Wednesday 26 August 2020

Loma – 'Half Silences'

Loma's 'Half Silences' was one of my favourite songs of 2019 – but then it disappeared from the web just before the band released their last single, 'Ocotillo'. Turns out that 'Half Silences' was the first song recorded for Loma's forthcoming second album, Don't Shy Away. The band chose to revisit the mix, presumably to make the sound of the song more consistent with the other tracks on the new album.

'Half Silences' is driven by a terse, gritty rhythm track, creating an unsettling space in which the song unfolds. Emily Cross has rarely sounded quite so haunted as she does here, ominously shadowed by Jonathan Meiburg and Dan Duszynski's backing vocals. The glimmering synths and sound effects that flit around the mix like fireflies are fittingly echoed in the DIY video's fireworks, which spark out across the ink-black nightscape of Dripping Springs, Texas, where the album was recorded at Duszynski's studio, Dandysounds.

Even though 'Half Silences' has been around a good while, it remains one of my favourite Loma songs, especially now that the mix has been finessed. Fantastic stuff.  

Don't Shy Away is released by Sub Pop on 23rd October.  


Thursday 30 July 2020

Loma – 'Ocotillo'

Back in early 2018, Loma put out their debut self-titled album on Sub Pop. I fawned over it upon its release, and the album's enduring beauty secured it top spot in my list of favourite albums of that year. In 2019, the band released the song 'Half Silences' – which has since disappeared from the internet, presumably as part of the roll-out for LP2 – and now we have the long-awaited announcement: Don't Shy Away, Loma's second record, will be released by Sub Pop on 23rd October.

Don't Shy Away album art by Lisa Cline

The brooding 'Black Willow', which caught the ear of none other than Brian Eno, was the first single off Loma. Don't Shy Away's first single proper, 'Ocotillo', initially feels like it's in a similar vein: the song opens at a restrained tempo, its simple swinging beat and loping bass creating a wide open space for the band to populate. While 'Black Willow' simmered with just-below-the-surface emotion throughout its runtime, 'Ocotillo' immediately feels more open-hearted. The bass pulse pauses to allow Jonathan Meiburg's Spirit of Eden-indebted electric guitar to periodically glimmer in the mix, and Emily Cross's voice is clear and pure. There's plenty of instrumental detail to catch the ear: congas add percussive interest to Dan Duszynski's lithe drums, while saxophone and clarinet swell and recede. Once Cross sings the words "wonderful disarray" towards the halfway point, all hell breaks loose. A squalling horn section overwhelms the mix as Cross's voice ascends into a scream that sounds more liberated than desperate, as if admitting her state of emotional chaos has allowed her to break free. The music certainly feels free, but it's not just a shortcut to a crescendo – the band ride out the stormy weather throughout the song's second half, never quite falling apart, yet transparently turbulent. It's as if 'Black Willow' and Radiohead's 'The National Anthem' had a love-child.

Loma band photo by Bryan C. Parker

During Loma's KEXP session in 2018, Meiburg likened Loma's creative process to collectively blowing a soap bubble that no one wanted to pop. That album's translucent beauty felt delicate and one-of-a-kind. 'Ocotillo', and 'Half Silences' before it, are early proof that Don't Shy Away is likely to be a bolder, more strident return, the band confident in their collective capacity to muster magic. 

Thursday 28 March 2019

Chris Cohen – Chris Cohen

My relationship with Chris Cohen's music began with ‘Odyssey’, a Cohen-penned track on Deerhoof’s The Runners Four, which remains one of my favourites in their formidable discography. (I was also lucky enough to see Deerhoof live during their Runners Four tour.) That song's gentle, lilting nature, at odds with the majority of Deerhoof's full-throttle garage-rock, struck a chord with me. I sought out his 2012 debut Overgrown Path thanks to Eleanor Friedberger's Baker’s Dozen piece on The Quietus – and I’ve followed Cohen’s output ever since.

