Under the Botany moniker, Spencer Stephenson creates rich psychological and emotional experiences through audio. His music is a thoughtful attempt to convey the non-verbal through his particular mental prism, where sounds have potent symbolism in ways that are all but forgotten in the modern world. On Dimming Awe, the Light is Raw, the 28-year-old producer and composer continues dissolving the borders between his disparate-yet-beloved psych, hip hop, and ambient influences. Album standout "Au Revoir," is a shimmering piece of sampler-psychedelia that bolsters verses by rapper Milo, and gracefully leads into the drum-less hum and crackle of "Birthjays". Matthewdavid - the high-priest of ambient bass himself - lends a rare vocal feature to the uplifting burner "Glow-up" while the electro-inspired "Bad CGI" stitches Bambaataa chants and sci-fi flutters to a shamanic pulse, then morphs into a late-night opiated channel-surfing montage, and the seams rarely appear.
Deepak Verbera, the third LP by Austin's Spencer Stephenson aka BOTANY, bends the beat-driven path carved by the composer's first two records into meterless cosmic territory, juxtaposing free jazz arrhythmia with cathedral-filling harmony, ringing off the temple walls with soaring grandeur. The billowing textures that loomed behind his previous output break unabashedly into the foreground, shedding the beats that once stenciled them in. What arises in the absence of discernable rhythm is a psych-inflected scrapbook of atmospheres with tremendous sonic and emotional breadth.
In essence Deepak Verbera is a soundscape record created through methods usually found in hip-hop; vinyl samples, looped vocal phrases, pulsing bass, and warm synths all shimmer with kosmische-indebted splendor, like Popol Vuh with MPCs and a stack of secondhand records.
"This music is first and foremost about what can be done together, live in a room, to both transcend and reclaim ourselves from the noise of public living. I'm waging a sort of secular, one-man liturgy here; a public act grounded in ritual. These songs offer wordless hymns and pulsing harmonic frameworks one might use to focus their own contemporary values. Instrumental music particularly offers the opportunity for personal interpretation and reflection. In this ever-fucked world, that seems perpetually in short supply.
"I've been creating instrumental music a long time now, under my own name and via bands (Slow Six, Wires Under Tension). I've also built software a long time - yes, I do this for Google. I did my time in Princeton's PhD program for music composition, NYU's Masters of computer science program, and at Bard studying creative writing. I worked live sound for years at NYC clubs now gone (CBGB's, Brownies) while immersing myself in minimalism, assisting LaMonte Young. As a string arranger I get to work with lots of great artists including John Congleton, This Will Destroy You, and Meshell Ndegeocello to name a few."
Written and recorded at the same time as their recent full-length Split Stones, the New Varieties EP continues Lymbyc Systym's exploration of the power of disparate halves coming together to form a unique whole. The idea serves as an analogy for brothers Jared and Mike Bell's long-distance relationship, as well as their compositions - a unique synthesis of live emotion and electronic precision.
Picking up where their last album left off, the EP's upbeat opening track "Opposing Bodies" features the same melody found on "Scientific Romance", the final song on Split Stones. Exploring darker and more introspective territory, "Differential" features big reverberating snare hits, emulating the crack of a whip often heard in old Spaghetti Westerns. On the album's anthemic title track "New Varieties," the band brings back their powerful Clavinet sound paired against Brazilian influenced rhythms and cascading piano lines.
The EP closes with Austin-based producer Botany's remix of "Opposing Bodies," turning Lymbyc's clean, head-bobbing rhythms and infectious arpeggios into a gauzy, mind-bending soundscape of smeared textures and chaotic rhythms.
Matt Schneider's work under the Moon Bros. moniker is time-out-of-mind cooing folk played at painstakingly patient speeds - a decorous and underheard contribution to the ambient folk fray. Perhaps his recordings are projections of future scores to Cormac McCarthy adaptations; perhaps front porch Dust Bowl blues gospel. Either way, Schneider is a pointedly preeminent experimental guitarist in this day and age.
This iteration of Moon Bros. is a network of a few high-minded Chicago improvisers: Matthew Lux (Iron & Wine, Exploding Star Orchestra), Dan Bitney (Tortoise, Isotope 217), and Sam Wagster (Cairo Gang).
