by amy – November 26, 2016 in Music
During the past few months, a lot of new and varied music has been crossing my radar. I love discovering new music. It’s inspiring to be reminded that there is so much creation happening in the world; so much that it’s impossible to keep up with it all. The discovery of a new artist or sometimes an entire new genre is always invigorating, both because of my appreciation of music itself as a listening exercise but also because of the intellectual exercise of opening a new window onto a piece of culture and history. And when I say “new” music, I don’t mean new in the temporal sense, but new to my ears. Regardless of when it was created, music is my connection to people and to the world.
I tend to focus on albums more than individual tracks when it comes to music. Everyone has their own way of enjoying music. My preferred method is to put on an album and let it play from start to finish, so that I become immersed in the mood and flow of it. This way I can properly engage the work as a whole, listening to the songs in the order that the artist intended, reading the lyrics, if they exist, and looking at the cover art. I think of an album as a gift from the artist; a carefully prepared package of image and sound that you sit down and devote time to.
Out of the various albums that I’ve been checking out these past couple months, a handful of them called for special attention, so I’ve put a playlist of songs from those albums below, compiled via Spotify. I’ve written a few words about each album with the hope of imparting at least some of the excitement that I experience “journeying” through music. Perhaps you’ll also discover something new and interesting too 🙂
This album came to me somewhat out of left field, and I would never have discovered it if it didn’t happen to appear in my Discover Weekly list on Spotify.
Seth Chapla is an instrumental rock guitarist following in the footsteps of soloist legends from the past few decades like Joe Satriani and Steve Vai. I recognized this influence a couple songs into Ascent. It made me think of one of the only Steve Vai songs I’ve ever heard but won’t forget: For the Love of God. Just like these guitar virtuosos, Seth makes his guitar “talk.” The tradition of these guitarists is to tell stories through their instrument with a continuous flow of notes. Each note is bent and molded under the concentrated will of the guitarist to give the song color, depth and emotion. His technical knowledge of the guitar is put to the test as he attempts to make it express a kind of epic tale delivered with a high degree of profoundness and emotional weight. As is natural with this type of guitarist, the accompanying instruments are there mostly for support. The rest of the band plays the perfunctionary role of providing a backdrop to the guitarist’s performance. Seth Chapla’s support members include, rather surprisingly for such a masculine genre, a female bassist and female drummer.
While the ego-driven nature of this “guitar hero” rock generally repels me, Ascent is truly mesmerizing, and the music as a whole speaks of a band that plays for the love of playing, and not for ego, fame and stardom. And while the guitarist does claim center stage in the mix, there are no tight leather pants on this album, to use the term figuratively (but of which you’ll see plenty in the literal sense in a Steve Vai performance 😋 — see the video link at the bottom). The album title aptly describes how many of its songs “ascend” toward an apex according to Seth’s gradual movements up the fretboard during most songs. These ascents, as well as their summits, can be exceedingly lovely. Jules is a stand-out song and one of the more heartfelt, and I’ve included it on my playlist. This music comes across with an understated vibe, again, in contrast with the genre’s typical attitude. It has a velvety groove and soft presence that is pleasing to the ears. It can grow with intensity but is never obnoxious. Its mellow appeal makes me imagine them playing late nights in smoky western bars. Appearances of violin, organ and saxophone on a few tracks lend atmosphere and depth to this record.
Assemble Head in Sunburst Sound
When Sweet Sleep Returned (2009)
With fuzzy, sun-baked guitars, charismatic melodies and harmonized vocals, this group seamlessly blends faded 70’s psychedelia with the newer kind of reverb-drenched rock that flourishes in the San Francisco underground. There are some awesome solos buried in all this fuzz. Melodies draw from diverse roots in American classic rock. Two Birds and Kolob Canyon have a southern country-and-blues rock influence harkening back to Lynyrd Skynrd or the Allman Brothers, while other songs like The Slumbering Ones lounge like friends on a lazy summer evening, exploring a more contemplative, dreamy atmosphere with male and female vocal harmonies. This music grows naturally out of a casual affirmation of joy and peace, without any hint of pretense or self-absorption. It is harmony between instruments, a fusion of meandering streams into a single river that flows. I was extremely pleased to have this album grace my ears, having never taken the time to delve into this group that I knew only by name.
Phase 2 (2010)
This is a super fun, psychedelic surf rock band from Alabama. These guys were brought to my attention by a friend who saw them live down south. It’s no stretch of the imagination that they must put on a great live show.
