On their newest LP, Electric Balloon, New York's Ava Luna offer a solid rock and R&B framework infused with the pulse of experimental music. The result is something they call "nervous soul" -- experimental rock that is as texturally interesting as it is emotionally invigorating. As soon as Electric Balloon begins, its simple grouping of rock instruments offers a cool, open, and vintage-inspired sound. With heavy power chords, musical interlude-tracing guitar licks, funky bass lines that make you want to dance, and a percussion section featuring everything from cymbals and tambourines to maracas and woodblocks, Ava Luna tap into many of the classic and modern rock instrumental mainstays that would be right at home on a Black Keys album and which (at least for me) cannot fail to please. Add to this awesome, soulful, R&B-reminiscent vocals by Carlos Hernandez and light, edgy female vocals that dart in and out of the album's gritty backing instrumentation, and you've already got a soundscape that is engaging all on its own.
In summer 2010, Gardens & Villa released their self-titled debut album on Secretly Canadian. Full of youthful imagery and metaphysical ideas, the record reflected the band's perspective of the world through musings on life, love, nostalgia, and nature, presented in ways that only the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed can. It was the work of a younger Gardens & Villa, relatively naïve and overly optimistic about the realities of being a musician in the modern age. "We'd never been on the road; we'd never really gone anywhere to make a record before. We'd never heard of Pitchfork or any blogs," explains vocalist and guitarist Chris Lynch. "Our vision of making music was, 'You make a record, and then it blows up, and then you're on the radio, and then you're huge!' And the reality of it was: some people like you, some people don't like you, and you have to tour for two years. There's no really 'making it' anymore, unless you're part of 1% of 1%." Gardens & Villa are playing REDEFINE's SXSW 2014 Unofficial House Party. Click here for details. Photo by Neil Favila 2014 has seen the release of Gardens & Villa's second full-length record, Dunes -- and while these same themes of life, love, nostalgia, and nature still resonate heavily with the band of brothers, months of relentless touring and eye-opening experiences have brought them to this current point, which is philosophically and musically evolved from where they were three years ago. They have matured -- and this maturation can be found in the change from the barebones simplicity of the first to the layered complexities of the second, as well as in the lyrical content, which is now far more difficult to decrypt. Both records still contain much that is celebratory and have a similar thread of emotional honesty -- but the difference is that on Dunes, what is honest, and what is real, feels less dedicated to enclosed emotions and memories, but more to how one interfaces with the multi-colored pastiche of interconnected human experience, on a larger scale. "The second record is a lot more realistic, I guess, and there's a little bit of melancholy in the record that kind of came out of so much time on the road and missing home. But there's also some beautiful elements on both the records that also came out of that time," explains Lynch. "Basically, I'm trying to say that getting older and touring a bunch wasn't all a bad thing; it was actually a good thing. It's kind of us discovering how we're going to do this and survive." "The time on the road [was us] realizing our dream," Lynch continues, "but at the same time, seeing our dream as this long, arduous journey that's not what we thought it was."
Focus on Plastic's groovy basslines and the squishy sonic silliness underlying this track, as colorful animations weave through neon worlds at hyperspeed. A curious cast of characters emerges to dance and swing around the occasionally displayed lyric, and this playfully psychedelic music video, illustrated by Dawid Krępski, is all too fun a journey. It pays homage to classic animations such as The Beatles' "Yellow Submarine" and Pink Floyd's "The Wall", working well with every element of the song's quirkiness, even when it breaks down into its killer sax solos. Anything goes in this twirling dancey tango.
Like a shiny unicorn of the indie pop world, Connan Mockasin is the type of musician who has earned himself a number of adjectives and associations, often whimsical and colorful in nature. His 2011 record, Forever Dolphin Love, set the precedent for this; it was full of unconventional words, strange voices, and fictional characters, giving one the impression that he is one who floats off early and often into the ether, with one foot grounded in this world and one in another. As a result, media and press often generalize Connan Mockasin to be an "oddball" -- an assertion that he finds "kind of a bit weak", for he doesn't in fact feel odd... Connan Mockasin Band Interview With his latest 2013 full-length, Caramel, Connan Mockasin's music has taken in soulful influences to become a fair degree more grounded and accessible -- but it seems that he still has trouble shaking the character judgments heaped upon him. Caramel is conventional compared to Forever Dolphin Love, but it remains fairly unconventional in the world of indie soul and R&B, full of moments that might be difficult to relate to from outside perspectives. But talk to Connan Mockasin for any length of time, and one learns very quickly that his motivations and attitudes towards music-making -- and life, in general -- are actually much, much simpler than most would predict. The bulk of his decisions are based upon impulses rather than deep considerations, and flowing from moment to moment without preconceived expectations or concerns for consequence is his general mode of operation. Indeed, it is one that very few people can relate to -- which is perhaps why it is so very "odd" -- but to understand this is to understand the essence of Connan Mockasin's creative genius.
