esther rose – “don’t blame it on the moon”

– featured image courtesy of jen squires –

the new orleans transplant esther rose draws from a childhood of gospel and folk music when sculpting her unique brand of timeless songwriting, peaks and sighs of each instrumental arrangement contoured around pliable and pristine vocal stylings.

on “don’t blame it on the moon,” rose’s first offering since her 2017 debut this time last night, time seemingly stands still, a gentle acoustic guitar lilting in tandem with her lead vocal. it’s a wonderful nod towards – and embracement – of her country forebears and also serves as a sneak peek of her sophomore full-length, due out later this year.

“don’t blame it on the moon” is out now via rose’s new label home, the ever-reliable father/daughter records. take a listen below.

whitney ballen – “rainier”

– featured image courtesy of sofia lee – 

on the off-chance that whitney ballen’s previous single, “go,” left any unanswered questions about her singularity, the washington songwriter’s follow-up solidifies her status as one of the most distinctive voices to emerge this year.  “rainier,” keeping with ballen’s theme of writing an extended ode to the pacific northwest, aches with nostalgia, a transmission of longing delivered in her unmistakeable soprano.

like its predecessor, “rainier” flourishes in the build-up to and execution of its refrain; ballen’s dead-simple admission of “i wish you were here” loops as a mantra, frankly framing the antecedent anecdotes and staging the track’s soaring, melismatic concession of “i’m sorry.”  a bucolic soundscape crests as ballen stretches out that apology, receding during verses and providing mournful slide guitar swoons before sprawling out into a vast, contemplative horn-driven bridge.  these tinges of americana align with those of melancholy, echoing the wistful vestiges of familiarity and permanence in an ever-changing life.

“rainier” is the second single off of you’re a shooting star, i’m a sinking ship, which will enjoy a joint release via father/daughter records and substitute scene on august 24th.  listen in below.

whitney ballen – “go”

– featured image courtesy of sofia lee – 

whitney ballen’s debut full-length album serves as an ode to the pacific northwest; after recording two extended plays steeped in the region’s geographic imagery, the washington-based songwriter struck out for elsewhere, only to find herself waxing nostalgic about the familiar.

“go,” the lead single culled from you’re a shooting star, i’m a sinking ship, latches onto the sentiments of the larger body of work, its titular verb used again and again as a defiant command.  ballen’s lead vocal begins hushed and appears stilted, only to blossom into a soaring, crystalline sustain as the chorus arrives, its lush rolled chords sprawling out in the track’s expansive soundscape.  as “go” gallops towards its finish line, dueling guitar motifs in tow, one begins to realize that ballen’s debut might be one of the summer’s most-needed cathartic releases.

you’re a shooting star, i’m a sinking ship arrives august 24th as a collaborative effort between father/daughter records and substitute scene.  listen to “go,” below.

nadine – oh my

– featured image courtesy of ebru yildiz –

album of the fortnight” is a bi-weekly feature that digs into a recent release of note.  the articles will run roughly during the middle and at the end of each month, always on a friday; the album or body of work in question will have been released at some point during that two-week span.  this column focuses on art that resonates deeply, on pieces that necessitate more than just a knee-jerk reaction.  next up: nadine.

Collaborative projects maintained from a distance are rather commonplace in today’s musical climate, but few retain the intimacy and ingenuity of nadine.  the three-piece is the creative byproduct of nadia hulett, part of the collective phantom posse, and julian fader and carlos hernandez, both of ava luna.  though spread out across the country in different cities at different times, the trio linked up outside of austin to cut oh my, an effortless, adventurous pop exercise in the form of a debut album.

woven throughout eleven tracks are equal parts playful exploration and introspective rumination, with fader and hernandez’ arrangements fleshing out hulett’s central thesis, or pulling back to a spartan existence when the moment strikes.  few albums can turn on a dime from the swirling, ethereal drone of “that neon sign” to the polyrhythmic, polychromatic “pews,” but such is the cool collective confidence of nadine.  this about-face is perhaps most evident in miniature on penultimate cut “can’t be helped,” with hulett drawing more and more components into the texture as she gradually expounds on the main hook.

