The last of our seasonal previews reunites us with old friends and introduces new ones. A few of the bands have reached the quarter-century mark, while others are making their debuts. Some groove, some rock and some jam; together they make a happy noise.
Our cover image is taken from “Alba,” a stop-motion video from auteurs Oh No Noh. That perky little tape refuses to be stuck in the past. As such, the tape is a great metaphor for motivation. Spring is here. The world is waking up. This is the time for creativity, for inspiration, for exercise. We will never return to the old normal, and even the “new normal” is growing outdated. Why not make our own futures?
And now, A Closer Listen presents the early spring slate of Rock, Post-Rock, Folk & Jazz. We hope you’ve enjoyed our peek into the world to come!
Post-Rock and Friends
Rich’s Pick: Godspeed You! Black Emperor ~ G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END (Constellation, April 2)
We’re going with the obvious here, as the rejuvenated GY!BE now has the political morass to match its apocalyptic leanings. All of 2020’s insanity, from COVID to the fall of democracy, is folded like an egg into this sonic batter. We’re already picturing the visuals from GY!BE’s kinetic arm. With two 20-minute tracks, packed with field recordings and orchestral maneuvers, accompanied by two 6-minute distillations, AT STATE’S END has the makings of a future classic. Early comparisons are already being made to the band’s seminal works, also referenced in the iconic artwork.
Many publications list Fly Pan Am‘s early albums as post-rock’s most relevant. Like Mogwai, the band is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year with a new album. Frontera is the score to an elaborate dance production that was shut down by COVID but hopes to resume in 2021. The often dreamlike atmosphere gives way to startling soundscapes; a welcome return to form (Constellation, May 21, pictured right).
Unwed Sailor is only two years younger than Fly Pan Am, and returns with the shoegaze-inflected Truth or Consequences, led by the “Friday I’m in Love”-like single “Blitz,” whose handclaps give it a shot at pop radio success (Spartan Records, May 14).
CAN will be releasing a series of remastered live sets, beginning with Live in Stuttgart 1975. It’s a great way for young fans to hear what they may have missed, and old fans to hear favorites in a restored format (Mute, May 28). sleepmakeswaves is also releasing a live album, recorded at the biggest headlining event of a 2015 22-country tour. Live at the Metro is out June 1 with high hopes of resuming tours by then.
On the other end of the age spectrum lies the French band BRUIT, whose debut album bears the very post-rock title The machine is burning and now everyone knows it could happen again. The extended tracks are filled with texture and build, buoyed by an orchestral section. “Amazing Old Tree” bears an environmental message (Elusive Sound, April 2). Notre Dame de la Colline adopts a lighter orchestral touch, closer to modern composition, with engaging brass. The artist is part of the artistic collective Founding our own Glorious Chapels, who earlier brought us The Chapel of Exquises Ardents Pears. Poèmes fous pour herbes fraîches will be released April 9 on Wild Bless You ! Records.
A huge congratulations to Miasmah Recordings, who celebrates its fiftieth release with James Welburn‘s Sleeper in the Void. The evocative set twists and turns through shoegaze and post-rock before crashing into an electronic finale. Guest stars abound. Here’s wishing you 50 more (April 16). Tomaga‘s Intimate Immensity is a bittersweet set, haunted by the loss of Tom Relleen just after the album was recorded. The landscape, from video to cover to tone, is a restrained blue (Hands in the Dark, March 26).
Odd Circus attacks with the fast and furious Mantha, each track inspired by a frightening creature (dybbuk, wendigo, djinn). The Florida sax, guitar and drums trio shaped the album from raucous improvisations, creating a heavy, slam-danceable jam party (April 2, pictured left). More monsters appear on the rockingly retro Planet Terror, accompanied by dialogue from classic sci-fi films and a Lovecraftian cover. Black Sky Giant‘s album is out April 1 on Made of Stone Recordings. Diegetic offers a “post-rock space epic” on The Lonely, tracing the life of a man banished from earth ~ a cosmic version of A Man Without a Country (March 26).
Math rockers Last Hyena toyed with the idea of adding a vocalist, then changed their minds ~ a good choice in our opinion! The groovy energy of How Soon Is Mars is fine on its own, although an occasional chant (“You’re just an Doctopus!”), à la And So I Watch You From Afar) doesn’t hurt (Stereo Brain, April 30). UK label A Cheery Wave is entering the physical distribution market with A Cheery Wave of Stranded Youngsters: Volume IX. Unfortunately the theme doesn’t sound cheery: all the bands, including Double Handsome Dragons, Kasper Rosa, Goonies Never Say Die, and Monsters Build Mean Robots, have broken up (April 2).
Psychedelic krautrockers Sounds of New Soma go all-out with a single album-length track, appropriately titled Trip. Prepare for an immersive, time distorting journey with no drugs required (Tonzonen, April 16). Expanding the krautrock tag, Warning Light returns with Latent Futurists, which includes a heavy dose of danceable electronics (Stickfigure, March 26). Old prog rockers Liquid Tension Experiment reunite for the first time in 22 years, sounding like they stepped out of Bill and Ted’s phone booth. Fans of the parent groups Transatlantic, Dream Theatre and King Crimson can watch the retro video and pretend it’s the 80s again (InsideOutMusic, March 26).