A recent in-depth interview with Aquarium Drunkard focused on the influence of Cohen’s parents’ recent divorce on these songs. While there are references to his estranged father in gorgeous singles 'Edit Out' and 'Green Eyes', overall the album feels as much about coming to terms with one's place in the world and how we learn from each generation’s mistakes. What resonates with me most is that sense of longing for connection across time; the sinking feeling that you’ll never quite have the relationship with your family that you hoped for.

Part of the reason the backstory to this album resonates so strongly with me is that I lost my father to cancer in 2016. Although I now live in Australia and he's always lived back in England, I was lucky enough to spend two uninterrupted weeks with him before he became too frail. Even though there was plenty of unsaid stuff hanging between us, I feel like I came to terms with the fact that he wasn’t the man I wanted him to be. That feeling of acceptance, however painful, permeates this deeply empathetic LP.

The atmosphere of the album is typified by gently swaying opener ‘Song They Play’, which sounds like a cousin of As If Apart’s ‘The Mender’. The three lovely singles follow, including the spiralling bass-and-organ-driven groove of 'Sweet William', before folk staple 'House Carpenter' offers a welcome change of pace, its droning arrangement lulling the listener towards the end of side A after the dense harmonic shifts of the first four songs. Side B opens especially elegantly with 'Twice in a Lifetime', and album closer 'No Time To Say Goodbye' is heartbreakingly beautiful, buoyed heavenward by its beatific sax solo.

It's interesting to note that the album was mastered by legendary engineer Bernie Grundman, responsible for such classics as Steely Dan’s Aja. Chris Cohen has a wondrous depth and warmth, deft arrangements, and an intimate feel to Cohen's vocal delivery. Even though Cohen has an enviable melodic sensibility and plays the majority of the instruments with aplomb, there are tantalising glimpses of expansive new directions, such as the ending of 'What Can I Do', where there's a suggestion of a moody coda that's cruelly faded out. And while Cohen's wildly expressive guitar playing provides some searing counterpoint to the relatively serene songs, it would be amazing to hear where his songwriting could venture given further instrumental collaboration. (All of the guest musicians here make notable contributions, especially saxophonist Kasey Knudsen.)

Overall, Chris Cohen is another superb addition to Cohen's discography – and one I'll be revisiting for months to come. It's full of tuneful goodness, counterbalanced by a bittersweet edge, and I'm looking forward to receiving my vinyl in the mail.

[Chris Cohen is out now on Captured Tracks.] 

Thursday 13 December 2018

My 10 favourite albums of 2018

1. Loma – Loma (Sub Pop)
This collaboration between Shearwater's Jonathan Meiburg and Cross Record's Emily Cross and Dan Duszynski is one of those perfect albums that seems to come along once in a blue moon. Even though it was released all the way back in February, it's cast an imposing shadow over my whole year. I've measured everything released since against this restrained, atmospheric, utterly beautiful collection of songs. I can't wait for their next one.

2. Ned Collette – Old Chestnut (It)
Melbourne ex-pat Ned Collette has really hit his stride on Old Chestnut, exercising his muse over four sides of vinyl yet deserving every groove. Collette's nimble nylon-string guitar playing traces out fragile structures, around which his collaborators (including The Necks' Chris Abrahams on piano) construct warm, flowing arrangements that are as welcoming as a roomful of friends and family. An endlessly replayable suite of story-songs. 
3. Moonface – This One's for the Dancer & This One's for the Dancer's Bouquet (Jagjaguwar)
Spencer Krug is such an oddball that the release of a double album interspersing marimba-and-vocoder songs about the myth of the minotaur with more conventional drums-and-sax songs should come as no surprise. What is surprising is just how immersive this collection is, featuring some stunning moments like 'Dreamsong', one of my favourite songs of the year. I'll be exploring this one well into 2019.