Cate Le Bon - Mug Museum Album Review Cate Le Bon Mug Museum Wichita Recordings / Turnstile Music / The Elite Meat Supply (2013) For those of you who are familiar with classic BBC children's television programmes from the 1970s, the guitar work on Cate Le Bon's Mug Museum might remind them of the timeless landscape of Trumptonshire. Lying at the core of her new album, the interplay of these simple melodies combines to produce a music box complexity that clicks and shifts direction, calling to mind childhood memories and, perhaps, the comfort of established and familiar order. For the uninitiated, Trumptonshire is the fictional bucolic county in which the towns of Chigley, Trumpton and Camberwick Green were located. The essential subtext for the Trumptonshire trilogy was the encroachment of modernity and modern ways on the rural idyl. Each town had its own series, and, like fly on the wall documentaries for felt and foam puppets, it followed the daily lives of the people who lived there. For example, in Camberwick Green, there was the laid back and possibly alcoholic, cider drinking, farmer-come-windmill owner, Windy Miller, who was subtly at logger heads with the go ahead farmer Jonathan Bell and his modern mechanical farm. An important component of many childhoods in the UK, Trumpton, Chigley and Camberwick Green were reassuring for children whilst never becoming saccharine: there was always the threat of unwanted change on the horizon. Every character had their own song, sung by the legendary Brian Cant, that detailed either their personality or daily job of work. On "Mug Museum", this circular and childhood musical sound is complimented by a variety of other musical influences, all reinterpreted and deployed with imagination. There is some Beefheart and a dash of The Velvet Underground, such as on the twangy chaotic guitar, side drum beat driven and empty spaces of "Cuckoo Through The Walls". You might even find a sprinkle of Japanese musical phrasing, as in the track "Duke". There is also the laid back anthem that is "Are You With Me Now?", which recalls Bob Dylan in its rousing chorus.
Shine 2009 - Our Nation Album Review Shine 2009 Our Nation Cascine / Modular Recordings (2013) Shine 2009's sophomore LP, Our Nation, is hard to pin down. Through sampling, instrumentation, and lyrics, Mikko Pykäri and Sami Suova, the Finnish duo behind the album, manage to simultaneously evoke spacey lightness and earthly percussiveness, welcomed nostalgia and contemporary immediacy. The effect is strange but infectious. While assimilating us, for example, to the band's stylistic combination of R&B backing vocals and psych synths is no small feat, Our Nation's lyrics and overall cohesiveness may offer something even more lasting.
Diane Coffee - My Friend FishDiane Coffee My Friend Fish Western Vinyl (2013) Capitalists would have you believe that you need a million dollars and a luxurious studio to create a masterpiece. They would hate the fact that Diane Coffee, the solo project of former child voice actor and drummer for Foxygen, Shaun Fleming, was able to record this psych/soul/gospel-infused gem with pots and pans and detuned guitars in his New York apartment in two weeks, while recovering from the flu.
Kwes. ilp. Warp Records Kwes.' new album, ilp., is an immersive experience. It begins with "purplehands", a soundscape created out of found and captured sounds that have been processed and manipulated, and then added to with lingering musical notes. An aural walk in an urban park, complete with honking geese and hissing swans, this track morphs to become a song that is laced with memory and experiences. Something of a protégé, Kwes., or Kwesi Sey, has worked with such musical luminaries as Bobby Womack, Damon Albarn and Micachu. However, in a touch that signifies this artist's commitment to the personal and private, the biographical material accompanying this release informs us that his musical journey was kickstarted by a gift of a keyboard from his grandmother. A keyboard that he still uses. I find this emphasis entirely appropriate: ilp. is an album of personal ballads. Touching, intimate, engaging but always surprising and intuitively odd, each track is like a memento. Backwards echoes and unconventional multilayering effects offset charming and traditionally framed tunes that are sung, sometimes in a crooning, sometimes in a soulful voice. Behind classic phrasing and homespun lyrics, a palette of tampered, tempered and distorted sounds make up the musical accompaniment. Whether it is the childhood sweetheart recollections of "rollerblades"; the elegant and apparently analogous songwriting of "cablecar"; or the gospel clap and soulful elegy to an out of reach beauty that is "flower" -- this combination of both "pop and mad sounds" delivers an album that is both highly listenable and unexpectedly strange, without ever becoming overly obtuse.
Phèdre Golden Age DAPS / Discos Tormentos (2013) Blurred, mildly distorted, catchy and strange, like a reflection of the past viewed through a dirty martini glass, Golden Age is a collection of playful tracks from musicians with a clear idea of what they want to achieve. Inspired, loosely, by the Greek mythological story of Phaedre and the track “Some Velvet Morning" by Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood, Phèdre have produced a body of work that is often beguiling and sometimes enchanting. Incorporating a palette of sounds that is complementary and wide-ranging, this album is a kaleidoscopic journey into what is now possible and what was once probable. Reminiscent of the work of EAR PWR and Supertalented, you can also hear the electronic strangeness of The Residents coexisting alongside the rough cowboy and the vulnerable girl interplay of Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood. Add to this the San Francisco psychedelia of Fifty Foot Hose, one of the first bands to combine rock and experimental music, and you have an idea of what to expect from Phèdre.