In 2012 Trevor Montgomery released Navigated Like the Swan, his first album under the Young Moon moniker. According to The Wall Street Journal "It engulfs the listener - and sometimes even the narrator...", while Consequence of Sound called it "...powerful and heartfelt...". Soon after its release, the relationship that inspired those songs unraveled, leaving Montgomery at an all-time low, living on a houseboat out of necessity, and unable to write songs, or even play guitar. "That part of me was broken. My life was pretty broken as well" says Montgomery.
Though he eased back into the habit of playing music on a daily basis, something was still missing. Drummer Syam Zapalowski was a Young Moon fan, and started pursuing Montgomery about playing live shows with him. Zapalowski's persistence and encouragement led Young Moon to expand to include Montgomery's longtime collaborator Danny Grody on guitars and synths, and Jeff Moller on bass. "It was a natural progression for Young Moon. I needed to have more dynamics and volume to tell the stories the way they were laying out in my head," says Montgomery. Inspired by the newfound potential of a full band, the songs that make up the new album Colt started coming together.
Peter Broderick’s Music for Falling From Trees, is a 29 minute piece, in seven sections, created for a contemporary dance by London's Adrienne Hart. Adrienne told Peter she was looking for a score of piano and strings, so he left the guitar and his voice aside and focused entirely on those two timbres. The dance tells the story of a man in a psychiatric hospital, and his struggle to maintain his identity. Beautifully utilizing piano and strings, the music evokes a melancholic and playful narrative.
Listeners familiar with Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith's previous album Euclid (an album that prompted Dazed to call her "...one of the most pioneering musicians in the world.") will no doubt notice her heavier use of vocals on her new album EARS. On all but one song, her gently ecstatic swells of vocals emerge to soar over a dense jungle of synths and woodwinds.
After initially composing on a Buchla analog synth, she wrote arrangements for a woodwind quintet, added vocals, and further refined the pieces with granular synthesis techniques she developed in her sound design work (she contributed sound design to Panda Bear's "Boys Latin" video, and handled sound design and original compositions for Brasilia co-written by and starring Reggie Watts).
Kinetic arpeggios of synths pulse, often buoying her graceful vocal mantras, while woodwinds breathe and flutter, emulating the wildlife Smith observed while growing up on the West Coast (she even studied recordings of slowed down bird calls prior to composing these pieces). Though some of her gestures echo the musical tropes used by early minimalist composers, the world she creates on EARS is uniquely hypnotic and full of life, not unlike Miyzaki's film Nausicaä, which she cites as an inspiration.
By the time he was 15, singer, multi-instrumentalist, and producer Carter Tanton was already playing bar shows in his hometown of Baltimore. Two years later, he caught the attention of Gary E. Smith, best known for discovering and producing The Pixies. After working together for a year, they parted ways, but Tanton never slowed down. In the mid-2000's he released a couple of EPs with his band Tulsa, prompting Rolling Stone's David Fricke to claim "...his indie-seraphim voice is not of this world...", and after a particularly impressive live set KEXP's John Richards said "...he's one of the best singer-songwriters in the country today."
Over the years, Tanton has toured and recorded with numerous artists including Marissa Nadler, Strand of Oaks, Lower Dens, and The War on Drugs. In 2012, he assembled Freeclouds, his first collection of songs for Western Vinyl. A couple of years later, Tanton moved to England where he wrote all of the songs on his new album Jettison the Valley. His old friend and collaborator Marisa Nadler contributes lead vocals to "Jettison the Valley", and Sharon Van Etten sings on "Twenty-Nine Palms" and "Through the Garden Gates".
From the moment you hear the bristling boom-bap chorus on album-opener "Totally Mutual Feeling," it's apparent that Lushlife's third full-length finds the Philadelphia rapper-producer at his most introspective. Themes of isolation and mortality permeate Ritualize, a cinematic hour-long odyssey co-produced by enigmatic production trio, CSLSX (pronounced "Casual Sex") and featuring contributions from Ariel Pink, Killer Mike, Marissa Nadler, RJD2, and more. With CSLSX at the boards, an entire universe opens up for Lush, where the pulsating Juno synths of '80s LA night music sit side-by-side with gorgeously propulsive indie-leaning jams, and low-fi soul burners too. The resulting LP is a post-blog-era joint that seems to exhale the whole of the 20th century in a single, fascinating breath.