Discovering Daikaiju’s music led me to find out what surf rock was and is. The genre is indebted to Dick Dale, who embraced surfing in the 60’s in Southern California at a young age and wanted to try to recreate the sound of the surf on the guitar. He became known for his high-energy staccato or tremolo picking, pitchbending and a twangy, sunny sound drenched in reverb. Being of Lebanese descent, he also imbued his instrumental rock with an Eastern flavor. Surf rock took off like wildfire in the region for an intense couple of years, but it remained exclusive to the underground. The genre branched when bands like the Beach Boys decided to add vocals, and this brand of surf rock gained national recognition. However, Dick Dale never agreed with adding vocals. He said, “the real surfing music is instrumental.” Instrumental surf rock was soon drowned out by the British Invasion in the mid 60’s. However, it was revived in the 90’s and is practiced by a great number of bands, including Daikaiju, that stay faithful to Dick Dale’s style. Daikaiju shares other tropes of this peculiar genre, such as the wearing of masks and a fascination with outlandish sci-fi themes.
What I like about this band is their flair for variety. They can switch easily from high-energy upbeat rock to a spacey psyched-out jam. They’re excellent musicians and aren’t afraid to experiment with different sounds and styles. Their sound is fun, multi-layered and mesmerizing. Worth a trip!
Dead Air For Radios (1998)
Chroma Key is a project by Kevin Moore, Dream Theater’s ex-keyboardist. This is melodic synth rock with elements of progressive rock. Songs are delicately yet liberally layered with samples and effects in a way that makes them shimmer, playing on a wide, lush spectrum of frequencies. These deep, evocative soundscapes combined with Kevin’s choice of words driving the melody create a nostalgic, dreamy aura. I feel compelled to use these words like “lush” and “shimmer” that could apply as much to a visual experience as to an aural one, and “dreamy aura” to communicate that feeling when sounds make you feel or sense something more than the raw sounds. It feels like a painting of a sound architect’s dream. Kevin Moore is clearly a proficient audio engineer and an artist with sound.
The topics of imagery, color and dreams are present in other interesting ways. The project title, Chroma Key, is a special effects term for layering images or video streams. It’s a perfect title because Kevin seems to enjoy creating a cinematic type of music that touches on different senses, visual and otherwise.
In the song Colorblind, he sings about colors in both organic and digital spaces, and he talks about subjects like memory, perception and self-reflection:
On a beach twenty yards from the roadside
I’m back again, 6am, far from sleep
Must be 290 blue on the water
It’s grey to me, 3CV is all I see
Green can only hold you in the garden
Too much red will go right to your head
But if it’s all the same to you give me back my blue
Other colors fade anyway
I’m colorblind, three way tragedy
Pantone memory, greyscale eyes
Maybe I’m paranoid, yeah, that’s my problem
You almost have to be when you look like me
Stopped in the shade of the roadside when the sun rose like a bomb
Tried to read the simple writing but the letters came out wrong
It’s all white lines to me, oh, but things are getting clearer
I can almost read the writing in the mirror
This song is a good example of the dreamlike atmosphere that envelopes the entire album. This album was a natural addition to my collection since I’m drawn to the subject of dreams and the subsconscious.
The tapestry of sounds created here has a nearly synaesthetic effect of being able to evoke images and colors in my mind. I appreciate music that entertains the ear on a wide spectrum of frequencies, presenting a kind of richly woven sonic carpet. I liked this album instantly because it bears the mark of spontaneous inspiration. It’s easy and fun to listen to, and awakens the senses. One shortcoming is that it ages fairly quickly after a few listens. It also has a sound definitive of the late 90’s, but in my opinion this doesn’t detract from its value. This album is a souvenir from that era well worth discovering.
This young Icelandic trio make an appealing blend of downtempo electronic music with clarinet and female vocals. Though their music is club-friendly and befits a minimal late-night DJ set, they have organic folk elements that bring them back to a tangible place on earth, and lend them an air of sincerity and authenticity. The clarinet is a prominent part of their music and sits well within the electronic soundscape. Their native Iceland speaks through their sound and style, drawing delicate threads of influence from the likes of Björk and Múm. The vocals and tribal electronic sounds also recall Sweden’s Fever Ray. I found this music fitting for a relaxed Sunday afternoon at home. A welcome discovery.