openness to going down that path and doing the hard work required, braving the fear, to make being comfortable with oneself and one’s personal demons a lot more palatable. The music video was shot by Brendan Kiernan and directed and written by Siv Disa is appropriately like a supernatural horror short film but given the warmth and soothing music has a rare dimensionality for similar cinematic work. Watch the video for “Fear” below and connect with Siv Disa on Spotify.
Orb Temple by Lubbock, Texas-based ambient project Aura Gaze is an album comprised of two extended tracks of equal length: “Orb Temple (for zither)” and “Orb Temple (for synth).” The first is comprised of layers of textural yet ethereal drones, flowing, resolving tones and and minimal, processed string sounds perhaps gentle strumming on the named instrument sounding utterly unlike any traditional use of zither. It makes one think about music one might make trying to imagine the background workings of dreams and the unconscious mind—the rhythms, the composition of immanent psychological energy before it manifests as thoughts we would recognize as such. The second track shares a similar resonance but with purely electronic sounds takes us on a journey from the sources and base energy components of the quanta of perceived existence, of cognition itself. Of course it is impossible for us to fully experience these sorts of things in real time because we require the cognitive framing to even conceptualize what that might be like but with music and and other forms of art we can use our imaginations to express an approximation of such primal concepts for us to experience without having to impose verbal or cultural constructs that impede our apprehension of ideas through our enforced frames of reference as born of a specific set of shared assumptions. Yes the filters of mother culture and the use of technology and how our imaginations are shaped by a collective creative and symbolic language exist in all art but music separate of conceits of adhering to a narrow sense of accessibility stands a chance of bypassing those filters. Orb Temple perhaps borrows the familiarity of rhythm and major scale tonality at points to draw us in to a deep sense of peace and a journey in brightening the dark corridors of our minds in trying times but in doing so it also reminds us that imagination and not having to couch all our thoughts and emotions in forms that have been imposed on us by a full bombardment of media, that, in fact we can cleanse our minds and move toward creating the kind of space in our heads that is open to creating expansive and fortifying experiences for ourselves and others. Listen to Orb Temple on Bandcamp (where you can also purchase a download or a limited edition compact disc through Somewherecold Records) and connect with Aura Gaze at the links below.
Kyle Evans aka pulseCoder uses circuit bent arcade controllers with homemade synthesizers in conjunction with lighting and visual art to create a multimedia experience that gives a mutually reinforcing context for his creative work. His new single “Wicked Transmission” (released through Holodeck Records) sounds like a futuristic EDM piece with resonances with the recent works of Plaid, Autechre and Weval. Synth lines stretch out playfully and take dynamic turns as if moving in conjunction with the washes of tone and percussive tones that blip like a pointillistic video projection that evolves from dots to manifesting full images. All the while the beat flows like a synergistic overlay suggestive of dance. The net effect is one of reconciling a sinuous quality with bright and forceful accents and a shifting sonic focus that carries you along for an immersive ride in the listen. Listen to“Wicked Transmission” on YouTube and follow pulseCoder at the links provided.
Luke Mossman may be better known as a guitarist in Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, or if you were in Denver at the appropriate time, Achille Lauro, but in late spring he released his debut solo, self-titled album as Ghost Gnotes. The record, which is now available digitally and on vinyl at the Bandcamp site, showcases Mossman’s keen ear for sonic detail in crafting introspective, pastoral melodies. With hushed vocals and delicately luminous guitar accompaniment Mossman puts himself fully into that space of not being on the road with other musicians where even the long stretches of time between waking and soundcheck seems to be occupied by the emotional energy preparing for the next show. One gets the sense that Mossman set aside the intensity of touring to assess and reconnect with who he is separate from pre-established creative contexts. The unadorned simplicity of the songwriting allows for a sustained immediacy and vulnerability that runs throughout the record. Fans of Iron & Wine and Nick Drake will find some resonance here in Mossman’s arrangements and subtle dynamic flow.
To usher in the release of the record, Mossman released the single “Alone is an Earful” and an accompanying music video. The song features minimal percussion and expressively low key piano work that puts at center words that sketch in elegant detail an appreciation for the little things you notice when you allow yourself the space to not impose your ego on what you take into your mind. The video directed by fellow musician Rett Rogers is like a collage of memories and images of faintly remembered dreams immediately prior to waking up. The album, recorded in Eu Claire, Wisconsin with Mossman’s former bandmate in Achille Lauro, Brian Joseph (whose credits include work with Bon Iver, Sufjan Stevens and Local Natives) is a poetic exploration of the exercise of grace and gentleness with yourself and others in creating a tranquil headspace that fosters genuine connection. Watch the video for “Alone is an Earful” and follow Ghost Gnotes at the links below. To purchase the record, visit the Bandcamp page.
Denver-based hip-hop crew Stay Tuned is set to release its new full length album Remote Control on November 15, 2020 digitally and on vinyl (available through the Bandcamp link below). But early in the year we got a taste of what we’re in store for with the new record with the single “Hit It!” It’s rooted in classic hip-hop and the early 90s alternative flavor without sounding like it’s trapped in old school worship. The beat box percussion, turntablist flair and rapid poetry lyrics cadenced with an attitude reminiscent of early 2000s Talib Kweli. The collaborative track features contributions from InkLine, Fleetwood DeVille and Carnage the Executioner (a frequent collborator with Eyedea) as well as the usual deft bars from MCs ManeRok and Ichiban. With DJ AWHAT!!!’s beats and production from the aforementioned InkLine it perfectly fuses organic textures and rhythms with expert placement of sounds to put the words in the foreground like you’re living in a the moment with what the rappers have to say about the nuances and mythologies of cannabis culture and its impact on culture and the lives of individuals without sounding like some cartoonish advertisement for the industry. Listen to “Hit It!” on Bandcamp and connect with Stay Tuned at the links provided.
“captivity” by Philadelphia, Pennsylvania-based artist Soda sounds like something out of a soundtrack to a frenetic side scroller video game, the kind where you are constantly have to leap over or otherwise dodge or avoid obstacles coming toward you. Its minimal beat with syncopated change-ups and shifts in texture pushed along by an urgent, distorted synth line is like a minimalist breakbeat song informed by lo-fi home taping aesthetics. Emotionally the song evokes a sense of pent up energy ready to break free but forced to cycle to higher states of internalized activity causing the aforementioned distortion. It represents an evolution in songwriter Elijah Jarocki’s experiments in electronic music from more beat driven art noise pieces into something with a cinematic quality even given its brevity. Listen to “captivity” on Bandcamp where you can explore further into Soda’s recorded output.
CGI Dog puts us in a reflective state of mind from the beginning of his single “Livin’ in Delay.” The distorted synth progression and the syncopated percussion with shimmery cymbal fills give a hazy yet present framing to a song contemplating the world immediately around you. One imagines CGI Dog napping during a hot day while staying home during the 2020 pandemic and waking to his neighbor hammering three houses away. Who hasn’t found oneself being acutely aware of distant sounds in what might otherwise be a quiet neighborhood or apartment complex and those sounds triggering contemplation of life after too long inside your own head. Later in the song CGI Dog sings about the neighbor coughing and hoping he’s okay. It pulls him out of the prolonged doldrums many of us have experienced during quarantine. The title of the song is the perfect image for how life has been, living in delay and feeling suspended like everything is on hold yet there is a sustained stasis to it that can bring on feelings of melancholy which the melody of the song carried by CGI Dog’s vocals conveys perfectly. Listen to “Livin’ in Delay” on Spotify and connect with CGI Dog at the links below.