Florida Man, "Florida Man EP"

cover imageThis EP is the debut release from an "all-female rock band" from South Portland, Maine who are notable for several reasons. The biggest of those reasons is probably that the band's singer/guitarist is Quinnisa Kinsella Mulkerin (one-third of Big Blood's current incarnation), but the fact that all three band members are 15 years old is certainly significant as well. Neither of those things would matter all that much if this EP was not also quite good, but it is a remarkably assured and delightful dose of very cool and distinctive garage rock. Unsurprisingly, there are a few welcome resemblances to Quinnisa's other band, as she certainly shares some of Colleen Kinsella's vocal gifts and the two groups share a similar fondness for guitar noise and the assimilation of classic country influences. For the most part, however, Florida Man is quite a different entity altogether, eschewing most of Big Blood's weirder psych elements in favor of something considerably more raw, stripped down, punchy, and concise.

Self-Released

The opening "Yesterday's Air" is an excellent introduction to the band, as it captures the trio at the peak of their powers. It is primarily anchored by Helen Bonnevie-Rothrock's punky and muscular descending bass line, but it is also beautifully enhanced by a gnarled and howling bit of guitar noise. The shuffling and shambling "Twilight Filter" does not quite reach the same heights, but it does feature a very cool (if brief) passage where the vocals and guitars drop out entirely to leave only the groove and some subtle string noise. The EP's strongest piece is the jangling bittersweet cowpunk of "Lady Thimble," as Quinnisa's vocals are at their most soulful and melodic. Quinnisa's vocals also elevate the simmering and somnambulant-sounding "Lost in the Woods," as they are beautifully layered and harmonized. I also appreciated the fact that it opened with a cryptic sample of a voice (possibly Quinnisa's) saying "I'm lost…in the dark…of the woods," as it injects a small bit of eerie weirdness into the proceedings (a thread that is picked up again for the piano motif in the song's brief fadeout). For the most part, however, Florida Man keep the strangeness and psychedelia to an absolute minimum. In some ways, that means that this EP sounds exactly like three teenagers jamming in a garage: simple song structures, simple riffs, plenty of sincerity and no added polish or self-conscious artiness. On another level, however, this EP is way better than I ever would have expected, as this trio are unusually good songwriters and they seem to intuitively "get it" on a level that most considerably older and more experienced garage bands do not. This project is definitely off to a great start. Hopefully future Florida Man releases allow more some eccentricities to bleed into their songs, but they are already at a place where they seemingly have no problem nimbly dodging wrong moves or clumsy indulgences, which is far more than I could have said about myself at the same age.

Samples can be found here.

Vanishing Twin, "Ookii Gekkou"

cover imageI was inexplicably late to the party on this wonderful London quartet, as the presence of drummer Valentina Magaletti is almost always a reliable indicator that something compelling is happening and that is especially true of this project. Fortunately, I realized my mistake when I chanced upon their 2019 single "Magician's Success" and its delightfully surreal video, which scratched exactly the same itch as all my favorite Broadcast and Stereolab songs (two acts that Vanishing Twin is probably damned to be compared to forever). While I would admittedly be thrilled if Vanishing Twin simply picked up where those two other brilliant bands left off, their actual influences are considerably more wide-ranging and endlessly mutating (Morricone, Sun Ra, Martin Denny, and Alice Coltrane are just a few of the band's explicit inspirations this time around). That said, the album does kick off with yet another excellent and welcome single in the vein of prime Stereolab (the title piece), yet the foursome also achieve a similar degree of success elsewhere with more disco- and swinging '60s film soundtrack-inspired fare. For the most part, I look to Vanishing Twin primarily for great singles at this point and Ookii Gekkou includes at least three of those, so I consider it a success. The rest of the album occasionally verges on being too smoothly poppy for my taste, but the omnipresent virtuosic rhythm section of Magaletti and bassist Susumu Mukai goes a long way towards keeping the album groovy and fun enough to keep me interested regardless.

