The title track of Memory Theater’s 2021 EP The Farthest Shore expresses the isolation and deep, emotional exhaustion and sense of resignation that many of us experienced throughout the 2020-2021 pandemic. The evolving, echoing layers of memory and melancholic vocals are a perfect analog to countless days of stasis and an almost ritualized existence. But in those repetitions and the minimalist synth lead we hear a resonant and familiar attempt to make sense of events beyond our control and moods in reaction to them that feel inescapable and permanent. “This Ending World” is a buoyant instrumental like a forgotten bit of incidental music from a 1980s coming of age comedy as if to express the perversity of a need to make the best of things in apocalyptic times while acknowledging the need to hold on to something that picks you up from a place of confusion, misery and hopelessness. “To Die in the Country” has an appropriate tone of menace with distorted and angular synth lines reminiscent of a musical descendant of D.A.F. and Chris Clark—darkly playful and urgent. The EP ends with “Lake of Flowers,” a song that sounds so uplifting but really expresses poignantly the feeling we all had that the pandemic wouldn’t and isn’t going to end because of the folly of human notions of their entitlement to narrow conceptions of liberty and that the best we can hope for is that nothing lasts forever including the pandemic and, if humanity can’t get its collective thing together, human civilization. This could all seem so bleak but these beautifully moody pop songs and their bright tonalities feel like a way to be honest about the feelings most people have had the past year and to not have to deny our humanity in the name of imposing a phony positivity that gets in the way of processing emotional trauma. You can listen to the EP and download, if you’re so inclined, on Bandcamp or listen to the title track and others on Spotify and connect with Memory Theater on Instagram linked below.
The self-titled Club Soda album gets going into some intense, hyper dance club version of a science fiction synthwave vibes right away with “Goblin Bitch.” Given the possibilities of modern production it’s difficult to say how much of this was produced with older technology but it has the tonal aesthetics of something that would have been made with cheap synths, drum machines and either Acid or some old sequencer and a CasioTone 101. Except that Elijah Jarocki brings a different set of aesthetics to the music than someone would have in the late 90s making use of childhood electronic instruments to create strange pop songs. “Heartbreak City” sounds like a trap song made by Captain Ahab. Ghosts of Herbie Hancock’s “Rock-It” haunt the edges of “Rice Forever” before it goes lo-fi Dirty South early EBM. “Goyle/Soda Alienation ” warps the flow of rhythm in a way that draws you in and provides sonic flashback of one of those beats Aphex Twin buried on the deep web for adventurous and resourceful fans to find. In the end, though, with “You Almost Took Me To The Edge,” Club Soda finishes the album with a triumphant, synthpop banger with vocoder to seal the impression of gloriously abused aesthetics and technology to engage in layered stylistic time traveling to make an album that could have been made 40 years ago or yesterday. Being able to exist in that zone of timelessness for the duration of the album is truly a gift. Listen to Club Soda on Bandcamp where you can also order a copy of the physical media.
Joseph Lamar has dispensed with genre limitations from early on his career and SIN. [act I], his 2020 album, is a panoramic display of his creative instincts. The album is a story arc and exploration of the nature of sin and how the concept and its place in the personal mythology of many people can exert both a deleterious influence on the psyche while also inducing a tension that produces unintended consequences as those forbidden things become points of obsession, secret and otherwise in the mind. Lamar’s casting these contemplations in the form of experimental R&B songs lends to his songwriting palette textures, tones and rhythms that bring great nuance of expression to every track. The electronic percussion deconstructs and uses trap beat making in a creative way that is in its own way psychedelic as Lamar brings you on the existential journey of the album with him for a trip through conflicting emotions and personal evolution along the way. The song “paradise 1” is a theme and part of a story within a story that questions in both music and lyrics what really is paradise and how much of it can you really take before you want to move on to other experiences and other types of paradise than those that initially occur to you in life. The following track, “x_tears_in_paradise,” has the line about “no tears in paradise” as though in a perfect world you are expected to adhere to the same artificial rules of emotional expression that you do in an everyday emotionally repressive culture.
Lamar really does push against psychic straight jackets across the album and figures out a way out of the internalized psychological and social pressures and works through rejecting them. In the end with the song “TEENAGE ANGST” Lamar rests in a realm of ethereal sounds and self-acceptance of the normal emotions we all have with an embrace of “imperfect” human existence as the only one we can ever really know. Fans of Kaytranada will appreciate the album’s genre bursting and inventive and eclectic production, at times it’s reminiscent of something Prince might have done had he come up in the 90s and 2000s making music and seeking to establish a unique musical identity and concept for his albums in the shadow of overexposure and overstimulation and transcending the limitations of thinking you need to adhere to someone else’s scene or style or the legacy of another artist. Lamar aims to reach such a creative state of grace with SIN. [act I] and seems to have succeeded. Listen to the album on Bandcamp and follow Joseph Lamar at his website and on YouTube.
