British singer/songwriter A.A. Williams ha released her debut 'Forever Blue', with guest vocals from Cult of Luna members Johannes Persson and Fredrik Kihlberg and Wild Beasts' Tom Fleming. Critics from all sides like it: "It’s a debut of richness, depth and genuinely shattering emotional engagement – pure melancholic majesty" - Beats per Minute; "Ambitious blend of post-rock, folk, goth, metal, and classical ingredients" - All Music; "A classically trained cellist, pianist and multi-instrumentalist, Williams’ blending of post-rock and post-classical elements has a hypnotising quality, that slowly lulls its listeners into an exquisite fervour" - The Line on Best Fit; "A stunning, haunting work" - American Songwriter.

"The sound of art-punk, industrial, ambient, techno, and glam imploding on themselves. It’s vicious and physical" - Pitchfork defines new album 'The Passion Of' by the New Orleans quartet Special Interest. That's the sound. The lyrics are "consistently ablaze, whether writing about sex and longing at end times or gentrification and the militarization of cities". In general - "punk offers a moment of ignition. But for Special Interest, there is also a horizon".

In 1990, Richard Shannon Hoon started filming himself, and continued doing so during his days in psychedelic rock band Blind Melon, until he died of an overdose in 1995. His recordings are assembled in a new documentary 'All I Can Say' where everybody can see "the disillusionment of stardom psychically shut somebody down, piece by piece, before your eyes", as Rolling Stone says in their review.

The man with the first cyclist waltz
June 30, 2020

Gabriel Ólafs composes "a beautiful record" with 'Piano Works'

"Gabriel Ólafs understands how to craft short yet expressive piano pieces that recall the intimate sensibility of 19th-century salons as much as modern Icelandic indie groups" - PopMatters says in a review of the new album by the young Icelandic pianist. PM argues Ólafs "focuses on mood and emotive gestures to develop pieces, both concise yet brimming with beauty", adding he "shares more in common with the art-rock artists of his homeland (Sigur Rós, Sóley) than prominent contemporary classical pianists".

Documentary film 'Carmine Street Guitars' is "the digital equivalent of hanging out in the Manhattan shop of the title, a Greenwich Village institution of sorts... It is 80 minutes of pure woodwork-musicianship-upcycling erotica for a very specialist but passionate market", Guardian says in a review. "If a film had a smell, this one would be of sawdust, varnish and pure love" - the G says in its verdict. It's available on digital platforms now.

"It’s Haim as we haven’t quite heard them before: not just eminently proficient musicians, entertainers, and 'women in music', but full of flaws and contradictions, becoming something much greater" - Pitchfork argues in favor of the third album by the three California sisters. Other critics like it as much: "Haim take us through a dark place and they do it frankly. But they never let the momentum dip. And they never lose sight of the light at the end of the tunnel" - Independent; "Experimental, soothing and vulnerable; it’s a thing of great beauty" - NME; "Richly searching, explosively produced third album" - Guardian.

Debut album by the Canadian quintet is "one of those rare albums that does a convincing job of capturing the livewire energy of a band onstage. Clipped guitar rhythms meet warped vocal freakouts and gang-chant shoutalongs; the shapes of the songs tighten and tighten, worming their way into your body. It’s deeply physical music, but one from a strain of art-rock weirdos", Stereogum argues. It's "funk and punk and disco crashed together", by the band "committed to relentless grooves".

Critics really like former Savages' debut: "A sonic poltergeist with sentiment to boot" - Clash Magazine; "Beth’s ability to glide between vulnerability and intimidation is unnerving, and adds more shades of grey to a performer who’s previously operated in black and white" - Guardian; "Lyrically and musically, it vacillates between the corporeal and the ethereal, prudence and excess, softness and severity" - Pitchfork; "The music transforms from sweet and cinematic to harsh and claustrophobic, and Beth’s voice similarly vacillates between acidic and corrosive or lush and full of yearning" - Rolling Stone.

New EP by the non-binary Sudanese-American singer Dua Saleh was inspired by Sister Rosetta Tharpe, known as the Godmother of rock and roll, and it is "full of diverse soundscapes with hypnotizing synths and guitars for emotionally resonant trips through Dua’s candid memories", Hypebeast says. Brooklyn Vegan hears "the influence of loud, distorted rock on this powerful EP, but you can also hear modern R&B, auto-tuned trap, atmospheric art pop, and more. It breaks down boundaries left and right". Listen to the EP in full at Bandcamp.

