from a purely auditory stance, elvis depressedly’s “thou shall not murder” is already an impressive track.  mat cothran’s distinctive warble sits atop a simple, beautiful arrangement of acoustic guitar chords, faint keyboards, and harmonic support from a mournful cello line, a collective timbre that lends itself well to the weight of the song’s obvious biblical references.  the theme of death is something that has permeated cothran’s work throughout his career, a fact that director micah van hove acknowledges when describing the premise of the song’s music video: “the words and melodies on new alhambra are bathing in a sense of reclaimed innocence that compelled me to explore how a child internalizes the notion of death for the first time.”  indeed, van hove’s interpretation of “thou shall not murder” is a powerful visual supplement, rewinding a young boy’s life to the origin of an undoubtedly traumatic experience.  new alhambra is out may 12th via run for cover records; watch the video for “thou shall not murder” below.

photo courtesy of katai

photo courtesy of katai

detroit’s gosh pith continue to eschew the traditional album format in favor of a carefully curated series of singles doled out at the duo’s own pace.  their latest effort, “child,” is a return to the nocturnal aura sprinkled across earlier cuts like “window” and “waves,” a woozy 6/8 drum loop swaying underneath swirling guitars and endless layers of delay-saturated vocals.  take a listen to the track below.

milo:scallops hotel

photo courtesy of giovanni solis

rory ferreira has made considerable headway as milo, a multi-faceted, philosophical art-rap persona responsible for 2013’s cavalcade and last fall’s a toothpaste suburb.  ferreira has mostly outsourced production duties to artists like iglooghost and riley lake for each milo release, but in his other project, scallops hotel, ferreira is in complete control of all aspects.  a new scallops hotel album called plain speaking is due out may 5th via ferreira’s own ruby yacht label, and we got our first taste of his new material earlier this week.

“lavender chunk” exists simply, a few different synthesizer melodies layered on top of an incessant drum loop. hemlock ernst – the alter ego of future islands frontman samuel herring – handles the first verse before ferreira hops on to finish things off.  the song’s hook arrives late, and the seemingly endless repetition of “brothers like me don’t live too long / that’s why i have to write so many rap songs” only becomes more chilling with each utterance.  take a listen to “lavender chunk” below.

out april 21st via ato/rough trade records

out april 21st via ato/rough trade records

alabama shakes becomes an entirely different entity when brittany howard opens up the peak of her vocal range on “future people.”  the quartet played things relatively close to the chest musically on 2012’s boys & girls and on the first chunk of their follow-up album, sound & color, but “future people” marks the band’s coming-of-age.  busting down such a significant barrier in such a simple, direct manner is in line with the bravado alabama shakes has displayed in the past, and it’s the kickstart they needed to begin cultivating their true, original sound.

boys & girls glaringly reflected the environment alabama shakes was bred from, but the album simultaneously underscored an incredible penchant for powerful songwriting; it just needed time to grow naturally and to be gradually coaxed out.  as always, howard’s lyrics are captivating and her vocals high-octane, but she exercises a bit more restraint on sound & color that allows for a wider long-term contrast.  she reins in her falsetto on the mostly-acoustic ballad “this feeling,” and this volume level lends itself well to the contemplative nature of the subdued subsequent track “guess who.”  gone is the propensity to bare all for as long as possible before quickly pausing to recover; howard now uses a plethora of vocal timbres – and benefits from new instrumental ones – to convey exponentially more emotions.

the extended vibraphone introduction on “sound & color” is the first indicator of the album’s expanded palate, though it initially presents as an anomaly, quickly displaced and overshadowed by the sonic familiarity of “don’t wanna fight” and “dunes.”  that’s why “future people” is so critical; not only does it signify howard’s vocal renaissance, but it lays the groundwork for the band’s inclusion of tangential sounds.  zac cockrell’s bass playing is felt heavily across the entire album, though his presence is most commanding on “future people,” where he squelches out subterranean notes with fervor, and the song introduces alabama shakes’ newfound use of the hammond organ as the primary chordal instrument in the band.

this gradual embracement of supplemental instruments (keyboards, mallet percussion, strings) as harmonic and counter-melodic sources allows each core member of the band more leeway to expand their own roles.  howard and fellow guitarist heath fogg can still churn out power chords like nobody’s business (“the greatest”), but sound & color increasingly finds them padding already-thick textures with arpeggios and scorching melodies, an extension of the interplay that existed on their debut.  steve johnson’s drumming is vastly improved overall; he dictates the structure of the numerous ballads that litter the album, the most important being the dynamic shifts in “gimme all your love,” and his command of syncopation and ability to manipulate beat placement gives songs like “over my head” a dimension that was absent throughout much of boys & girls.

