Quaterfaves: Jan-Mar ’17

quarterfaves17jan-mar

(This was a regular feature on the previous blog, and though it certainly falls into the “check this out!” category of music writing, it’s one I’d like to continue. It’s a quarterly round-up of my favourite recent releases, with an emphasis on those which are more likely to have slipped under the radar.)

Jasper Lee – Mirror of Wind

This is the best record that no one is talking about. Chamber pop meets jazz guitar meets esoteric film music meets… What is this record? I have no idea. Lee even makes his own instruments, with exotic sounding names like the ‘pyraharp’, which looks like this. There’s a tropical, swampy vibe hanging over the whole thing, belying his involvement in Them Natives. Just listen to it already.

PC Worship – Buried Wish

Abandoned spaces, junkyards, outsider art environments: these are the spiritual homes of this warped guitar music. The PCs being worshipped are piled up in a trash heap of plastic casing, cracked screens and wires. (Everyone is on their tablets.) It’s been a while since I’ve enjoyed a rock record this much. There’s the obvious appeal of a squawky, clanging number like ‘Blank Touch’, or the catchy, White Denim-esque ‘Rivers Running Sideways’, but some of the best stuff is hidden in the back half: warbly, uncertain compositions like ‘Flowers & Hunting’ and ‘Moons’, which sounds like something off an old Liars record.

Julie Byrne – Not Even Happiness

Whispered late at night. Its instrumentals are all dreamy caverns to get lost in, but it provides a guide from its beguiling beginning: follow my voice.

Kelly Lee Owens – Kelly Lee Owens

Been waiting for this for a while, and it doesn’t disappoint, though it’s a difficult record to fully grasp. No matter how much you turn up the volume, it feels too quiet. Quietness is built into it by design. You can never quite hear it clearly, as though it doesn’t want to be tied down or caught. Something like a chorus comes along unexpectedly in Jenny Hval collaboration ‘Anxi’, but then isn’t returned to; it slips away and escapes in a broken cascade of beats. ‘Lucid’ risks repeating its chorus, but its heavy reverb dissolves it before you can catch it anyway. But then, reverb heavy vocals are easy to make diffuse; that she manages to make the pattering hi-hats and bright flickers of synths at the end of the song feel the same is cleverer. Things start to build with the house-y thump of ‘Evolution’, and climax in the extended clatter of ‘8’ (an infinity sign turned on its side?), but it still all feels oddly shrouded in mist. And yet it is never vague, either. It refuses to be remembered, but also refuses to be forgotten.

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – The Tourist

The hugely underrated songwriter Alec Ounsworth returns with another record full of unfussily strange songs. Lead single ‘Fireproof’ layers insistent, squiggly guitar hook on top of insistent, squiggly guitar hook. ‘Unfolding Above Celibate Moon’ is both carnivalesque and celestial at the same time. ‘Better Off’ climaxes with one of his classic one-note vocal hooks. ‘The Pilot’ and ‘Loose Ends’ are wistful and longing. As on previous album Only Run, this feels like a second, more grown-up period for CYHSY, less wacky and unpredictable than their earlier work, but also subtler and truer. Ignore the general internet narrative about this band (victims of blog hype, diminishing returns, etc. etc.); they are consistently excellent.

Jay Som – Everybody Works

Following great records by Japanese Breakfast and Mitski last year, here’s further proof that Asian-American women are currently making some of the best indie rock around. (I don’t mean to lump these artists into a ‘scene’, though they have all toured together, so there’s definitely a connection there.) I like the title, where ‘works’ can be read as both a present tense verb (sounding like a mantra, as well as a twist on a certain R.E.M. song) and a plural noun (suggesting the tracks themselves are the ‘works’, of and for and by ‘everybody’). I also like the music, which blends in elements of Broadcast and The Microphones and (as Melina Duterte has repeatedly pointed out in interviews) Carly Rae Jepson, without losing its own strong sense of identity.

Alix Hyde – Wanderings

Difficult to find much out about this release online, other than the fact that Hyde also does illustrations, which are really lovely, and accompany the music perfectly. It’s slightly too busy to be called ambient (it doesn’t quite float into the background, but holds attention) yet it does have a diffuse, difficult-to-hold-onto quality that it shares with music of that sphere. The tracks mix different elements together like George concocting his marvellous medicines, so that you never quite know what’s round the corner: vocals unexpectedly arrive ten tracks in, first in the form of a looped sample in ‘All I Want Is You’, and then some soft, plaintive singing (Hyde’s own?) in ‘Heaven’. It’s wonder-full.

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