Fire

The lead-off "Big Moonlight (Ookii Gekkou)" certainly kicks the album off on an extremely strong note, as it feels like an arty and pleasantly lilting throwback to classic French pop. That is admittedly quite close to Stereolab territory, but Vanishing Twin put their own distinctive twist on that stylistic terrain, as their grooves are much more muscular and pared down than typical ‘Lab fare. There are also some nice surreal touches like a twangy surf/spy movie guitar motif, a twinkling xylophone theme, and a great flute hook to further flesh out Cathy Lucas's sensuously sing-song vocal melody. The overall feel is akin to a haunted and seductive trip down an Alice in Wonderland-style rabbit hole of breezy psychedelia. Similarly excellent is the simmering and funky disco vamp of "Phase One Million," which is essentially just a killer groove with a neat cowbell stutter (and that is absolutely all it needs). Later on, the album's third and arguably final great single materializes in the form of "In Cucina," which boasts a great rolling groove with plenty of percussion flourishes. It feels like a kindred spirit to "The Snake" from Tomaga's Intimate Immensity, approximating an aesthetic best described as "climactic scene from a '60s spy movie that features a wild dance party at a Moroccan brothel." The remaining pieces are a mixed bag of sorts, but not from lack of inspiration: Vanishing Twin's muse just tends to lead them into some very bizarre and highly specific stylistic niches that are sometimes not my thing. For example, "Zuum" sounds like Silver Apples teamed up with The Fifth Dimension for a spacey rock opera, while "The Organism" feels like a darkly lysergic horror film in which the protagonist is stalked by an infernally possessed marimba or xylophone. Some of those divergent paths do hold some allure for me (the post-punk/motorik groove-fest "Tub Erupt"), while some others simply do not ("The Lift" feels like a Swing Out Sister song interrupted by a jabbering robot). Obviously, I wish I loved every single song on Ookii Gekkou, but I do genuinely love Vanishing Twin, as they are consistently ingenious in both assimilating new influences and crafting killer uncluttered arrangements. When this band hits the mark, they can seem downright untouchable, so I do not mind sifting through a handful of misfires to find a couple of gems that will no doubt remain in my heavy rotation for years.

Samples can be found here.

Mary Lattimore, "Collected Pieces II"

cover imageI believe I first started to become beguiled with Mary Lattimore's work with the release of 2016's At the Dam, but the following year's Collected Pieces definitely deepened my interest further, as it featured at least two stone-cold instant classics (and the rest of it consistently flirted with similar levels of greatness). While that first collection sets the bar intimidatingly high for this second cassette of unreleased songs, digital-only Bandcamp singles, and other stray pieces, Lattimore tends to be admirably discriminating in what she chooses to release and she has been on a bit of a compositional hot streak over the last couple years. Needless to say, there is plenty to enjoy here. As a whole, this second volume is probably a bit less uniformly strong than its predecessor, but it too contains a few pieces that most Lattimore fans will consider essential. Moreover, a couple of them are not included on the Collected Pieces: 2015‚Äã-‚Äã2020 double LP slated for release in January. As such, only casual Lattimore fans can safely pass up this stand-alone collection, as serious harp-heads will probably not want to deny themselves the pleasures of "Sleeping Deer" and "Princess Nicotine."

