The great and underrated Outer Limits Recordings (OLR) was one of Sam Mehran’s many post-Test Icicles projects. I wrote about his music a couple times over the years. Outer Limits Recordings was so fucking weird and so fascinating—a kind of detritus-rock, made of discarded junk sounds, clichés, tinny beats, but assembled with purpose and affection, in a way that made it all sound new. It provoked thought and reconsideration. The best analogue I’ve come up with for OLR’s music is that it’s a little like Adult Swim’s fucking bonkers “Too Many Cooks” video. Same use of junk, cliché, old and worn-out culture to make something new and enjoyable and weird as shit.
Sam Mehran was a great artist and I would urge everyone to track down and listen to the music he made (I always found his Discogs page helpful for finding aliases, etc.)
MELT is the project he was working on with Marion Belle when he killed himself in July 2018. These handful of tunes show the range of Mehran’s production capabilities—these songs are pretty far away from the stuff he was doing with OLR. MELT’s music is sweeping and dramatic, with big sounds, huge percussion. You can still hear some of Mehran’s favorite sounds in these songs too—there’s a beat on “Strictly Dior” that sounds so brittle and basic, like a preset on one of the Casiotone keyboards from the 90s. There’s a lot to like on this MELT EP, and some of the songs (especially “Strictly Dior”) have a vibe like a more emotive and direct version of Felt.
Resavoir’s album “Resavoir” sounds like imaginary jazz, like speculative jazz, the kind of jazz you read about in a magazine or a book and then wonder about—what does it sound like? Could it possibly be as good as you’d heard it in your head? “Resavoir” is that good. It’s full of beautiful playing, surprising melodies, gorgeous grooves. It’s the kind of album that’s light enough to hang in the background, but also stands up to close and rigorous listening.
It makes me think of when I first read about Madlib’s record with Blue Note, “Shades of Blue,” where Madlib remixed portions of the Blue Note catalog to fit into his aesthetic—I imagined something else entirely, jazz with heavy mind-blowing beats, crazy breaks and transitions. I like that record fine, but it definitely doesn’t match up with the sound I had in my head. Makaya McCraven’s work and a lot of the stuff on International Anthem (including “Resavoir”) sounds like what I envisioned, jazz animated by the energy and dynamics of modern hip hop. (Some of Floating Points’ “Elaenia” has this vibe too.)
Automatic do vivid post-punk: songs that feel like humming electrical substations. Imposing, metallic, sort of beautifully utilitarian. “A picture of your changing face/another standing in its place,” Izzy Glaudini sings. The latter part of the song erupts into something more sinister, someone observing an unfolding disaster and deciding that they’ve seen enough. “Let’s call it off and start again,” Glaudini sings. Automatic have also released “Too Much Money” on their Bandcamp page, and both songs are worthwhile.
Los Retros’s “Some to Spend Time With” is an old-fashioned romantic duet, straight-up crooned. The song practically levitates: loose guitar lines are barely tethered to a loping beat, while Mauri Tapia sweetly sings, “My sweetheart/where are you?/I need someone/to spend time with/to give and share all my love.” Firelordmelisa enters the song midway through and offers a similar complaint, and her and Tapia’s voices sit together so nicely. It all seems so effortless and joyful. Los Retros just released their debut EP, “Retrospect,” on Stones Throw, and it’s all great like this, sort of an effervescent mix of Elvis, Motown, and Neon Indian.
Palehound’s new album, “Black Friday,” is a stunner. Ellen Kempner sings these songs with openness and vulnerability, songs about love and being loved, but also about tougher and meaner emotions: uneasiness, shame, anger, rage. Where “A Place I’ll Always Go” felt like intimate letters or a collection of short stories, “Black Friday” feels like a bigger production, a brave swing for the fences. Kempner sings about what it takes to love people, about losing friends, about trying to pull the people you love out of sadness. Every song on the album is fascinating and affecting, and the music, like the lyrics, feels like it’s more explorative, more outdoors than indoors.
Two songs I want to highlight: “Aaron” and “In Town.” The first is one of the most moving love songs I’ve heard in the last couple years. “Your mother wanted to name you Aaron/but her body built you/as a different man/And my friend, if you want me to I’ll call you Aaron/I can/I can/I can/I can/I can, Aaron/I can.” Kempner has said that the song is addressed to her partner, who’s transitioning. She sings those lines, and the whole song, with such focused tenderness. A beautiful song.
“In Town” is also full of love, but turns on thoughts of loss. “At the thought of losing you/my muscles hum familiar tunes/and curl me into a naked ball/wet on the shower floor.” And later, “If there’s anything I learned/when I was back in town/it’s that nothing worth loving/ ever sticks around/But you.” The music of “In Town” shadows the lyrics, with mournful piano and a unsettled guitar riff. The song ends with Kempner singing wordlessly over both the riff and a group of violins ruminating together.
You can listen to “Superbike,” the lead single from “Anak Ko,” via the lyric video below. “Superbike” has the same kind of protean and melodic qualities as a lot of Duterte’s songs, twisting in interesting and surprising ways throughout the course of the song. “I’m not the kind of fool/who needs to read the room,” she sings at the start of the song, sounding confident, but then undercuts that pose a little, with a pleading request, “Somebody tell me,” which she repeats throughout “Superbike.” A fantastic song that also features the band’s prettiest outro yet.