nadine oh my

three incredibly strong singles anchor oh my; “ultra pink” is a buoyant, breezy quip on nonconformity; “not my kinda movie” is a social commentary that turns on the cutting plea “tell me there’s more to you than what you like”; the aforementioned “pews” is groove-laden, folding various textures inside one another.  good thing, then, that the supporting cast of songs is not only equal in strength but also able to contextualize those singles and maximize their impact.  the fleeting finiteness of opening number “nook” seems to feed into “ultra pink,” while the spoken-word-centric “contigo” serves as a companion piece to “pews” so searing and topical that its vestiges reverberate throughout the album’s final third.

the album’s title is an appropriate exclamation upon completion of consumption.  oh my is sonically and lyrically rich, a covert operation that slowly sinks into the consciousness to leave a strong, lasting impression with many new stones to be unturned with each subsequent listen.  come for the effortless push and pull of the instrumental interlude “new step,” stick around for the sparse, introspective “little self in the garden” and everything in between, before, and after.

nadine’s debut is out today via father/daughter in the united states and memphis industries everywhere else.  stream oh my in its entirety below.

nadine – “pews”

– featured image courtesy of ebru yildiz –

the minneapolis/new york collective nadine have shared snippets of their forthcoming debut album over the past few months, but this latest one might be the most enticing yet.  “pews” finds the trio fastidiously locking in to a groove and establishing its importance for a good minute before nadia hulett’s lead vocal drops in, gliding effortlessly over the texture’s surface.

“pews” is the third single culled from nadine’s full-length, oh my, out january 26th via father/daughter records.  listen in below.

nadine – “ultra pink”

– featured image courtesy of jimmy magliozzi –

nadia hulett’s lead vocal on “ultra pink” is a cool, commanding presence; together with julian fader and carlos hernandez, who both spend time in ava luna, hulett has begun teasing new music under the guise of nadine, whose debut album oh my arrives january 26th via father/daughter records.

complementing hulett’s breezy, assured demeanor is an equally breezy electric piano motif engaging in playful banter with the track’s backbeat, adding quick flourishes in its momentary white spaces.  “ultra pink” truly blossoms as hulett’s vocals begin to layer, compounded by a descending brassy synth lead that threatens to envelope the entire soundscape.  if its lead single is any indication, oh my should be a record to watch in early 2018; stream “ultra pink” below.

listen to a new song from diet cig

photo courtesy of andrew piccone
photo courtesy of andrew piccone

there’s probably a diet cig full-length album in the works somewhere, and it’ll probably be very, very good.  in the meantime, alex luciano and noah bowman are offering up a new 7″ on the heels of their excellent debut ep over easy.  “sleep talk” b/w “dinner date” is due out on vinyl via father/daughter records and art is hard records on september 18th; we heard the a-side last month and earlier this week the duo shared “dinner date,” a surging mid-tempo anthem that culminates in luciano’s strongest vocal hook to date.  take a listen below.

listen to a new song from diet cig

photo courtesy of andrew piccone
photo courtesy of andrew piccone

new paltz duo diet cig has already rustled up one of our absolute favorite eps of this year with their debut, over easy, a release soon to be augmented by a new 7″.  “sleep talk” b/w “dinner date” is out jointly via father/daughter and art is hard on september 18th, and today the band let go of its a-side.  like its predecessors, “sleep talk” is simple and concise in construction – although the guitar’s higher end is noticeably more pronounced this time around – a foundation built to support a lyrical set from alex luciano that fluctuates between self-deprecation and hesitancy and a prevailing shoulder-shrugging, fuck-it mentality.  it’s the coda that really sells this track, though; a poignant, cyclical line delivered in half-time quickly becomes a mantra of sorts for all of the preceding fragments.  take a listen to “sleep talk” below.

soft cat – all energy will rise

soft cat all energy will rise
out april 7th via miscreant records/father daughter records

neil sanzgiri’s output at the helm of soft cat has often felt bucolic and in touch with his natural surroundings; those tenets resonate in full on his project’s latest effort, all energy will rise.  conceived from the remnants of personal tragedy, all energy will rise follows sanzgiri and his fellow musicians through a beautiful odyssey of chamber ensemble arrangements on their path to collective enlightenment.