Ghostly International

There a few things that one can reliably expect from a new Mary Lattimore album: plenty of tenderly beautiful melodies, lightness of touch, and an intuitive genius for dynamics. Consequently, even the lesser pieces on Collected Pieces II are quite good, but the reason I absolutely need to hear everything that Lattimore releases is that she occasionally reaches heights of inspiration that transcend the fundamental limitations of a harp album altogether and I do not want to miss any of those moments. Some of those moments are a more radical departure than others though and one of the less radical ones is the album's lead single "We Wave From Our Boats," which dates from the earliest days of the pandemic (Lattimore found herself waving to neighbors she did not know "in a gesture of solidarity" akin to "how you're compelled to wave at people on the other boat when you're on a boat yourself"). Apparently, it was an improvisation, but the delicate, bittersweet melody is wonderful and I love the way the flutes add a bleary haze of unreality that slowly burns away to reveal a warm, sun-dappled crescendo. "For Scott Kelly, Returned to Earth" is another winning foray into expected Lattimore terrain, as layers of rippling, sweeping, and pulsing arpeggios cohere into a vibrant and twinkling web of sublime loveliness. Both pieces are wonderful, of course, but I am especially fond of two comparative outliers that found their way onto the album. The first is the previously unreleased "Sleeping Deer," which was inspired by an orphaned deer (Lollipop) that Lattimore befriended during a residency on a Wyoming cattle ranch. Despite its adorable inspiration, it is probably the darkest piece on the album, as its tender, sadness-tinged melody is enhanced with stammering effects, backwards snarls, and pitch-bending bass drones. The other surprise gem is the textural tour de force of "What the Living Do," as a simple repeating melody is processed into something glimmering and spectral that calls to mind ghosts slowly dancing in the light of a stained glass window. The album is rounded out with a pair of pieces inspired by silent films (always nice to see a Bill Morrison reference), an unexpectedly radiant breakup song, a home-recorded version of Silver Ladders' "Pine Trees," and a 13-minute epic about "a Charlie Chaplin-like character who lost their glasses." Overall, it is yet another strong batch of songs from Lattimore, reaffirming that her home recordings can be every bit as transfixing as her studio ones (even if she leaves her effects pedals largely untouched).

Samples can be found here.

KILN, "Tungsten"

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I have been vaguely aware of this unusual and beloved midwestern IDM/post-rock trio for years, but figured they were probably too conventionally likable for my taste. As it turns out, I was only half-right: KILN are indeed quite fond of straightforward mid-tempo grooves and lovely melodies, but they masterfully balance those poppier tendencies with quite a lot of inspired textural layering and other experimentally minded enhancements. I guess the lesson here is that some great projects have a brilliant vision, but there are also some equally great ones that simply excel in the execution of a more modest vision. KILN are mostly the latter and they are often quite brilliant at what they do, which is why their 2020 return after a seven-year hiatus was greeted with so much enthusiasm despite working in stylistic realm that is no longer particularly in vogue. This latest release is "a digital-only adjunct EP" of pieces recorded at the same time as last year's Astral Welder that "weave syncopated patterns into immersive environments of lost memory and electrified nowness." I was very surprised to learn that Tungsten is arguably comprised of pieces that did not make the cut for the band's triumphant return full-length, as there are some killer songs here that would unquestionably improve just about any album that they landed on. Maybe these songs just needed a bit more tweaking before they were ready to be unveiled. In any case, I hereby decree that 2021 is the year of electrified nowness and that I am now an enthusiastic KILN fan.

Ghostly International

The opening "Drala Ultra" shares a lot of common ground with great dub-techno, as it prominently features some warm and stammering synth swells, but the other elements of the piece (gurgling bass and a slow-motion breakbeat) are considerably more muscular and in-your-face than anything I would expect from a classic Chain Reaction album. While it is certainly an enjoyable piece, it is instantly eclipsed by the following "North Bar Lake," which gorgeously brings together a swirl of sun-dappled pedal steel melodies with dreamily fluttering flutes and a great shuffling groove. It strikes an absolutely sublime balance of gentle swaying psychedelia, strong hooks, crunching physicality, and propulsive forward motion with nary a misstep in sight. The trio also display real knack for more intuitive touches like deftly manipulating dynamics and avoiding any needless clutter, which is a set of skills that can be a rarity outside the realm of top-tier techno and hip-hop producers. Remarkably, KILN somehow manage to pack this modest six-song release with at least two other gems that scale similar heights. The most immediately gratifying of the two is "Argon Pedestrian," which feels like a rubbery, blurting, and lurchingly funky strain of futuristic fusion enhanced with skittering cymbals and a host of subtly hallucinatory touches. It took me a bit longer to warm to simmering and weirdly anthemic-feeling "Bvlb," but the gurgling groove steadily intensifies to a wonderfully stilted, slow-motion funkiness that is hard to resist. As for the remaining pieces, their only flaw is that they are merely less substantial. Aside from a few notable exceptions like People Like Us, there are not a lot of artists that can reliably balance fun, catchiness, and psych-damaged experimentation in a winning way, so it is welcome and refreshing to discover that this threesome is out to help fill that yawning void in such expert fashion. This is a wonderful EP.