Here’s the tracklisting for “Anak Ko:”
1) If You Want It
3) Peace Out
5) Nighttime Drive
7) Anak Ko
9) Get Well
Ellen Arkbro is back with a new record, “CHORDS.” Her “For Organ and Brass” was one of my favorite records of 2017, a record of beautiful, circulating drones. Judging by the excerpts posted from “CHORDS,” the new record has a tighter focus, with a slightly more koanic quality. You can hear it in “CHORDS for Guitar,” where she offers a series of discrete, strummed chords that ring out and dissipate, encouraging the listener to consider each one, the initial bloom of the sound as the chord is struck and the manner in which the sound decays. “CHORDS for Organ” continues her fascinating experiments with that instrument, and you can listen to an excerpt from that track too. “CHORDS” is out on June 7. Looking forward to hearing the whole thing.
A new single by Black Belt Eagle Scout is reason to celebrate. “Loss & Relax” and “Half Colored Hair” continue the vibe from “Mother of My Children,” thoughtful, full of invention, colored both by joy and a sense of mourning. If I remember correctly, Katherine Paul played “Loss & Relax” during the band’s stop in Tacoma, and she really ripped into it, with the whole band jamming out on the ending of the song. Paul writes fascinating and beautiful guitar lines for her songs, and you can hear in “Loss & Relax” how easily she moves from a meditative/contemplative mode into explosive, ecstatic emotion. She has a great note up on the band’s bandcamp page about what inspired “Loss & Relax” and what she was thinking about when the song came into being, and you should real all of it, but here’s an excerpt:
“As I was writing the guitar line, I kept seeing the water of the Salish Sea and the local ferries drifting people in and out of place. Ferries are such a beautiful part of my childhood and served as a major form of transportation. Thinking about my home and how canoes have turned into ferries is a sad but also beautiful thought. Nowadays with Canoe Journeys, canoes are alongside ferries, roaming our waters to lands, sharing customs and culture. That is what I think about now, when I listen to the fully recorded version of the song. I see a strong and fierce community of my people, continuing to thrive in whatever comes our way. That is how I feel about myself, a survivor and thriver of this land, a water protector, a womxn, the future.”
“Half Colored Hair” is another gorgeous love song from Paul (like “Soft Stud”), a sketch of sweet intimacy, caring touches, moments of realization. She sings, towards the end of the song, “I never knew I’d like/half colored hair so much/But I knew/I’d like you/So I didn’t care/’Cause I care for you.”
Kara-Lis Coverdale’s beautiful “Grafts” starts with sounds that are like soft things falling a long way. Phased organ exhalations. Instruments suspiring in cushy environs, reacting to each other, provoking further action. But that’s not the whole story. It’s a protean piece, all 20+ minutes keep moving, dancing off-balance—later in the piece, notes from a piano flutter in a stiff wind. Still later: prepared pitter patter and steam releases. Coverdale shares sound space with folks like Ellen Arkbro and Nils Frahm, composers who like to experiment with soundcraft and form. “Grafts” is incredible, can’t recommend this one highly enough.
Wolf Parade played in Tacoma at the end of February, and I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I hadn’t seen them live since 2005, when my brother and I saw them in Philly at the Khyber, right after Dante DeCaro had joined the band (who played as Johnny and the Moon to open the show, followed by Think About Life) and they’d been on tour for “Apologies to the Queen Mary” for a little while already. That was an incredible show, one of my favorites ever, probably. They played so well and intensely that night, not only the songs from the album, but also stuff that never got the studio treatment, like the incredible “Things I Don’t Know.”
So 14 years later, everyone’s older, and Dante’s left the band. I’d gathered from recent social media updates that the band had been holed up recently recording the follow-up to “Cry, Cry, Cry,” so I was curious to hear what they’d play. The place was packed and the crowd greeted the band’s arrival on stage with a lot of supportive yelling and hospitable whistling/clapping. I can’t remember everything they played, but I think they started with Lazarus Online (or something from the last album) and then proceeded to rip through a bunch of older songs interspersed with brand new songs (all of which sounded awesome, especially the one that’s been tagged “Seattle”). It was crazy to see them play with the same kind of energy I’d witnessed the first time I saw them live, at a weird Believer magazine music showcase in New York (Dan played some theremin at that show, if I remember right), like no time had passed at all.
Hearing them play stuff like “Grounds for Divorce,” “I’ll Believe in Anything,” and “Dinner Bells” made me remember what it was like in 2004, when I first heard of the band through places like Said the Gramophone, Goldkicks/Goldkixx, and ordered the first two EPs from Cheap Thrills in Montreal. I remembered how mysterious the band seemed then, how they sounded so new and wild.
It was an amazing show, one of the best I’ve seen in a long time. They’re still a thrilling band.
Rock music can often be a delivery mechanism for sentiment, emotion, rhetoric. In “Something to You,” it’s a back-and-forth request, a confused plea: “Scoop me up in your arms/No/spit me out in the yard.” Later: “I just want to be something to you.” Overwhelming emotion, a need for someone else so powerful that you can’t quite articulate it, but you have a kind of shapeless urge or idea. Nanami Ozone deliver this with wave after wave of distorted guitars crashing, until the song diminishes to a spindly little riff halfway through, as though pausing to contemplate, and then builds a bit before the end before it cuts out, as though it had already revealed too much.
“NO” is a fun listen, a light shoegaze album, a little more transparent, a little more upbeat.