Though he may not be a household name, Kenniff's evocative, distinctly American music has become quietly ubiquitous in the past few years, often appearing on NPR, in films, on TV, and in ads for Apple, Facebook, and Google among others. Recorded over the course of three years, the material on his new album Sometimes functions as a journal, documenting brief moments in Kenniff's day when he could turn to the piano as a source of solace and unending creative possibilities. Kenniff wrote and recorded everything on the album with the exception of the track "A Word I Give", which is a collaboration with preeminent Japanese pianist Ryuichi Sakamoto, who once described Goldmund's music as "...so, so, so beautiful."
In an interview with NPR's Weekend Edition Keith Kenniff discussed his appreciation of Civil War era music, and it's ability to covey "...so much story in so few notes." Similarly, these improvisations manage to be richly evocative despite their technical and compositional simplicity, using subtle details and dynamics to express what might otherwise be inexpressible.
Brothers Jared and Michael Bell have been making music together as Lymbyc Systym since 2004. On their new album Split Stones they explore the power of disparate halves coming together to form a unique whole. The idea serves as an analogy for Jared and Mike's relationship, Lymbyc's sound, and the mind/body dichotomy.
Recorded largely in their respective home studios, the duo went to Dallas to track live drums at Elmwood Recording, where they mixed their previous albums Shutter Release and Field Studies with John Congleton. The album opens with "Generated Bodies", a song that starts as a colossal instrumental rock track, but quickly evolves into spirals of chordal synths and electronic beats, mirroring the band's metamorphosis over the past decade. Other songs like "Split Stones" and "Pulses" find the band experimenting with longer cinematic song structures, leaving behind the short "pop" song structures they've delivered on previous albums. The album veers into full on dance mode on "Paraboloid" before things wind down with the sunny groove of album closer "Scientific Romance".
In 2010 Nicole Schneit aka Air Waves released Dungeon Dots, an album Aquarius Records called "...pretty much perfect pop music." For her new album Parting Glances, Schneit enlisted friends from Brooklyn's music community to contribute to the record, including members of Woods, Crystal Stilts, Ava Luna, and Hospitality. Additionally, Jana Hunter of Lower Dens contributes vocals to two songs.
The album's title comes from the 1986 film Parting Glances in which Steve Buscemi portrays a gay man navigating the difficulties of being in a relationship in Reagan-era New York. More than just identifying with the story, Schneit is interested in the in the lasting effect of the parting glances we share with strangers in our everyday encounters. She explains "You see all sorts of physical and emotional traits on the train. From people puking, making out, screaming, crying, laughing, dancing, grooming, etc. We encounter each other in the thick of our complex lives by simply looking at each other all the time. These glances are mundane and fleeting but also powerfully intimate." The lingering impact of those brief moments seeps into the details and imagery she delivers with energizing hooks and a disarming lack of pretense on Parting Glances.
Unlike the production limitations that defined the sound of Diane Coffee's debut My Friend Fish (recording drums on an iPhone, using a detuned guitar in lieu of a bass, etc) Everybody's a Good Dog was recorded in proper studios with an assortment of guest appearances, horns, and a string ensemble, finally bringing to life Fleming's deep well of talent and ideas. The album covers a lot of ground from sweet acapella harmonies, to bursts of big brass and Motown swagger, to unhinged psychedelic mayhem.
The album's unstoppable grooves and melodies were written with live performance in mind. "I like performing more than recording. It's like throwing a mini party each night that goes really well," says Fleming. When you hear him pouring every bit of his two decades of experience as a performer into these songs, it's clear that Diane Coffee is not a side project, it's THE project Fleming has been working towards his whole life.
Heather Woods Broderick excels at distilling her experiences into a soulful melancholy that's enduring both for it's intimate relatable moments and its persistent sense of mystery. Her uncanny ear for evocative production and gorgeous vocal harmonies serves her well on her new album Glider. Throughout the album, the rich dreamlike atmospheres she creates hint at a darkness looming on the horizon, while the singularity of her ethereal voice always seems to linger long after the music has stopped.
As a talented multi-instrumentalist and vocalist, Heather has had the opportunity to record and tour with plenty of incredible artists including Horse Feathers, Efterklang, and Sharon Van Etten, which has kept her moving house and traveling around the world for much of the past decade.