Samples can be found here.

Marisa Anderson/William Tyler, "Lost Futures"

https://f4.bcbits.com/img/a1958158059_16.jpgGiven that Anderson and Tyler began working together a few days after participating in an event commemorating David Berman, it is not a huge surprise that their guitar instrumentals have a Bermaneque feeling; making myth of the American landscape with moments, as the late poet sang, "when the here and the hereafter momentarily align."

I hope you will enjoy reading Berman references, but if you simply must have a review relating Lost Futures to lockdown, pandemic, climate catastrophe or protests, there are plenty out there.

Thrill Jockey

The opening track here, "News From Heaven," is a version of "With News From Heaven" from Tyler’s New Vanitas album. This immediately nods to Berman who at times saw answers from God in everyday life. Anyone who has seen the Silver Jew film of a 2006 tour of Israel (including William Tyler) will see Berman weeping and attesting to religious faith. Sadly, by 2019’s "Margaritas at The Mall," he is lamenting "no new word from God," and that faith seemed lost. I say "seemed" with no great confidence because no one has ever reported back from the other side.

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Catherine Graindorge, "Eldorado"

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This second solo album from Belgian violinist/composer/actress is my first encounter with her work, but it seems like she has been releasing compelling music for quite some time (she has collaborated with ex-Bad Seed Hugo Race, composed film scores, and also plays in a trio called Nile On waX, among other things). Notably, Graindorge's excellent solo debut (The Secret of Us All) was released nearly a decade ago, as the road to Eldorado turned out to be unexpectedly long and prone to extended detours (several of which ultimately shaped this album's more personal direction). One of those course-changing events was the passing of Graindorge's father in 2015 (inspiring her to compose a play about his life), but Eldorado was also shaped by the story of her father's Rwandan friend (Rosalie), Graindorge's own experience hosting Eritrean migrants, and the harmonium performances that she and her daughters gave in nursing home gardens during Belgium's lockdown. Also of note: Eldorado is the first album that Graindorge was able to record with her friend (and longtime PJ Harvey producer) John Parish, who plays several instruments on the album. Now that all the stars are finally in alignment, I can confirm that Eldorado was probably worth the wait, as it is a unique, freewheeling, and oft-gorgeous album, at times feeling like the spiritual descendant of the sophisticated art pop of artists like David Sylvian.

Glitterbeat/Tak:til

For an album that is ostensibly by a violinist (and violist), Eldorado is considerably more stylistically elusive than I would have expected. The darkly psychedelic and elegiac opener "Rosalie" makes for a very impressive (if deceptive) introduction though, as woozily submerged-sounding backwards vocals provide the backdrop for a sad and beautiful violin melody. The following "Lockdown" continues in a similarly hallucinatory and meditative direction, but eschews vocals in favor of minimalist harmonium drones enhanced by slow-motion waves of hazily pulsing violins. And then all hell breaks loose, as the title piece sounds like a chugging, dual-guitar passage from a killer Expo '70 jam (there is even crashing cymbals, rolling toms, and some absolutely feral-sounding violin shredding). In its final two minutes, however, "Eldorado" dissolves into a lovely passage of spoken word (in French) and shimmering ambiance. If it were not for that sublime coda, I probably would have gotten whiplash a second time from the transition into "Ghost Train," as Graindorge unexpectedly materializes as a darkly sensual (and darkly psychedelic) cabaret chanteuse. It is the album's strongest piece by a landslide and it only gets better as it unfolds, blossoming into something resembling a churning and howling tango of the damned. Lamentably, Graindorge is done with singing for the remainder of the album, but there is still one more major highlight to come, as "Butterfly In A Frame" is a roiling and intense soundscape that builds to a demonically volcanic finale of snarling and squealing strings. The closing "Eno" is another noteworthy piece, albeit one with dramatically dialed down intensity, as Parish contributes a quietly lovely, blues-tinged guitar solo over some warm, Eno-style ambiance (though Graindorge spices things up near the end with some sharper textures). The album is rounded out with one more solid drone piece ("Kangaroos in Fire") and a couple of shorter compositions and all of it is strong. Not as strong as "Ghost Train" or "Butterfly," mind you, but Eldorado is nevertheless quite a compelling (and oft-intense) whole. And a very pleasant surprise too, as there are not many classical-adjacent artists who can combine beautiful melodies, fiery intensity, and convincing psych touches as seamlessly and confidently as Graindorge does here.

