Discoveries from the forest floor and beyond.
- Songs: Ohia – The Magnolia Electric Co (2003) – The final studio album for Songs: Ohia by singer-songwriter Jason Molina (RIP). There are a number of other vocalists on the first disc, and though they lend a pleasant diversity to the album, I’ve ended up preferring the demo recordings on the second disc where Jason sings all of them. His understated delivery just matches the feelings expressed in his lyrics too well to separate them. This brilliant, original collection of songs pulls delicately and judiciously from a range of American styles including rock but also blues, country and bluegrass. Jason’s modest way of singing from the heart about sentiments of regret, yearning, resignation and self-acceptance gets me every time, and not least because they seem to eerily foreshadow his downward spiral in the years following this album’s release and culminating in his death in 2013 due to alcoholism. These are some of the eeriest and most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard. Jason expresses himself so sincerely about his life experience that I find it difficult to even review this album as music alongside other music, as it’s something that strikes a chord far deeper.
- Nikola Vranjković – Veronautika (2017) – The most romantic Serbian progressive rock I’ve ever heard! No, let’s be honest: this is the only Serbian music I’ve ever heard. Nikola’s deep, beautiful voice, masterful songwriting and production make this gem of an album that seems to bridge the river that runs between reality and dream. It fell so naturally on my ears on first listen that I was sure I must have heard it before, and this is usually a good sign. I recommend this album for a long drive around sunset where you can lose yourself in it.
- Carpenter Brut – Trilogy (2015) – Synthwave doesn’t get better than this. This compilation is more progressive and decidedly less metal than Leather Teeth, and though I love that one, this one is somehow playeable in more situations and has a longer lifespan. This guy, who prefers to remain the invisible wizard behind the music (but come on, we all know he’s French) is really on his game and his music stands out in what is now a highly saturated genre. This is a compilation of the EPs I, II, and III. Listen to loud, anytime and anywhere, and be prepared to feel your blood heat up with the thrill of the hunt. Fun fact: It is rumored that he produced music for French black metal legends Deathspell Omega (!).
- Big Business – Mind The Drift (2009) – Big drums, big voice and big bass – there is something inherently primitive and in-your-face about these senile animals from the west coast. But don’t shy away, they’re actually well-bred and more clever than you think. No-holds-barred, totally awesome Seattle-style sludge.
- Melvins – (A) Senile Animal (2006) – The first Melvins album to join forces with Jared Warren and Coady Willis from Big Business on bass and drums. Coincidentally perhaps, this is also the first Melvins album that I like to listen to all the way through. It bears a great deal of awesome songs and is highly listenable compared to some of the more abstruse Melvins material. There is a diversity of tempos and degrees of agression here, making for an entertaining listen. All instruments are allied to deliver crushingly heavy punches, whatever the sentiment, and harmonized yelled choruses invite you to get angry in traditional punk fashion.
- Emancipator – Baralku (2017) – Soothing, soft, mellow, and organic, Baralku is the latest offering in Emancipator’s tradition of delivering beautiful soundtracks for your days and nights; easy music you can put on anytime and which doesn’t distract you but which is never boring. It has this feeling of being borderless and polycultural while remaining unidentifiable in its ethnic influences. It features nice things like free-feeling violin melodies and chill downtempo vibes, sometimes with the faintest taste of Asia. Fun fact: Baralku is the island of the dead for the Yolngu, a clan of aborigines in northern Australia.
- Rykarda Parasol – For Blood And Wine (2009) – With drink and cigarette in hand and likely to be found crooning over the piano, Rykarda embraces the image of the troubled singer-as-artist that makes one think instantly of Nick Cave and Concrete Blonde. Vocally and lyrically, Rykarda makes me think of the latter’s Johnette Napolitano and her distinct voice. A witty, mature album of tragic, gothic dimensions with a freewheeling dose of fantasy and f*ck-you.
- Rammstein – Untitled (2019) – Well, the German industrial rock/metal icons have really done it this time. I recken this is Rammstein’s best album to date. This is an album that is so well-worked that it approaches perfection. (I actually found myself looking for synonyms of “perfection” in writing this review – the absurdity!). This is an album that hits hard, is cohesive, creative and diverse. Can you believe that this album sold more units in the first week in Germany than any other album in the 21st century? What an accomplishment, especially considering that heavy, loud-and-proud industrial rock is not everyone’s cup of tea. How did they do it? My take is this: they employed their classic formula that we all know and love and took it to new heights. They have pleased their entire loyal fanbase and more with this one. There are the spectacular three singles, “Deutschland”, “Radio”, and “Ausländer,” and then there is all the rest that this album has to offer. In fact, every track could be a single. Every track attacks with a surprise and a hook or some unexpected beautiful melody. It holds your attention and doesn’t let go. Listen to it!
- Oumou Sangaré – Mogoya (2017) – I happily fell upon this gorgeous album by Oumou earlier this year, a female musician and singer from Bamako, Mali. She is a local and international star of what is called wassoulou music, a genre that started in the ’70s and is made primarily by women from the Wassoulou River Valley. Her music harmonizes traditional instruments including the kamal ngoni (a 6-string guitar) and the djembe (deerhide drum) with modern bass, keybords, electric guitars, flute and strings. Like other Malian music, I love Oumou’s songs for her soaring voice and use of traditional instruments which give her music such a light-feeling beauty and impart a sense of true peace, relaxation and joy.
- Guilhem Desq – Visions (2017) – Enchanting folk-oriented music made with the beautiful sounds of Guilhem’s own electric hurdy-gurdy (custom and handmade by him and his father) combined with modern instruments. Visions is his first solo album. The frequency range of this instrument is impressive and he uses it to play songs in different styles, including traditional European folk, rock, electro and Middle-Eastern.
- Ehrling – Give Me Summer (2017) – You will fall in love with this totally saxy chill beach dance music: the summer evening soundtrack you didn’t know you were missing. Who needs vocals? The groovy saxophone lead is actually all you need on top of these smooth beats and luscious well-placed drops. Speaking of the drops. They’re like sliding down a giant leaf still glistening from a tropical shower into a warm tidepool: swooooosh – plop!) So smooth. This music bleeds carefreeness and fun with a touch of humor (“look at those palm trees, damn!”) I recommend you just listen to all the little EPs that Ehrling is pumping out. You can’t go wrong. Thanks for the suggestion, Kyle S.!
- The YD – Master Peace (2019) – A fresh take on the 2000’s trend of male duos making lush indie electro pop like Empire of the Sun and MGMT. The YD is taking up the torch of said genre and doing it with style. This is just really well done. The hooks are good, the production is rich and layered and the vocals are nice. Songs like “My Everything” and “Heaven” are fantastically catchy. Also be sure to try their other four-track EP, Earth Beat.