sound & color is an incredibly self-aware album, one that shows that the shakes know they can’t afford to play it safe, even in the mainstream rock community that has feverishly absorbed the band and placed it on a pedestal.  rather than simply paying homage to their myriad progenitors, alabama shakes have instead found a way to incorporate a multitude of sounds and toe the line with innovation, though they have yet to put significant distance between themselves and commonplace revivalists.  archetypes of each genre visited are referenced, not exploited, but this collage feels steeped in familiarity at critical moments, relying on the blues tropes in “don’t wanna fight” and “gimme all your love” to both hold the album together and to drive it home.  sound & color ultimately may not be the band’s definitive offering, but it certainly lays the groundwork for a potential masterpiece.

7.3/10

radicalfashion

photo courtesy of the artist

radicalfashion is hirohito ihara, a japanese composer slated to release his long-awaited sophomore album tomorrow via flau records.  garcon follows the minimalist tendencies of its predecessor, odori, and features ten sparse, pensive compositions that evoke strong memories of erik satie while subtly contributing to the modern post-classical movement.  “in women,” the album’s penultimate cut, is a comparatively consonant, full-bodied work that offers a rare sustained bit of momentum on garcon.  still, its unexpected harmonic resolutions and grating grace notes serve as indicators of the wide spectrum of emotions radicalfashion chooses to explore at a moment’s notice, an exercise that dominates the album.  take a listen to “in women” below.

courtney barnett released sometimes i sit and think, and sometimes i just sit at the end of last month.  it’s a really good album that we didn’t get the chance to cover too extensively, but luckily barnett released the music video for “kim’s caravan” today, so we can talk about that.  the album’s penultimate track is a slow-burning reflection on environmental destruction, specifically the great barrier reef off the coast of barnett’s native australia.  bec kingma was tapped to direct the video, and she interpreted barnett’s lyrics through the lens of disillusioned adults returning to hallowed childhood ground, only to discover the magic each spot once held is now gone.  it’s a powerful sequence of images that resonates deeply with the song, and the video is compounded by a more explicit examination of barnett’s relationship with water that slowly overtakes the primary storyline.  watch “kim’s caravan” below.

made in heights

photo courtesy of the artist

made in heights is the union of sabzi’s hip hop-tinged production and kelsey bulkin’s pristine vocals, and we’re eagerly anticipating their impending sophomore album.  the duo aren’t set to release the as-yet untitled effort until may 26th, but today they’ve shared a new single called “forgiveness.”  the track is in stark contrast to their previous offering “panther,” trading moody de-tuned synths and half-rapped vocals for straight-ahead drum programming and a more succinct melodic structure.  take a listen to “forgiveness” below.

while this segment may have ceased to be a dependable weekly feature, that doesn’t mean we’ll pass up notable kexp sessions.  the latest comes from ibeyi, a pair of sisters who released a phenomenal self-titled debut album back in february via xl.  the diaz sisters blend electronic elements and an organic jazz palate with their strong afro-cuban heritage, resulting in entrancing and emotive songs like “mama says” and “river.”  check out their full four-song performance, which includes a jay electronica cover, below.

chance the rapper circumvented the typical route to commercial success as a hip-hop artist, relying on a grassroots movement of support as opposed to a major label backer.  now he’s choosing to more overtly avoid the spotlight, electing to record with his live band under the collective moniker of the social experiment and frequently billing donnie trumpet as its leader.  their new mixtape surf is due out soon, and today the group shared their music video for “sunday candy.”  chance is still the focal point throughout the showy, optimistic single, but his banter with jamila woods on each chorus is its true bright spot.  watch the video below.

heems’ commendable solo album eat pray thug got a bit lost in the subsequent shuffle of unexpected, high-profile releases from the likes of kendrick lamar and earl sweatshirt, but that doesn’t detract from its importance in the hip-hop landscape of 2015.  heems spends much of the album exploring what it’s like to be brown in post-9/11 america, so it feels appropriate that the music video for its lead single, “sometimes,” also centers around race and skin color, albeit in a more comedic form.  heems dons the role of an infomercial love guru who peddles a skin-whitening paste to disillusioned late-night viewers.  unfortunately his product has disastrous results for eric andre, who eventually finds himself in a wordless romantic competition with hannibal buress.  watch the video below.

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