Samples can be found here.

My Cat Is An Alien & Joëlle Vinciarelli, "Eternal Beyond III"

cover imageThis is the third and final installment of the Opalio brothers' wild and oft-brilliant collaborations with Talweg/La Morte Young’s Joëlle Vinciarelli, as "according to arcane, ancient cultures, sometimes things must come to an end to be "Eternal."" While something wonderful tends to happen just about every single time these three artists convene, this Arthur Rimbaud-inspired installment is the one that the Opalios personally consider the best of the series (at the moment, at least). I do not think I could choose a favorite album from the trilogy, but the opening "Eternal Fanfare for the Warriors" is definitely one of my favorite MCIAA-related pieces to date. While the trio are currently unsure whether the conclusion of the trilogy is their collaborative swansong or just one phase in their continuing evolution, they can safely lay claim to having conjured some of the most visceral and unique sounds to reach my ears in recent memory. Vinciarelli's intensity and unusual collection of instruments is a perfect foil (and grounding force) for the Opalios' otherworldly psychedelia.

Elliptical Noise/Up Against the Wall, Motherfuckers!

This album combines two separate sessions recorded in Vinciarelli’s studio in the French Alps, which is notable because 2018’s two-part "Eternal Éternité" was spontaneously composed in a very different world than "Eternal Fanfare for the Warriors" (which dates from May 2020). On one level, that makes a lot of sense, as “Eternal Fanfare” has a certain go-for-broke intensity that befits such dark and troubling times, yet that interpretation cannot hold up in light of the similarly feral second half of "Eternal Éternité." In any case, both pieces are memorable for both their volcanic ferocity and their expanded sound palette (as far out as they are, the Opalios' vision inarguably features some eternally recurring and instantly recognizable elements). In the case of "Eternal Fanfare," however, the expected space ritual features a big surprise in the form of strangled trumpet squawking from Vinciarelli (along with some similarly unexpected sleigh bells from Maurizio). It is the exquisite feel of an ancient war procession passing through a rip in the dimensional fabric for a hissing, bleary, and lysergically smeared adventure into the unknown.

Naturally, the first half "Eternal Eternité" offers no respite at all from the cosmic phantasmagoria, as the album only becomes more of a harrowing mindfuck and there are no longer any friendly or familiar sounds like trumpets and sleigh bells to provide solid ground: just fifteen unnerving and unrepentant minutes of howling, dissonantly harmonized drones rising and falling. As radical art, it is admittedly impressive, but I prefer the more human-sounding terrain of the second half (like the dissonance-averse coward that I am). "Eternal Éternité (Pt. 2)" initially returns to more traditional alien fare (Roberto's wordless vocalizations, spacey electronics, and something that sounds like an out-of-tune zither), but Vinciarelli soon joins in with some vocal drones akin to Tuvan throat singing. As the layers accumulate, however, it blossoms into something that resembles an even more nightmarish version of Tarkovsky's Solaris in which the protagonist violently scrabbles at a piano soundboard while being sucked into a roiling maelstrom of static. In short, great stuff (as always). While I am not sure I have a strong enough constitution to revisit the first part of "Eternal Éternité" any time soon, Eternal Beyond III handily meets my criteria for prime My Cat is an Alien: a pair of great pieces, a few new stylistic elements, and the kind of mindmelting deep space cacophony that only the Opalios can channel.

Samples can be found here.