Landscape Dream is Abram Shook's follow up to 2014's Sun Marquee, an album VICE called "...pleasant as fuck." and Texas Monthly called "...compelling, weird, and lovely." Applying what he learned through writing and recording Sun Marquee, Landscape Dream is a natural progression, demonstrating how much Shook's songwriting and production acumen has sharpened over the past year. Sun Marquee was a learning process where songs were often forced out of experiments in recording techniques. As Abram explains, "I had a lot of thoughts I just threw out there, but often I arrived at dead-ends and had to figure out how to make something out of what was available." However, on Landscape Dream he "went back to writing with just voice and guitar and then used arranging, production, and recording ideas pulled from Sun Marquee." The effectiveness of his new approach is clear from the 70's rock of "Find It" and "Chelsea" to the African vibes of "Get Gone", the dreamy Brazilian vibes on "5AM" and "Beach Glass", and the slow-jam soul found on "Perfect", "Jaw", and "Vessel".
While on a writing retreat in the sleepy southern town of Benton, Mississippi, the members of New York's Ava Luna came across an abandoned house while on a walk through the woods. Overgrown, rotting, and littered with evidence of its past inhabitants, the maze-like dwelling would haunt their psyches throughout the writing and recording of their third full-length Infinite House. Like Borges' "Library of Babel", the seemingly endless rooms and hallways in the old house felt like a metaphor for the invisible, internal labyrinths, which the band explores lyrically and sonically on their new album.
Recorded by drummer Julian Fader and vocalist/guitar player Carlos Hernandez, and mixed by Dave Fridmann (Flaming Lips, Spoon, MGMT), it is safely their most polished recording to date. But their trademark intensity, mirthful humor, and angularity remain resolutely in place, the burnished surfaces illuminating the stories beneath like never before. By questioning, or maybe just forgetting the rules of the real world, on Infinite House the band has grown beyond the "nervous soul" descriptor they've been tagged with in the past, delivering an album on which nightmarish moments can phoenix into revelations that help us reconnect with the surreal magic in our everyday lives.
Stone Jack Jones is a survivor. On two separate occasions the rare and mysterious blood condition that courses through his steely West Virginian veins almost killed him. Doctors couldn't fully explain or treat his malady, but Jack pulled through, even after receiving last rites on one occasion. While recovering from one of his near death experiences he pondered the necessity of death, the torturous pain that comes with the death of someone you love, and eventually arrived at the simultaneously comforting and alarming conclusion that he was both alive and dead at the same time.
In 2014 he released Ancestor, an album which The Quietus called "... breathtakingly insightful and poetic...". Jack's new album Love & Torture was produced and engineered by Roger Moutenot (Yo La Tengo, Sleater-Kinney). Rather than recording everything over a few days or weeks in the studio, the two met up sporadically over the course of many months, giving the songs plenty of time to gestate and evolve in stride with Jack's life. Like a collection of swirling and inviting mantras Love & Torture is a sonic dialog that pulses with the all of the grace and bliss that has touched Jack's incredible life.
Having lived, worked, and created in Brooklyn's Williamsburg neighborhood for over a decade, native Texan Travis Johnson has felt the direct impact of the growth and dissolution that comes with rapid gentrification. His band Grooms practiced, and recorded at Brooklyn's Death By Audio for seven years before they were forced out of their spiritual and literal home in November 2014 when DBA shut its doors. With the band's income not providing enough money to support any of it's members, bass player and co-writer Emily Ambruso went on hiatus from the band, leaving Johnson as the only original member. Despite these unfortunate blows, Johnson soldiered on, soon recruiting Jay Heiselmann on bass, and actor/comedian Steve Levine on drums.
Unlike their previous album Infinity Caller (which Speedy Ortiz's Sadie Dupuis called "...an exercise in explosion and restraint hallmarked by sweeping guitars, stuttery drums, and cryptic, airy vocals...") Comb... brings the band's rhythm section to the fore, and Johnson's trademark guitar stylings often take a backseat to his psychedelic sample-collages and ambient electronics. Fortunately the new approach works, balancing pop structures with masterful experimental production that shifts in tone and color in harmony with Johnson's tales of acceptance, loneliness, and impotent violence.