Belgian composer Dominique Lawalrée is responsible for some of last century’s most criminally overlooked minimalist pieces, and some of the most candidly beautiful, too. If you don’t trust me, ask Gavin Bryars: he has deemed them “a quiet, understated music that is both touching and elegant.” The highlights from four of Lawalrée’s albums, originally released on the composer’s own Editions Walrus label between 1978-1982, have been compiled by Catch Wave/Ergot Records and will soon be released as First Meeting. The upcoming record’s centerpiece, “La Maison Des 5 Elements,” is a synth-addled study of piano counterpoint and found sounds that starts not unlike a children’s lullaby, yet gradually develops into a deep-seated, immersive meditation, somewhat comparable in tone to David Bowie’s “Warszawa.” It is a supple, streamlined piece, almost bashful but marked with exceptional emotional directness.
First Meeting is out February 24 on Catch Wave Ltd. and Ergot Records. You can pre-order the compilation here.
Portland’s Visible Cloaks have shared a neat little preview of their upcoming album Reassemblage: artist Brenna Murphy's video for “Terrazzo.” Concocted with the help of producer Joe Williams (Motion Graphics), the music recalls breezy, minimalist Japanese ambient-pop that Spencer Doran, half of Visible Cloaks, has been showcasing on his Fairlights, Mallets, and Bamboo mixtape series. However, the song’s arrangement (replete with Casio woodwind imitators) and the gaudy video bring it back to the James Ferraro and Oneohtrix Point Never-shaped world of retro-digital classicism. Experiencing “Terrazzo” audio-visually is like walking through a Second Life version of the Sistine Chapel, curiously deployed on a beach in a Middle Eastern state.
Reassemblage comes out February 17 on RVNG Intl. Spencer Doran is also about to release a limited-edition mixtape of “choral music from the Eastern Bloc, Italian spiritual minimalism, and early software-based generative music experiments,” titled Translations.
It’s always impressive when a musician employs a full array of instruments and noisemakers—multiple guitars, bass, drums, percussion, voice, you name it—and yet their music still sounds ambient, effortless. In the case of psych-folk veteran Rafi Bookstaber’s latest LP, home-recorded in Asheville, NC over several years, and co-produced by Paul Grimes and M. Geddes Gengras, the summoned ambience recalls the album's titular season. It doesn’t take much effort to conjure a mental image of this music: the sun is giving off a particularly intense-but-deceptive light, days are getting a bit shorter, and kids are biking home for dinner before the first day of school. It’s an idyllic image that, nonetheless, Bookstaber distorts more than a notch with Eastern influences and degenerated tape hum, eventually depicting a summer that’s a bit more lush, spiritual, and untouched by human ubiquity than what we’re generally used to.
Dumas Demons features accomplished fingerpicker Hayden Pedigo and drummer Joseph McMurray, known for playing behind Mac DeMarco and here proving himself in the role of all-around ambient mastermind. The duo's debut EP for Driftless Recordings explores the blurring of boundaries between "real" and electronic instruments in the service of mood and representation. This effect is best achieved on “River is a Friendly Angel”—a hypnotizing, amplified raga that feels somewhat like the yin to Robbie Basho’s Visions of the Country’s yang. Suffused in pulsating, silky synthesizer ooze, Pedigo’s guitar revisits Basho’s picturesque, pastoral landscapes, but also offers what could be read as a meditation on the degeneration of nature under the influence of man.
Tuning into holymachines’ “Ecology” can be an overwhelming experience, with its thick layer of static recreating the swirling sensation of drowning in cold water. There’s a method to this madness, though. The Berlin-based musician, real name Chris Hill, calls it “genre observation.” On Image Version, his collaboration with director and video artist Sven Stratmann a.k.a. Aquiet (who provides visualizations to Hill's compositions), Hill deconstructs noise, ambient, and electronica; somehow he manages to do each justice while making sure neither trumps the rest. The way album highlight “Plus” radiates pure light through a distorted cacophony of hisses and crackles, and “Brainless Highbrows” conveys the beauty of underwater exploration is nothing short of sublime. And rather intentional, too, for Hill admits to address “the encroachment of digitisation on nature” in his work. However, what strongly resonates in his music is that nature actually comes out on top, vigorous and unscathed.
Image Version is out today via Average Negative. You can order it as a multimedia package, along with Aquiet’s visuals, through the label’s Bandcamp.
Nashville’s Western Medication are obviously dead set on reviving the sound of British indie rock of the Second Summer of Love, complete with an acidic John Squire guitar chime; there’s something about “Witch Parade” though that makes it more than just a predictable exercise in idolatry. My bet goes to the skintight, post-punk rhythm section that has the song thump with more immediacy and tension than the drums she happened to be banging. Before the group’s debut LP, The Entertainer's Secret, hits the shelves on April 16, they are treating their latest single (and catchiest song to date) to a VHS-style video that reinvigorates the “band playing in a room” trope by making the four-piece look like a bunch of your buddies performing at a prom. Only when they're not blending in with a psychedelic background shots of flowers, that is. They have great hair and play alternative rock straight from across the pond: they’re definitely the coolest kids in school.