Marco Shuttle, "Cobalt Desert Oasis"

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This divergent third album from Berlin-based producer Marco Shuttle is my first exposure to his work, but he has released a handful of killer singles over the last decade in a darkly hallucinatory minimal techno vein akin to Lucy and Rrose. While I would have been thrilled to hear another perfectly crafted single like "Sing Like a Bird" (2014) or "Flauto Synthetico" (2016), Cobalt Desert Oasis is nevertheless a pleasant and semi-radical departure for Shuttle, as it is inspired by field recordings and images collected over two years of travel. I suppose Shuttle has always drawn inspiration from far-flung places very unlike Berlin, but the big difference is that this album uses field recordings and acoustic instrumentation as its raw material and focus rather than just a source of ideas for more dancefloor-targeted work. While this album does not necessary cure me of my belief that Shuttle primarily excels as a singles artist, it was definitely a nice surprise to be blindsided in 2021 by something resembling a lost O Yuki Conjugate classic. And, of course, there are a few great singles lurking here as well.

Incienso

This album is billed as "a cinematic listening experience where psychedelia, ritualism, and mysticism weave together in a sort of alien soundscape," which is a reasonably accurate characterization, though to my ears it lands much closer to "cool headphone album" than anything conventionally "cinematic" or strikingly otherworldly. Shuttle does strike an unusual balance of traditional sounds and modern technology though, as the stronger pieces feel like a simmering and hallucinatory drum circle enhanced with a steady kickdrum thump. "Danza De Los Voladores" is representative example of the album's baseline aesthetic, as Shuttle whips up a psych-damaged dub concoction over a slow and deep bass drum pulse: birds happily chirp, synths bubble like a witch's cauldron, indigenous flute melodies wander in and out, and a host of hand percussion sounds subtly pan and morph in the periphery. It is quite a likeable and inventive detour from what I would expect from Shuttle, but the songs admittedly blur together a bit aside from the handful of instances where he tweaks the formula with some kind of inspired twist (most pieces stick to relatively narrow tempo comfort zone and the melodies are all quite understated). The most inspired facet of the album is Shuttle's use of a Persian drum called a Tombak, which is presumably the heart of one of the album's strongest pieces, "Tombak Healer," in which a seething, slow-motion kick drum pulse is enhanced with a skittering and panning tour de force of dubby hand percussion. I am also a big fan of the propulsive "Through the Cobalt Desert," which sounds like a relentlessly forward-moving strain of dub-techno birthed in a deep tropical jungle. My personal favorite is probably the sensuous and blearily dreamlike exotica of “Winds of Cydonia” though. How I feel about the remainder of the album is largely a function of how natural/seamless the balance of traditional instruments and electronics feels: some pieces feel like something cool and distinctive, some feel a bit too smooth and straightforward to leave a deep impression. While Cobalt Desert Oasis probably could have been a flawless EP if Shuttle had distilled it down to its four or five best pieces, it makes for a pleasantly immersive focused listening experience. Shuttle is onto something quite good here, but it might take another album or two before this side of his art feels fully realized.

Samples can be found here.

Grouper, "Shade"

cover imageI suppose I have been a devoted Grouper fan since sometime around 2008's Dragging A Dead Dear Up A Hill, but there was a long stretch during The Reverb Years in which I was genuinely mystified by the outsized reverence that people seemed to have for this project (very similar to my experience with The Disintegration Loops, though I love several of Basinski's other albums). In more recent years, however, I have become considerably more convinced that Liz Harris is some kind of iconoclastic visionary (albeit a very slow-moving one), though I am not sure if she is shaping the culture so much as providing a much-needed corrective to its rapidly accelerating and tech-focused trajectory. While my initial impression is that this 12th Grouper full-length is not quite as uniformly strong as some other Grouper albums from recent years, that is less relevant than the fact that it continues Harris's trend towards more intimate, emotionally direct, and beautifully distilled songcraft. In that regard, Shade gives me exactly what I want from a new Grouper album: at least one song that is an absolutely devasting gut punch on the same level of "Parking Lot" and "Living Room." To my ears, that album-defining gem comes in the form of the folky, bittersweet closer "Kelso (Blue Sky)," but there are probably a couple of other sublime and/or unexpected gems destined for semi-permanent heavy rotation in my life as well.