"An artist who’s quite literally said nothing new for the last eight years, he suddenly turned very loquacious indeed, unleashing a series of dense, allusive tracks packed with thorny references to art, literature and pop culture" - Guardian's Alexis Petridis wrote in a review of folk great's new album. "'Rough and Rowdy Ways' might well be Bob Dylan’s most consistently brilliant set of songs in years: the die-hards can spend months unravelling the knottier lyrics, but you don’t need a PhD in Dylanology to appreciate its singular quality and power". NME's Mark Beaumont is equally impressed: "Arguably his grandest poetic statement yet, a sweeping panorama of culture, history and philosophy peering back through assassinations, world wars, the births of nations, crusades and Biblical myths in order to plot his place in the great eternal scheme". In a rare recent interview in the New York Times Dylan said his songs "seem to know themselves and they know that I can sing them, vocally and rhythmically. They kind of write themselves and count on me to sing them".

Dan Franklin's latest book 'Heavy: How metal changes how we see the world' goes broadly and tries to position metal music within the cultural context. Guardian says it "situates heaviness within the 'iron-rich bloodline running through the bedrock of culture' . . . a book that pulls off the trick of offering something to both passionate fans and neophytes", with Sunday Times saying it "opens an ornate portal into a murky subculture, illuminating the marginalia as well as the big beasts". The publisher: "It gives shape and meaning to the terrible beauty of metal". The author made a playlist to listen to while reading it. Music Journalism Insider has an interview with Franklin.

GoGo Penguin / Colin Stetson

GoGo Penguin "grew up in the era of techno and drum and bass, and have cannily adapted the rush of electronic music to a traditional acoustic lineup of piano, double bass and drums" The Observer writes in a review of electro-jazz trio's intense yet relaxing and gentle new album.

Colin Stetson has been making movie scores for a few years now, his latest, 'Barkskins' stands out as the richest and the most haunting. National Geographic's drama series investigates the subject of the deforestation of the New World from the arrival of English and French colonists.

Laura Marling hosted "the most authentic and exclusive live music event we’ve seen so far in the age of coronavirus. Held in an empty Union Chapel in London, the gig is ticketed, geo-locked to fans in the UK and Europe, and brings with it the delicious buzz of exclusivity and climax that makes live music so special" - NME wrote in a review of singer-songwriter's exclusive live stream. "The production values are simply exquisite, with 360 degree cameras intimately swirling around Marling... her cut-glass vocals spine-tingling throughout (turns out beautiful old chapels have better acoustics than bedrooms or living rooms) and transmitted wonderfully by the pop-up mixing desk set up in a truck outside the venue... More important than anything, though, the gig feels like an event".

California gangsta rapper Drakeo the Ruler this week released his new album 'Thank You for Using GTL', a project recorded through a prison phone over the span of two weeks. The rapper was acquitted of murder in July of 2019, but the district attorney's office used his rap lyrics as proof to connect him to illegal activities. The 26-year-old transformed GTL, the inmate telecommunications system contracted by Los Angeles County, into his studio and created a project with his producer JOOGSZN. Passion of the Weiss calls it "miraculous, hard to listen to, perhaps indefinitely challenging as fighting the Los Angeles Police State becomes trendy enough for Santa Monica".

"Love needs fury to fight hate. Clearly none of this is lost on the pair of indie, old head, no-fucks-giving, chain-snatching, self-professed menaces to sobriety behind this project. Their boisterous new album, 'RTJ4', makes time for trash-talking and chin-checking amid insurrection" - Pitchfork highly suggests Run the Jewels' new album (tagged it Best new music, grade 8.3). The P argues 'RTJ40 is closest to who Killer Mike and El-P are - "weary but unbroken, wary but not hopeless, eager to knuckle up".

