Shades of baroque pop, quirky yet super catchy with a 70s psych folk vibe thrown into the mix. It reminds me a bit of Aldous Harding – serious music with playful experimental qualities.
Over the last few months, one of the things many people have been turning to during periods of isolation during the pandemic is music. Music for distraction, companionship, solace and joy. Whatever the reason, putting on a favourite album or discovering something new that pulls you in and hits the spot, intellectually or emotionally, can be a great and wonderful experience. In this series we check in with musicians, journalists and broadcasters to see what has inspired repeat listening and provided some special sounds for these strange times.
First up is Darren Cross, he of Gerling and Jep and Dep fame who has most recently been releasing solo material as D.C Cross. Under that moniker he’s created two excellent albums (Ecstatic Racquet (2019), Terabithian (2020)) that blend American Primitive guitar stylings with arcane English folk picking and immersive washes of new age-inspired drone and ambience.
Leonard Cohen – Songs of Love and Hate (1971)
When it’s cold near/in winter time, I love to listen to depressing music. I don’t know, it’s just the way it is. One year, in the coldest house I have ever lived, Jack Elias’ Chopping Board was the winter breakfast album in our Alaskan house kitchen. A local songsmith, influenced by Cohen but even bleaker than Cohen, the half Lebanese guy Elias really hits you were it hurts.
Songs of Love and Hate has been flipped on the record player many a time during this Covid time. Its weird, I watched the Cohen documentary Bird On Wire for the first time recently. It’s about a 20 date tour that ended up in Israel in the 70’s where Cohen and his band are tripping balls on LSD and he is crying during his performance of S’o Long Marianne’ – mind blowing!
The guitar on Songs of Love and Hate is astounding – highlighting what Cohen calls “his chops” – his distinct picking style. This album is tender and angry and evil all at once… and the sentiment is perfect for a heartless winter.
Trumans Water – 10X My Age EP (1993)
When I was a wee lad in the 90’s, Trumans Water really blew my mind. Hailing from San Diego around the time Pavement appeared, (before Pavement ended up sounding like the the Verve) Trumans Water were deconstructionist – dismantling pop-grunge-math-rock that sounded like Captain Beefheart playing the angriest parts of Sonic Youth but 10x angrier, while collapsing down an eternal staircase to infinity.
I bought this 10 inch as I just had to hear these songs on vinyl. I mean one song is just a lo-fi recording of the drummer trying to learn the drum beat (bit annoying) but tracks like ‘Empty Queen II’ and ‘Enflamed’ still impress the hell out of me.
I recently found a rad doco about the San Diego punk scene called It’s Gonna Blow!!! – San Diego’s Music Underground 1986-1996 – which was unfindable online until recent times. I am pretty sure the title of the film comes from the Trumans Water anthem ‘Aroma Of Gina Arnold’ which is another of my favourite Trumans songs. Hunt this down. Such a great band. The artwork of the albums was really inspirational as well, long before collage and dadaism became a hipster staple.
Liquid Mind – Liquid Mind I : Ambience Minimus (1994)
Being a restaurant DJ and working on Saturday mornings as a thrift store sorter (go through the garbage, mould, urns of dead people, to find things to sell to rich people in rich areas) was playing havoc on my sleeping patterns. DJ’ing until 3am (playing ‘Thriller’ to 20 year olds on MDMA) then getting up to work and sort through the junk was really whacking me out (so I quit the sorting job). Not being able to sleep led me to those YouTube ambient music sets of three hours of buzzing electronic drone sounds that hypnotise you into sleepy slumberland submission. Luckily for me I really love those sounds and dug a bit deeper and found Chuck Wild, the godfather of 90’s ambient music.
Chuck Wild’s Liquid Mind I : Ambience Minimus (1994) is probably my favourite and it seemed really fitting, during these Covid times, to reach for this CD and sail away on cloud Chuck.
Chuck Wild went from doing the music composition on that crazy, ground-breaking 80’s, MTV-loving TV show Max Headroom, to a nervous breakdown where he stunningly chose meditation over medication and help invent 90’s ambient music.
The first track, ‘Zero Degrees Zero’ goes for over 28 minutes and like the most of this album, creates understated wooshes of pure 90’s ecstasy drone candy. This album has made me fell less anxious in this really weird and eerie time of self-isolation.
Coffee. Sleep. Sitting on the couch. More sleep. Trying to forget I can’t travel overseas to see my friends in Europe. Play guitar. Beer. Forgetting Covid – Liquid Mind I : Ambience Minimus – Suits my many moods. Repeat. Repeat.