Kranky

I was a bit surprised to learn that Shade collects songs spanning 15 years, as they convincingly feel like they all could have been birthed from a single extended flash of inspiration in a remote cabin (most pieces feature only hushed vocals and an acoustic guitar, though tape murk is definitely a recurring feature too). According to Harris, "this an album about respite" and "the coast," as one of Shade's primary themes is how our memories, experiences, connections, and selves are shaped and framed by place. Fittingly, Shade was recorded at various places along the Northern California and Pacific Northwest coasts (including a "self-made residency" on a mountain).  Stylistically, this is one of Harris's more nakedly "folky" albums, as there is plenty of fingerpicked acoustic guitar, tender vocal melodies, and a minimum of effects (just flesh, steel, and wood, basically). The album is broken up by a handful of pieces that feel more like soundscapes, but that is mostly because they are songs that are so blearily lo-fi and tape-distressed that they cross over into semi-abstraction.

Happily, some of those hiss-ravaged pieces turn out to be surprise album highlights though, such as the opening "Followed the Ocean," which resembles an achingly gorgeous and ghostly '70s country gem heard through a blown-out car radio. Elsewhere, "Disordered Minds" feels like a killer dreampop song absolutely smothered in tape murk and possibly played at the wrong speed, but it still manages to sound like heaven in spite of that (it reminds me of Russian Tsarlag, but warm and beautiful rather than rotted and disturbing). As far as the more "straight" material is concerned, I am similarly fond of "Pale Interior," which feels like a hazy hypnagogic cover of a Vashti Bunyan classic. That said, the inarguable centerpiece of Shade is the aforementioned "Kelso (Blue Sky)," as the tape fog finally dissipates to reveal a moving and sublime near-masterpiece that feels like I died and woke up in a heaven where Nebraska is a Hope Sandoval album rather than a Bruce Springsteen one (and I love that I can hear every single scrape of Harris's fingers moving across the fretboard). Naturally, all of that adds up to yet another great Grouper album, but the real magic is that Harris's recent work somehow feels like something else altogether (something even better), akin to a getting a long unexpected letter from a beloved yet elusive friend that I am never quite sure I will hear from again.

Samples can be found here.

Nation of Language, "Introduction, Presence"

Introductiion, Presence cover imageI can comfortably get into complex music at its most intricate, but not all music needs to be this way to fill my soul. The debut from Brooklyn's Nation of Language is rich with eighties new wave vibes, with uncomplicated and passionate melodies evoking warm summer feelings from a bygone time, all the while belying its forlorn lyrical content. Nation of Language started as an homage to the synth-pop of singer Ian Devaney's youth. The band honed and tested their sound through a series of singles over four years before bringing everything together into their full-length debut Introduction, Presence. The apt title implies an introduction to their sound, exuding a genuine and powerful presence to a band that has taken careful care to honor their past with a sound that stands firm in the future.

Self-Released

Michael Sui-Poi's lush bass is the centerpiece of the group's sound, serving as the foundational melody and providing a deep and driving underlying force. This familiar sound often earns the moniker of post-punk, but there is no mimicry here; listeners may hear inclinations to Joy Division or Human League, but the experience is entirely Nation of Language. Devaney's vocals offset crisp machine-made drum beats and clean synth flourishes, giving every song warmth and passion, a cavalcade of sparkling dream-pop. Yet beneath the dreaminess is a lyrical melting pot of loss and longing, reflecting on the many imperfections of humanity. My favorites "September Again" and "Indignities," are glaring examples of this, and I find myself relating more deeply on repeated listens.

"And they pile up / These indignities / On my laptop / With these indignities / In the paper I don't really read / It says what if there's more than binary / And I don't understand / It's not the way it used to be / All I really wanna say is just cut it out."

Indeed, it's not the way it used to be, and Introduction, Presence evokes what felt like a less complicated era. One thing that remains true is that excellent music can help see one through life in any era; the enchanting hooks of Introduction, Presence serve as a musical rediscovery through a sometimes confusing and challenging present.

Samples can be found here.