Folk singer Ondara wrote and produced ‘Folk N’ Roll Vol 1: Tales of Isolation’ himself while in lockdown in Minneapolis in just one week, which is reflected heavily on this album with lyrics like "I'm not an essential worker" and "Hey Mr. landlord... I haven't paid my rent". Brooklyn Vegan compares the album to Bob Dylan, but adds "it feels just about as fleshed-out as its predecessor and Ondara's soaring voice and storytelling ability is still just as compelling".

Strangers in the light
June 01, 2020

Unusual music: Witch 'n' Monk - almost unlistenable

"How precisely should we actually digest sounds such as this?" - the Quietus asks in their review of the new album by experimental duo Witch 'n' Monk (previously, they were named Bitch 'n' Monk). What's so hard about it? - "scrapes and squeaks... phonetic radio play... cosmic jam", and also "thrashy guitar riffs... Amazonian panpipe melodies... Bollywood strings... ecstatic samba". Guardian tagged it "best contemporary music" because they liked "stream-of-consciousness music", and some "manic musical collages". The general advice is - don't try this with your headphones on.

Dream of California
June 01, 2020

'Laurel Canyon' documentary - "pure bliss"

Michelle Phillips of the Mamas & the Papas, in 1967

"'Laurel Canyon' is a nearly four-hour exercise in bliss, throwing us back to a fleeting time when musical warmth and formal excellence went hand in hand and made the whole world want to go “California Dreamin’". With apologies to Joni Mitchell, this, not Woodstock, is the garden you’ll be left wanting to get back to" - Variety writes in a review of a new documentary by Alison Ellwood (first episode aired on Epix on Sunday). The Los Angeles neighborhood has in the ‘60s and ‘70 housed rising artists including Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Frank Zappa, James Taylor, Jackson Browne and members of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, the Doors, the Mamas & the Papas, the Monkees, Love, the Eagles and dozens of other soon-to-be-famous artists. Hollywood Reporter says "the director has a sure feel for the essence of the period and its players, and for the social and emotional impact of their songs".

"These songs are about taking action - using experience as a teacher and a guide" which makes for Medhane's "most present and clear-eyed project", as Pitchfork says in review (tagged it Best new music, grade 8,4). His raps got better - "there is even more force and focus behind his bars", as well as production - "the beats are gorgeously gritty, warped yet whole; he remolds jazz and soul samples as if from particles of sand, which brings the clarity of the raps into sharper relief".

Renowned 82-year-old jazz saxophonist Archie Shepp, producer/DJ Damu the Fudgemunk, and MC Raw Poetic (Shepp's nephew) officially collaborated for the first time last year during one marathon session. The result is 'Ocean Bridges', a "fully improvised album on which Moore, Shepp and Damu the Fudgemunk tap into both of those genres’ more experimental sides and ultimately find a sound that isn’t fully aligned with either one" - Washington Post writes about the interesting collaboration. PopMatters says the album is "proof that genre crossovers can sound organic, and that the term 'crossover' doesn't have to come loaded with gimmicky connotations. Maybe we're headed for a world in which genres are so fluid that the term is dropped altogether from the cultural lexicon".

"Such mellow American folk-rock plays uneasily in these staggeringly anxious times. Yet the set’s charms - slinking choruses, hushed lead vocals -suit this disarmingly unassuming band" - New Yorker wrote about the New York band's new album, a meditation on dreams. PopMatters says that "Woods had established an instantly recognizable aesthetic without ever sounding trapped by it", adding that the album "despite the impending doom, sounds euphoric". Brooklyn Vegan calls it a "terrific album... full of sunny music, beaming with hope". Treblezine likes the atmosphere of it - "a warm, healing album of feelgood rock".

Perfume Genius' new album is "three-dimensional, dust-blown world that is cinematic in its grandeur and intimate in its inspection of the human form", Pitchfork states in its review (grade 9.0). The P is impressed by the style of the album - "the songs expand and contract, one minute blasting open with the melodrama of a Roy Orbison ballad, the next zooming in with surgical detail as Hadreas describes ribs that fold like fabric, a tear-streaked face, an instance of post-coital petty theft".

"'Beneath' pulls from chaotic screamo, shimmering post-rock, some more melodic post-hardcore/emo type stuff, and some absolutely vicious metallic stuff too" - Brooklyn Vegan says in praise of Infant Island's new album. They're innovating, and they've also "upped their musicianship game (the drumming on this album is the not-so-secret-weapon) and the production blows away that of their debut".