London based Greek singer/songwriter George Gaudy has released this new track of dark, bluesy alt-rock that also draws on North Africa desert-rock and Greek folk in it’s wandering psych grooves. The song comes from his new album Little Pieces, released in April 2020.
‘Mother (Reprise)‘ is a loose-limbed smoky affair, brimming with sonic diversions into horn-fuelled hypnosis and blank-eyed vocal mantras, twisting and writing over seven minutes.
German songwriter Musketeer has released this haunting slice of melancholia – folk-like with a gothic twist. It unfurls beautifully with a strong poetic bent. Described as a howling testament to a pack of wolves returning to Denmark (after not being sighted there for 200 years), this version of ‘Wolves’ is built around acoustic guitar and a synth – a much starker version that the drums-assisted previous version that was released.
New Zealand collective Fly My Pretties have been a live proposition up until recently when they entered the studio to record new imaginings of tracks from their back catalogue.
The Studio Recordings Part One involved 25 contributors over a 12 month period – including Barnaby Weir (The Black Seeds) accompanied by Anna Coddington, Bailey Wiley, A Girl Named Mo, Hollie Smith, LA Mitchell (Terrible Sons), Lisa Tomlins, Adi Dick, Age Pryor, Iraia Whakamoe (The Nudge), James Coyle (The Nudge), Jarney Murphy (The Black Seeds), Laughton Kora, Mike Fabulous (Lord Echo), Nigel Patterson (The Black Seeds), Paul McLaney, Rio Hunuki-Hemopo (TrinityRoots), Ryan Prebble (The Nudge), and on this track ‘Quiet Girl’ – Samuel Flynn Scott (The Phoenix Foundation).
The song takes a smoky, late-night dreamy angle that conjures up the sound of Twin Peaks, Chris Isaak , and a distant ghostly echo of The Doors.
The Studio Recordings Part One is out now on Bandcamp and the usual streaming services.
‘Being Human’, by Manchester songwriter and producer Caoilfhionn Rose (pronounced Keelin) is one of those tracks that combines mystery, beauty, lush production and a voice that possesses effortless melodic qualities. It comes from her debut LP Awaken, out now on Gondwana Records.
Mixing pastoral folk, light psychedelia and indie sensibilities the song is a good reflection of the overall strength of Awaken as an album. Recommended!
4Ad / Remote Control
Aldous Harding’s artistic trajectory continues to billow skyward on her third album, the second produced by John Parish for the 4AD label. Long gone is the stark and fragile folk of her debut, though it still lurks under the surface of what is now lush and detailed avant chanteuse pop music.
The quirkiness of Harding’s vocal delivery has always been debated but it is a crucial component of what makes her music so compelling. She’s dialled it back on this album, ironing out some of the quirks and as a result the overall impact of this record feels slightly diluted. That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of highlights. Early on, the title track is a light tripping affair with a brief chorus that dismantles the flow and gentle funk feel (reminiscent of Devendra Banhart) before it resumes for a summery run to the end of a song that seems to question the retention and spark of creativity.
Baroque psych folk sounds enhance much of the record and come courtesy of woodwind instruments on songs such as ‘Zoo Eyes’ while ‘Treasure’ draws Harding’s vocals to the foreground. It’s good to see that the focus remains on Harding and her voice and that any temptation to make thing bigger and busier have, for the most part, been resisted.
First single ‘The Barrel’ is prime Harding with its almost hip hop backbeat over a brass sounding instrument and piano, which features widely across Designer. The song deals in issues of conformity, settling down and having parameters placed on one’s situation. Much of the album seems to one of questioning and doubt, looking for a strong moral compass to guide one through the vagaries and vulnerabilities of life. “I don’t know how to behave” Harding sings on the exquisite closer ‘Pilot’. Riding on a Tears For Fears melody and a bare piano she intones her concerns and fears. It may be decorated in almost theatrical avant-folk details but it’s a remarkably bold statement to end another strong and intriguing album from the New Zealand songwriter.
Almost a Beach Boys sound at the start of this new track from Slark Moan. From there it opens up into cascading piano notes before settling on a rubbery bass groove and classic baroque and power pop shapes. Vocal harmonies soar skyward while Ringo-style drums keep the song in check, while also adding some nice rhythmic colour behind the vocal, inhabited by the wandering ghost of Harry Nilsson. This is classic psych pop/rock of the retro variety but executed with skill and dreamy precision.
The song comes from his sophomore album Superstition for the Consumer Romantic (out August 9th), which took about a year and a half to craft. Sloan also spends much of his time on the road touring as a hired gun for an assortment of alt-country/pop acts such as Kelsey Waldon, Margo Price, Sam Outlaw, Erin Rae and more.