It’s a cliché, but Brazil really lives and breathes music. Whereas in most of the Northern hemisphere, music is either completely separated from everyday life or provides earbud-channeled background noise, in South America’s biggest country it is heard and experienced literally everywhere—often in the flesh. At any time of the year (and moment of the day), both traditional and modern rhythms bring local entertainment to the country’s diverse metropolises. There’s always a guy with a nylon-string guitar (violão) at the house party you’ve just arrived at. Given the rich musical landscape that this fertile creative climate has bred, it’s too bad northern and western audiences only champion a small portion of Brazilian musicians. As might be expected, more than just samba, bossa nova, and the hip Tropicália movement deserve serious scrutiny and awe from abroad.
One of the oft-overlooked pockets of Brazilian music developed right in the middle of the country’s oppressive, twenty-year military dictatorship, in the mining, mountainous state of Minas Gerais—a musical movement later dubbed “Clube da Esquina” (“The Corner Club”) by the press. The name was taken from the title of a 1972 double album credited to two men, Milton Nascimento, a swiftly rising singer-songwriter who is now famous to even those with a passing knowledge of Brazilian culture, and his lesser-known friend, Lô Borges. While living literally around the corner from one another in the state capital of Belo Horizonte, Nascimento and Borges gathered a collective of local musicians for a release that put Minas Gerais on the country’s musical map. The Clube da Esquina LP (1972) proved that Nascimento’s growing popularity was not a fluke; there indeed was a pool of talent coming from the hard-working, unglamorous region.
And it didn’t end there. With Clube da Esquina as its blueprint, the mineiros (as people from Minas Gerais are usually called) who created the album dreamed up an idiosyncratic, amalgamated sound that came to be associated with their tight-knit group in the seventies and beyond. Over numerous solo and collaborative releases from Nascimento, Borges and several of his family members, Wagner Tiso, Fernando Brant, Beto Guedes, Toninho Horta, Luiz Alves, Robertinho Silva, and many others, the corner club musicians took the generic form of a toada (short verse-and-chorus tune with humorous or romantic lyrics), updated it with the rhythmic complexity of bossa nova, and then fused it with a strikingly wide array of influences from abroad, ranging from Miles Davis to prog rock to The Beatles. By doing so, they played a big part in molding the shape of MPB (musica popular brasileira) in the 1970s: a lush, ornate sound, harmonically elaborate, in hindsight somewhat uncool, and yet (considering the turbulent political situation) quietly transgressive. One might jest that Brazilian dad rock was born.
Unlike samba and bossa nova, Clube da Esquina music didn’t make much of a mark globally at the time of its prominence in Brazil. Unlike Tropicália, it never enjoyed a resurgence of interest in the retromania era, either. Milton Nascimento’s international breakthrough arrived with his joint effort with Wayne Shorter on 1974’s Native Dancer album, and to this day his position in a musical collective—rather than simply being a brand of his own—is overlooked outside of Brazil. The playlist below serves as an invitation to exploring the vast catalogue of his extended pool of collaborators: the men and women who played an instrumental role in making Clube da Esquina much more than just Nascimento’s vision.
English powerhouse-of-a-producer Mark Van Hoen, known for his emotionally-charged cyber-soul albums under many aliases (most notably, Locust), as well as contributions to such seminal works of IDM as Seefeel’s Quique, is issuing a six-song, winter-themed cassette for Geographic North. Sketch For Winter V: It’s Not Me is the label’s first 2016 release, and the fifth installment in the seasonal series. “It’s Not You (In a Way)” opens side A with an icy intro that soon turns into a jam of stomps, swishes, and clinks, together sounding not unlike an Angelo Badalamenti piece (“Audrey’s Dance,” perhaps?) performed by distant industrial machinery. But then comes in a zombie-like vocal sample that makes me see the track in yet another light: a ghastly echo of a deep-house banger, entirely stripped down of its groove and luster. If the post-apocalyptic generation was to have their hypnagogic pop moment, this is what it would sound like.
Last year, New York’s Bing & Ruth unearthed their charming, sparse-yet-monumental second LP, Tomorrow Was the Golden Age. A suite of nine rather lengthy post-modern compositions, the LP bridged the worlds of contemporary classical, ambient, and chamber pop with a subtle grace that not easily achieved, at least this side of Julia Holter. Now, the David Moore-led ensemble’s debut album, City Lake, is getting a proper remaster and a wider release thanks to RVNG Intl. The video that accompanies “Rails,” the record’s warm, upbeat centerpiece, accentuates the humanistic character of Bing & Ruth’s music. Featuring blurry, impressionistic footage of a day’s train ride in what appears to be Southern Europe, the video portrays a world that’s honestly worth marveling at: while the destination is unknown and the train is moving through both clouds and sunshine, the passengers are confident in their togetherness, eager to make contact with each other or just calmly contemplate the changing landscape outside the window. It’s a rare moment of optimism that’s neither trite nor overly idealistic.
You may have heard Alexander Brettin’s 12-string chime away on Ariel Pink’s pom pom last year, likely not realising who was playing. At any rate, the LA via-Chicago songwriter’s involvement in that record gives a whiff of an idea as to what general world of cross-cultural references he inhabits. To be specific, it’s that peculiar interjection of music-school attention to harmonic detail, ‘60s-rooted psychedelia, dad-rock takes on jazz and funk, and a bit of “no-holds-barred” LA cool. “Undeniable,” the third single streaming ahead of Brettin’s debut LP as Mild High Club, is a drugged-out, plodding jam that, while packed with a world of emotions, plays out like listening to a catchy Olivia Tremor Control song very drunk and very tired: you might doze off any minute now. Or maybe you already have.