Sal Dulu has been producing tracks for sometime that seem informed by a combination of 20th century classical music, ambient and deep house but often organized around creating immersive and entrancing hip-hop beats. His debut album Xompulse puts all of these interests on display and it seem uneven if you’re listening for strict stylistic coherence. But the result is more like what you might get from a J Dilla record with the legendary producer’s own proclivity for putting his experimental impulses forward and forcing the listener to take on his imaginative sonic worlds on their own terms. So here Sal Dulu connects hip-hop tracks with connective, introspective pieces. The title track placed between “Zumo” and “Alien Boy 96” is an introspective piece comprised of impressionistic, lonely piano lines that serves as a complete sonic break near the middle of a set of chill but energetic beats much as later “Just Like Sonnenalle Blues” takes the listener on a detour through streaming guitar blues and processed gleaming sounds that shimmer out in sonic soft focus. The whole albums feels like Sal has absorbed a great slice of bedroom pop programming, chillwave, vaporwave and underground hip-hop and sound design composition to create an album that is a modern emotional equivalent of late night jazz lounge with all the elements vibing masterfully on final track “Buzzcut” which feels like collage pop as much as acid jazz but with the rhythmic breaks so smooth and entrancing that even the relatively abrupt ending isn’t jarring. Listen to Xompulse on Soundcloud.
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.
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.
Former Coves & Caves and My Side of the Mountain frontman and songwriter James Eary has a new project called Debris Discs. The lead single from the forthcoming full length album “We Never Die” sounds like a nostalgic roller skating rink anthem that never was. It combines soaring background melodies with bright, distorted synth figures and Eary’s commanding yet introspective vocals. The dynamics of the song are as transporting as the tone with the three aforementioned elements working to elevate the mood in different but complimentary ways. The vocals keep you in the moment while one synth line bathes you with luminous sonic energy and the other sweeps you along in its irresistible emotional momentum. Listen to “We Never Die” on Soundcloud and connect with Debris Discs at links provided.
Suzie Chism’s new album Where dabbles in styles across its nine tracks but in doing so it reflects the themes of the record. Fuzzy guitar give a quality of modern garage rock or neo-grunge, melancholic synths create introspective moods and textural acoustic guitar give a sense of spontaneity. All contribute to an album that seems to come from the perspective of someone who left her home town to go to some place more seemingly glamorous until you get there no matter how streetwise you thought you were before getting there. The story arc of the album, if indeed there really is a through line, is one of a person who puts on a brave face in situations that seem to call for it and in a process of self-discovery and adapting to life in a bigger city with a culture where presenting yourself is expected one can come to lose a bit of a sense of self for a moment or for an extended period of time until you realize you yearn for real connection with people. Throughout the album you get the feeling the narrator in each song is struck with a forlorn heart. On the title track the line “If lonely is a state of mind then where am I?” speaks to the existential crisis you hit when deep down you know that so much upon which you’ve been focusing your energy is folly.
On “Something Blue” we hear that maybe the spirit of making the best of things is derailed when the subject of the some comes to the realization that in her headlong pace to reach what she thought was desirable is making her miss what’s actually good in her life and that she’s fearful of staying in bad habits that make that an inevitability. And by the end of the album, these personal insights set the stage for at least trying to make one’s actual dreams come true. “Night Walks” is like a cross of rockabilly and 60s pop and there is a vibe of 60s girl groups and the compelling melodrama of that music to Chism’s songwriting on Where but it has that sense of self-awareness that one hears in more modern times by similarly influenced music with Best Coast—the knowledge that maybe you have made some missteps in life but having an internal compass can keep you aimed toward what matters. It is a record about questioning your own assumptions about what you’re life is supposed to be about. Listen to Where on Spotify.
Jakob Leventhal’s “Back Again So Soon” unfolds with a lingering guitar line and an expansive rhythm that sets a contemplative pace accented by melodic bass and impressionistic percussion. Leventhal sounds like he’s taking a deep, slow motion dive into melancholic, emotional drift. A bittersweet mood permeates the song like he’s taking a walk through an old house where he made so many memories that have haunted him deep but come to him so vividly when in a familiar environment and the way those can trigger memories you buried or left far behind in the living of your life. The lyrics sound like a one sided conversation, an observational confessional, between the author and his life and how he has lived it. Though the song works on its own, it is part of a larger record and it ends on a note that makes you want to hear more of what these reflective words might be about and the personal exploration they suggest is ahead. Listen to “Back Again So Soon” on Spotify and follow Leventhal at the links provided.
Chicago’s Dead Lucid inject a great deal of noisy psychedelia into its post-punk on the new EP Desolation. Obvious touchstones can be heard on “Romance” like early Joy Division and that band’s own roots in the stark menace of the Stooges. The guitar operates like a droning wash over the bass and drums while the raw vocals carry the melody. “Rain” sounds like it’s going to be a dirty surf track but the tribal percussion bludgeons its way into the song and as the straight ahead guitar edges toward a warping, grinding sound. “Ambrosia” begins with a desolate introspection but blossoms into a dynamic yet melancholy ballad. “Head” brings things back into the realm of proto-punk and a charging song about coming unhinged. The title track of the EP is a sprawling fusion of minimalism and guitar solo maximalism yet one in which a sense of hitting rock bottom finds its expression when those fiery passages dissipate. Fans of Pop. 1280 and Protomartyr will appreciate how this EP doesn’t get stuck in some trendy post-punk of yesteryear worship nor does it try to scratch every itch of flavor and its own psychedelia while a nod to when Led Zeppelin went weird or something like Captain Beyond hanging out with Robin Trower and getting trippier is very much its own. Listen to Desolation on Bandcamp and follow Dead Lucid at the links provided.