4. Kilchhofer – The Book Room (Marionette)
The best way I can describe this album is to imagine what Boards of Canada might sound like if they lived in a tropical rainforest rather than the wilds of Scotland. Teeming with percussive details and awash in synth drones, it's a glorious, meandering soundworld – and, weirdly, the third double album on this list.
5. Rosali – Trouble Anyway (Scissor Tail)
Rosali Middleman is a great songwriter, but on Trouble Anyway her songs truly come alive thanks to the band she's assembled around her, including Nathan Bowles, Mary Lattimore and Mike Polizze. There's an aching country-rock intimacy to every word she sings, and there are moments where the music is carried into the realms of questing psych-rock. Impeccable.
6. Ian William Craig – Thresholder (130701)
A comparatively minor release in Ian William Craig's stellar discography – bringing together songs recorded between 2014's A Turn of Breath and 2016's masterpiece, Centres – Thresholder is still absolutely beautiful and could only have come from IWC's heavenly voice and beaten-up tape decks. There's a sublime ebb and flow to this album, plus it features 'Some Absolute Means', one of his finest songs to date.   
7. epic45 – Through Broken Summer (Wayside & Woodland Recordings)
Steeped in northern England's sense of place, there's a gravity to epic45's music that's astutely counterbalanced by their fleet-footed instrumentation, ensuring Through Broken Summer runs the full gamut of emotions, from melancholy to elation, tempered, of course, by an English sense of reservation. This album makes me miss home. 

8. Sleep Decade – Collapse (Dusky Tracks)
While I can identify plenty of beloved precedents for Sleep Decade’s new album Collapse – Bark Psychosis, Low and Slint come to mind – there’s a dark magic at work here that makes it unique, rather than a studied retread of atmospheric guitar music of years gone by. Everything about Collapse feels carefully considered to extract maximum resonance from minimum instrumental ingredients – and the effects are devastating.
9. Eiko Ishibashi – The Dreams My Bones Dream (Drag City)
Everything Jim O'Rourke touches is worthy of investigation, and the work of Eiko Ishibashi is no exception. The Dreams My Bones Dream is probably the darkest, knottiest album she's released on Drag City thus far, which immediately won me over thanks to its first track being eerily reminiscent of Talk Talk's 'Taphead'. 

10. r beny – Eistla (A Place to Bloom)
Each year, there's always one new ambient/drone record I keep coming back to. This year it's Eistla. I stumbled upon this release thanks to a random online recommendation and have listened to it devotedly since. It sounds like its cover looks: a beautiful natural scene, churning with undercurrents. 

Another 10 that are also awesome (in alphabetical order):
Elephant Micah – Genericana (Western Vinyl)
Foxwarren – Foxwarren (Anti-)
The Green Child – The Green Child (Upset the Rhythm)
Jesse Marchant – Illusion of Love (No Other)
My Autumn Empire – Oh, Leaking Universe (Wayside & Woodland Recordings) 
Ovlov – TRU (Exploding in Sound)
Rival Consoles – Persona (Erased Tapes)
Liam Singer – Finish Him (Birdwatcher)
Wye Oak – The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs (Merge)
Olden Yolk – Olden Yolk (Trouble in Mind)

Wednesday 21 March 2018

Loma – Loma

The fact that Shearwater’s Jonathan Meiburg has chosen this musical path following 2016’s Jet Plane and Oxbow is heartening. For me, Cross Record’s Wabi-Sabi, released the same year, succeeded in all the ways JPAO stumbled – by paying heed to nuance, texture, atmosphere. JPAO felt like it was over-reaching, striving in vain for universality. Loma is intimacy incarnate.

The backstory goes some way towards explaining how this album ended up sounding the way it does. Shearwater and Cross Record (Emily Cross and Dan Duszynski) toured together, then Meiburg invited the duo to collaborate with him – but it's not quite the simple overlap between Shearwater and Cross Record one might expect. Meiburg's presence is subtle rather than overt. It's only really on mesmerising closer 'Black Willow' that Meiburg's voice is clearly heard, his backing vocals blending with Cross to create something both eerie and reassuring. In writing songs for Cross to sing, Meiburg has retreated to a more affecting songwriting style that brings out the best in everyone involved. The result is an album on which every moment feels lovingly crafted and deeply felt.