Appalachian folk is showcased on Friend’s Peace, a remarkably upbeat album from Black Twig Pickers. A mixture of covers and originals, instrumentals and harmonic vocal pieces, the set is guaranteed to bring a smile to the face (VHF, April 2, pictured above right). One man band Daybreak Wisdom releases a self-titled EP on March 26, incorporating rock, waltz and folk: a lot of variety in a small space. “There’s never been an album quite like Axacan,” declares the press release for Daniel Bachman‘s upcoming double album. Can he live up to the hype? Combining field recordings, acoustic guitar and harmonium, he’s sure going to try (Three Lobed Recordings, May 7). Rob Noyes & Joseph Allred bring new meaning to the term “dueling guitars” by bringing banjo and harmonium into the mix on Avoidance Language. Ironically, the press release also declares, “There’s never been an album quite like this” (Feeding Tube, April 9)! Eight-strong Norwegian ensemble Frode Haltli returns with Avant Folk II, a sequel to its 2018 predecessor. Accordion, Hardanger fiddles and goat horn make for a distinctive listening experience (Hubro, April 23).
Who can resist the charm of a video like “Alba,” where a little cassette tape comes to life? To sweeten the pot, Oh No No‘s semi-electronic where one begins and the other one stops is also offered in a “lo-fi music device” version with audio stem. The kitchen chopping sounds of the title track mimic the creation of the music (TELESKOP, March 26).
Jazz-Rock, Not-Not-Jazz & Then Just Jazz
We first shared news of STUFF.‘s T(h)reats in our Winter Music Preview with the video for “Cumulus,” but since then Sdban Ultra’s release date shifted to May 7 ~ a common occurrence during the pandemic. With high hopes that the jazz-rock-electronic hybrid will soon see the light of day, we’ve been given Honu to enjoy. Also on Sdban: Ghent trio Steiger unveil the hybrid sound of The New Lady Llama on April 9, gifting their music with an electronic aura. We suspect these two bands will make a great tour pairing, once tours are allowed again. It’s not often that a prog-jazz band is compared with Autechre, Monk and Bach, but that’s the case with Voronoi. Their genre-defying sound reflects the diverse background of their members. The Last Three Seconds boasts a sci-fi theme, with titles such as “Robots as Pathos / Robots as Menace” (Small Pond Recordings & Art is Catharsis, May 5).
Chris Corsano & Bill Orcutt play well together on Made Out of Sound, which features instinctive guitar and drum jamming in an intimate setting. The press release calls their sound “not-not-jazz” (Palilalia, March 26). In similar fashion, Dans Dans incorporates elements of art rock and jazz, but their producer insists, “This is no fusion, no rock or jazz.” Whom are we to believe, the press release or the sound? Zink is out April 23 on Unday Records.
Drummer Graham Costello‘s Second Lives is a great surprise: an energetic, horn-filled set that reminds us a bit of Do Make Say Think. The irony is that the album is inspired by Stoicism, while the sound is anything but stoic. The STRATA Ensemble guest-stars, featuring famous Glasgow’s musicians, although none from Mogwai (Gearbox Records, May 7).
Orion’s Belte offers perky pop rocks with a light jazz flavor. Villa Amorini‘s first single came out a while ago, but now the full album is set for release. On the closing track, they finally get to sing (Jansen Records, April 9). It’s refreshing to see an artist owning genre tags instead of disdaining them; Massimo Discepoli is proud to be post-rock, prog and jazz. Last year, the next day also has a meteorological bent, showcasing “Parallel Clouds” and “Listening to the Fog” in its opening salvo (DOF, April 2). Dan Pitt Quintet shares a languid, groovy sound on Wrongs, as the guitarist expanding his ensemble to embrace woodwinds and brass (April 9). Cuneiform’s next release is Numbers Maker, a propulsive jazz rock jam session presented by Desertion Trio, preceded by the single Albion.
One of the season’s most intriguing releases comes from double bassist Shane Cooper, who links South African jazz and reel-to-reel production techniques to create “jazz-concrète.” Each side-long track has space to breathe, and the sonic success is no mere Happenstance (Kit Records, May 13).
Joseph Shabason leads an 11-member band (called an undecet) on The Fellowship, a smooth set in which ambience shares space with jazz, modern composition and just a touch of rock. “Escape from North York” is a fun title, and the LP is offered on pretty blue vinyl (Western Vinyl and Telephone Explosion Records, April 30). Jihye Lee leads the 17-strong Jihye Lee Orchestra on Daring Mind, which seems rife for crossover, especially lead single “Struggle Gives You Strength.” The full album is set for release March 26 on Motema Music. We have two big bands on the docket as well. Steven Feifke Big Band makes its debut with the jazzy, jamming Kinetic, introduced by the toe-tapping title track (Outside in Music, April 9), while Ulysses Owens Jr. Big Band will offer Soul Conversations on the same label on May 7. And look, there’s Ulysses drumming away in the “Kinetic” video! The busy label is also releasing Philippe Lemm Trio‘s First Steps on March 26; it’s obvious that Lemm is aiming for iconic hair, but we prefer the trio’s energetic, happy music.