What has he done to help good music?
May 15, 2020

Jason Isbell's 'Reunions' - "an excellent album"

"With 'Reunions', Isbell unites the disparate aspects of his craft — soothing acoustic and fiercely electric; Hemingway's word economy dashed with Oscar Wilde-worthy asides, relatable details and otherworldly allusions" - Exclaim says in a review of alt-country singer-songwriter's new album. Glide Magazine says Isbell's reputation as “one of the best” and “the best singer-songwriter of his generation” today is well-earned. Paste Mag praises his inner strength - "he knows a little something about putting up a fight, even if it’s against his own worst impulses. His best impulses he keeps channeling into his music". PopMatters puts it simple: "an excellent album... It's already a candidate for one of 2020's best".

"His songs don’t settle into familiar shapes or patterns. He sings in a scratchy falsetto that seems to fray at the edges" - Stereogum argues in favor of Moses Sumney's 'Grae' (part two is out this week, part one came out in February). Sumney recruited dozens of collaborators for the album - Adult Jazz, Xiu Xiu’s Jamie Stewart, James Blake, Jill Scott, Yvette, bass virtuoso Thundercat, Son Lux drummer Ian Chang, Oneohtrix Point Never’s Daniel Lopatin - in "a time-honored method for creative visionaries seeking to tease out different sides of themselves". Treblezine says it's "the perfect culmination of its transcendent first half", and Guardian rounds it up - "places the Ghanaian-American’s vast emotional range and unfurling musicality front and centre".

"He’s a delinquent teenage alcoholic who gets sober, but becomes gripped by addictions once again, with his raging alcoholism assuaged by the short-lived peace of heroin. Lanegan’s prodigious drug habit turns him into less of a musician and more of a dealer" - Guardian says in its recommended read, 'Sing Backwards and Weep' memoir by Mark Lanegan. "It might be a spoiler to reveal how Lanegan’s salvation eventually comes and who, unexpectedly, foots the bill for his rehab. This is a narrative packed with surprises, most not of the good kind".

"There is a cathartic religiosity to the music of Sex Swing. During this era of sorrow and anxiety, Sex Swing remind us of the restorative powers of rock" - the Quietus says in a review of new album by the psych-rock band. "The guitars erupt, the rhythms sputter out, the volume is maximised... It’s an uplifting record that taps into the mysticism at the core of much experimental musics" - the Q adds. The band - a supergroup of sorts, with members living in different parts of the world - explains in an interview how they function.

'Mutable Set' by the Californian guitarist and singer Blake Mills is "a hushed, finely tuned album" that "splits the difference between Mills’ two sides—the unassuming singer and the ambient wanderer", Pitchfork says in their review (tagged it "Best new music", grade 8.3). The P says it's not "just another singer-songwriter record. Its arrangements are slippery, and it’s often hard to tell if what you’re hearing is a keyboard, a guitar, a saxophone, or something else entirely. It’s never clear exactly where this album will go next, but there’s no doubt an expert hand is guiding the way".

"I Break Horses have always made music that lights up the mysteries inside us with giant, emotive soundscapes, music that you could sink deep into or use as transport to some imagined far away place" - Stereogum argues in favor of I Break Horses' new album. 'Warnings', S-Gum writes, "provides a perfect sound for those in-between spaces, nebulous and vibrant but not escapist. While mostly unfailingly beautiful, it has a hint of distortion haunting the edges... 'Warnings' might be more appropriate now than ever, not reacting to the noise of the world but giving us a place to sit and sift through what we’ve known".

Experimental composer Drew Daniel gathered his friends and family, including his Matmos bandmate M.C. Schmidt, Horse Lords saxophonist Andrew Bernstein, percussionist Sarah Hennies, "and a world-class trio of vocalists: Angel Deradoorian, Colin Self, and Lower Dens singer Jana Hunter" to create "a cathartic, emotional windfall" with his project The Soft Pink Truth. The resulting album 'Shall We Go On Sinning So That Grace May Increase?', Pitchfork says, "carries itself with the strength of a soft prayer, masterfully fusing jazz, deep house, and minimalism into an enormous, featherlight shield".

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