Whether tracing out delicate spider webs of sound ('I Don't Want Children'), digging deep into nightmarish ambient-rock ('White Glass') or channelling the beauty of late-era Talk Talk ('Sundogs'), Loma perpetually shifts across its 10 songs, while each piece feels drawn from the same well of inspiration. Learning that Cross and Duszynski's marriage came to an end during the album's creation only lends it further resonance.

I am extremely here for these songs, this sound. I hear vulnerability, sadness, defiance and tenderness. I feel it deeply. Over and over again. I doubt I'll hear a better record this year – and it's only March.

Sunday 25 February 2018

Tor Lundvall – A Dark Place

Discovering the work of Tor Lundvall has been something of a revelation. The prolific ambient musician and painter has released nearly 20 albums in the last 20 years, both independently and via Dais Records, yet I only heard of him last month when the single 'Quiet Room' was released from his new vocal-led album A Dark Place. Luke Turner of The Quietus described it as "the sweet spot between Talk Talk and Slowdive's underrated Pygmalion" – my interest was immediately piqued.

Digging back through Lundvall's discography unearths a very deliberate, consistent aesthetic. Each release tends to be themed around a sense of place, our relationship to nature, the weather or a time of day (e.g., Rain Studies, The Park, Night Studies, The Shipyard). A Dark Place, though notably nocturnal in feel, is more of a metaphorical place – the space one enters alone while reflecting upon our mortality. It's no surprise to learn that the album was influenced by the recent loss of Lundvall's father.

While his ambient albums create a lovingly rendered instrumental space for exploration on headphones, A Dark Place features Lundvall's vocal musings front and centre. He emotes in a mesmerisingly neutral tone, which creates a curious effect. His vocal presence is the focus on each of these eight tracks, yet his delivery and lyrics seem to do everything they can to slip into the shadows so the music can do the talking.

The music itself is typically beautiful for a Lundvall album, with plenty of focus on weighty, looped figures that exhale eerie reverb trails. Befitting a vinyl release it works well as a two-sided experience. Side openers 'Quiet Room' and 'Negative Moon' feel like companion tracks with their insistent bass pulse. At its conclusion, side A feels like it's fading away with 'The Invisible Man', while side B ends on a more hopeful note with the beautiful, lilting 'The Next World'.

Listening to several of Lundvall's previous instrumental albums while waiting for this release felt like stumbling upon a treasure trove, each release fully realised and deeply emotive. My expectations for A Dark Place were high. While there's an undeniably compelling atmosphere to this release, the vocal focus means there's less space for Lundvall's immersive environments to work their magic. As a result, the listener is left in a state of suspension, pulled between the worlds of ambient and downtempo pop. Nonetheless, this release is a grower – and a worthwhile introduction to Lundvall's immense discography.

[A Dark Place is available as a digital download via Bandcamp, and on vinyl from Dais Records.] 


Tuesday 20 February 2018

The Amazing – 'Pull'

Sweden's The Amazing are, predictably, amazing. They've been releasing albums since 2009, crafting music akin to Nick Drake reimagined by early Verve. (Plus it doesn't hinder matters to have Dungen's masterful Reine Fiske on electric guitar.)

In-keeping with their apposite band name, new song 'Pull' really pulls you in with its density and gravitas. It's an exquisite bummer of a track, fading gently into existence and lolling around in gorgeous melancholy for the majority of its 7.5-minute run-time. But there are at least two alchemical moments when the song shifts into another dimension and makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. The first point of take-off is 2:13, when fresh waves of heavily effected guitars loom into view, carrying the song into similar territory to My Bloody Valentine. Then, at 4:56, the dreamy guitars get sucked through a flanger (a classic Slowdive trick), making the song soar even more majestically.

While there's currently no mention of a new album, fingers crossed that 'Pull' is taken from a forthcoming record that will no doubt prove to be another essential addition to The Amazing's stellar discography.