sanzgiri and company often cycle between moments of hazy ambience and sustained periods of meticulously orchestrated counterpoint.  the ambiguity of the former could very well hold a secondary, symbolic meaning, but on record its presence seems to mark the beginning and end of cohesive musical ideas.  the first third of all energy will rise is structured around remarkable clarity and conscious melodic interplay, from sanzgiri’s vocal takes and finger-picking on “somebody” to the gradual polyphony found in “new song” all the way to the union of the two on “old song.”  the songs are a perfect execution of the camaraderie one would expect from a group identifying as a collective, but the pleasing harmonic consonance belies the darker undertones buried in this album.

there are shards of melancholy in all energy will rise, particularly in the mournful midsection that spans the masterful “diana” to the swaying “desert eyes,” but it doesn’t feel self-indulgent; it feels necessary.  it’s an inevitable, logical response to near total loss of personal livelihood, and soft cat would be remiss not to acknowledge these more plaintive feelings.

this vast chunk relies more frequently on sanzgiri’s lyrics to deliver each song’s main narrative – although the chill and sparseness of “field gap (for chris marker)” may most convincingly represent the somber nature of the album’s backstory – but its presentation doesn’t read as strictly linear.  rather, sanzgiri delves deep into the complexity of his natural surroundings and inspects their wide spectrum of impact, coming up with a narrative that reads largely as a wash, devoid of anything starkly positive or negative.  perhaps it’s this complexity that leads to the belated thesis of the album, found in its title track: a recognition that the world is bigger and more beautiful than the sum of any one individual’s parts.

all energy will rise is an album of reconciliation.  its themes move through moments of premature clarity, past the melancholic entrapments of writing about personal loss and confusion, and pushes on to firmly assert a victorious stance; there’s a level of cohesion felt on this record that is exceedingly rare.

perhaps most importantly, sanzgiri and his host of collaborators have succeeded in conveying this wealth of emotions on a purely musical level as well.  the lush string arrangements and warm brass tones gradually brim with confidence as the album progresses – though they never spill over into an artificial state of euphoria – and the moments that feel disorienting in their lack of clarity are carefully calculated bits of contrast, allowing the ensemble a fresh palate to draw upon.  for an album that is so indebted to the inner workings of the natural world, all energy will rise unfolds impressively in an appropriately organic manner; this feels like the record sanzgiri was always meant to create.

8.4/10

diet cig – over easy

diet cigdiet cig crams a lot of material into just ten minutes of music.  the new paltz duo is still green and a bit rough around the edges, but that rawness lends itself well to the bevy of emotions contained inside their over easy ep, out today via father/daughter records.

five tracks is just enough space for alex luciano to run the gamut from sarcastic to shameless to sheer loathing.  “breathless” immediately showcases her wit (“i don’t have any kitchenware / but i can walk around in my underwear / in my first apartment / where i pay so much for rent”), and while a murmuring delivery initially suggests a quaint apathy, the true dichotomy of the duo’s dynamic range is unveiled towards the end of the song.  noah bowman’s floor tom-centric drumming may be an underlying condition but luciano’s unabashed wail is the true catalyst of diet cig’s peak volume, her voice clearly piercing through an otherwise-grainy mix.

“scene sick” is the most sonically polished track on over easy, and for good reason: it contains luciano’s most relevant commentary.  besides airing her grievances pertaining to local music scenes, luciano ruthlessly takes an ex to task on “harvard” (“fuck your ivy league sweater” yelled repeatedly might be the best moment on the entire ep) and shows a similar aversion to inflated egos on “cardboard.”

diet cig sets the bar at just the right height with over easy.  the tempo rarely fluctuates from song to song, easily allowing a cohesive enjoyment of the ep and a general understanding of what the duo stands for.  like almost any act dabbling in pop-punk, diet cig does not abstain from poop references (see: “pool boyz”) nor from taking swipes at exes, but the meat of luciano’s lyrical content is so gloriously tongue-in-cheek and ridiculously on-point that those juvenile transgressions are somehow even more amusing in contrast.  new paltz has been an interesting microcosm of the east coast music scene for some time now, and diet cig only adds to the intrigue.  block out twenty minutes for over easy.

7.9/10