Hanna Ojala takes a foray into the realm of earthy sensuality on her single “Spring in my Step.” The tropical flavor of the percussion via hand drum and the sounds of birds and insects from a warm climate serve as the backdrop of ritualistic poetry spoken in ode to the joys of being in one’s body and the pleasures one can indulge. And as usual, Ojala takes these words that could be, given a different musical context, a playfully hip-hop tribute to sublime hedonism, and infuses them with a spiritual dimension. But in the presentation she fuses the earthly with the transcendent through an unabashed and refreshing reconciliation of components of our psyche that much of our conventional cultural conditioning in the Western world suggests need to be separate and in the case of pleasure, that it is somehow embarrassing. Ojala shows with her dancing in the music video and her words and music that we can simply embrace and enjoy these aspects of the human experience without shame if we can manage to not take things overly seriously. After all, if you don’t have something that puts a spring in your step regularly, life is nothing but drudgery. Watch the video for “Spring in my Step” on YouTube and connect with Hanna Ojala at the links provided.
“Animal” from Anna Lidman’s 2020 EP POEM was written with composer Marc Tritschler and crafted with a vision to combine classical techniques and Lidman’s soulful and forceful melodies with arrangements for a chamber orchestra. The resulting song has a great deal of organic presence. The sheer physical presence of the song in your ear as the various textures rhythms and melodies interact with a dynamic flow. It sounds like something written and recorded spontaneously with a mind to capture that energy and the feel of a song you’re getting to hear live with the potential for some element to go off the rails for a moment but never really does. The unique percussion brings a playful flavor to the song and the short sweeps of harp and woodwinds lends the song an air of the mythical. Fans of CocoRosie and later Ani DiFranco will appreciate the musicianship and creative arrangements thereof in which musical chops serve the songcraft exceedingly well. Listen to “Animal” on Soundcould and follow Anna Lidman at the links below.
CANTRELL is a skater turned rapper based in Atlanta and in 2019 he released a promising yet sophisticated and fully formed EP called Devil Never Even Lived (which is a palindrome). An ear for a creative and emotionally vibrant beat is something he brought to his single “Crown Me.” The trap beat with a spare, impressionistic piano figure and melancholic drones the song give it a dreamlike weightiness that fits the rap, with a several bars from critically acclaimed rapper Mick Jenkins, about seeming to have to always be on alert from the pitfalls of life and the music business and the people who might be poised to take you out. That and all the challenges you have to juggle just to get through seemingly all the time. That kind of vigilance takes its toll on your psyche when you feel like you have to maintain it all times. The song reflects that existential tension while hinting at a hope of relief from that if only in accepting these perils and putting yourself in a frame of mind to feel how these things affect you without surrendering to despair. The title invokes the image of a checker game and how you get a piece across the board but you’re still in the game and you still don’t know if you’ll win. And that sense of realistic ambivalence strikes deep. Listen to “Crown Me” on Spotify and connect with CANTRELL at the links provided.
Mark McNamee takes us into the wonder of deep space and with “Cosmic Dreams.” The evolving melodic drones of the peace drift together, drawing us outward while inspiring a reflective mood. Impressionistic, almost percussive tones wink into and echo out of our focus of attention throughout like a new star system appearing to our vision amid a sea of stars making up the nimbus of illumination around us. Underneath it all a crackle of static gives a sense of grounding and connection with the familiar like we’re in a ship tracking down a long lost satellite that has started transmitting from a world information that suggests much but especially how its ancient instrumentation isn’t adequate to convey the totality of surroundings. The song sounds like the sense of anticipation of first contact except that in this case maybe that first contact is with the remnants of an alien civilization that will nevertheless expand our knowledge of the universe we share with untold numbers of diverse intelligent beings. Watch the visualizer for “Cosmic Dreams” on YouTube and connect with Mark McNamee at the links provided.
RHYTCH perfectly blends trap production with lo-fi glitch electronica and IDM on “Pocari Sweat.” In the context of the music video which looks like something that had to have been captured on either a camcorder or early generation phone video the warping rap and heavily processed vocals it feels like you’ve entered the world of a soft drink commercial in slow motion except part of the sampling is to take out the elements in which a product is being sold to you but the lifestyle content is intact. Albeit one that exists in some kind of post-modern, post-current-civilization existence where the art is to unmoor cultural signifiers from their original referents. After all naming your song, as a German artist, after a kind of unusual Japanese soft drink that you can find in vending machines all over Japan and parts of Asia and Australia but usually only at an Asian market elsewhere, is a way of recontextualizing that bit of popular culture. Though production-wise the song is a product of the current musical climate it has much in common with underground electronic music of the late 2000s, The Art of Noise and turn of the century IDM in the creative use of samples as a compositional element to craft accessible yet imaginative music to take you out of everyday life. Watch the video for “Pocari Sweat” on YouTube and connect with RHYTCH through the link tree linked below.
The name Autow Nite Superstore brings to mind the image of a twenty-four hour petrol station in the middle of nowhere or at least on the edge of town that is also part video rental store department store, coffee shop and dance club. The video for the group’s song “Sharp, Sharp Blade” made with the help of collaborators all around the world since the regular shooting of the video was interrupted by the global pandemic of 2019-2020. The result is a short film that is reminiscent of a Nicolas Winding Refn project and Run Lola Run with tonally rich techno score that is spacious and urgent. The standout bass line in the song expands and thins out in a fluid dynamic with the phased synth arpeggio and wordless vocals for a song that soothes the mind and brings you along for a journey into late night intrigue. Watch the video on YouTube, connect with the Greek techno project at the links below and check out for the full length album Conversations on Bandcamp.
The lively and jagged riff that runs through “Easy” by Lethe combined with the distorted vocals, borderline clipping in the mix,conveys perfectly that feeling of being at the end of your tolerance of someone’s nonsense and you’re ready to exit the scene, the relationship, the friendship, the situation entirely while trying to preserve some sense of dignity. The latter represented by the line that closes each set of lyrics “Excuse me while I light a cigarette…” The spare melody might recall to some a kind of lower fi The Strokes but the off the cuff delivery and edge of the song is perhaps more reminiscent of the likes of Nouns-period No Age and Eat Skull circa Sick To Death. This song similarly conveys an attitude that commands acceptance of the raw display of emotional honesty channeled through what might be described as a ragged nonchalance. Whatever the influences and impulses behind the song there’s no denying its wiry hook and rough-edged tunefulness. Listen to “Easy” on Spotify and connect with the Croatian band Lethe at the links provided.
The title track to Stūrī Zēvele’s new album Labvakar (“Good Evening” in Latvian) sounds like something written by friends who are getting together in their personal retreat free to enjoy each other’s company while indulging the time to let their creativity flow where it will, trusting in their personal chemistry to refine their songwriting on the fly. The music video for the song displays the band in a home lit by candlelight while they bring out instruments and try out ideas but not like it’s a job. Like it’s something fun that they do that sometimes results in a song they can share with other people and often enough it’s something that was just fun on its own that may inspire ideas to explore further. That spirit infuses the easy and affectionately introspective tone of the song. Like it’s written from the perspective of a band taking stock of where they’ve been and appreciating the process that has kept their band around for fourteen years. The group, originally from the small town of Kuldiga, Latvia, is now based out of the capital city Riga, is perhaps hinting at its origins of small town life where they learned not to put too much pressure on their art and to keep it something they love doing together. Musically the song, and the rest of the record for that matter, has much in common with American indie pop from the 90s in that its sophistication of composition and creativity in the use of unconventional instruments as well as synths/keyboards and standard rock instruments creates a world of sound and storytelling that is easy to get lost in even if, like this author, you do not speak Latvian. It would be facile to compare the group to a famous alternative rock band like Mumiy Troll, post-punks Kino, psychedelic folk legends Akvarium, progressive synth pop group Zodiak but to American ears there will be some sonic kindship there. Comparisons aside, fans of Elephant 6 artists will appreciate what Stūrī Zēvele has to offer. Listen to “Labvakar” on Soundcloud, watch the video on Vimeo and connect with the group on Bandcamp where you can order a limited edition vinyl of the record.
Shawn Kerr was inspired for “Fluke” by the calm motion of a humpback whale as it swam by him when he was working along the Antarctic Peninsula. The drifting piano line resolves organically, swells, flows into minimal introspection and follows a naturally elegant and seemingly informal line of melody. In the background and drone of bright melodies resonates in the distance capturing the ineffable beauty of the moment. Kerr says the song is about opportunities in the larger sense as in one can be open to powerful moments and be struck by something outside your self-conditioned sense of the world and thus moved into a different state of awareness and thus consciousness without that experience having been planned or commodified and sold to you in some fashion. Whales remain mysterious to us because we know they’re intelligent and humpbacks certainly have a greater emotional capacity than humans. Kerr seems to suggest that being open to learning from a whale without needing to impose our limited understanding upon them might expand, to the extent possible, our understanding of ourselves in the broader context of the world. Certainly his composition takes us out of a life of linear logic for a few moments and leave us to wonder and experience a quiet awe at creatures motivated by impulses we may never fully understand and should, thus, respect. Listen to “Fluke” on Spotify and connect with Shawn Kerr at the links below.
Provoker’s video for “Since Then” (directed by Carl Raymond Hansen) looks like a collage of live performance footage and selections from a box of home movies found at a thrift store. Musically it sits between a grimy surf rock reminiscent of pro-Bossanova Pixies and Mac DeMarco and thus a perfect aesthetic pairing. Like plumbing what some might consider cultural detritus and offhand documentation of odd moments of life and making it into something resonant through raw, creative recontextualization. If there was a West Coast version of Siltbreeze it would embrace this band’s sound that is as much lo-fi pop as it is a commentary on the nature of memory and holding on to those bits of your past and the past generally that enrich your life even if, especially when, a lot of other people don’t get it. It’s what makes us a unique amalgam of roots and experiences and cultivation of feelings, ideas and notions rather than the pre-planned product a corporate oligarchy would like us to embody. Human life, real life, exists outside standard lines of marketability when lived authentically and this song and video is a celebration of that. Watch the video for “Since Then” on YouTube and connect with Provoker at the links provided.