Best known as the frontman and founding member of the acclaimed Austin, TX-based psych rock act and JOVM mainstays The Black Angels — and a member of acclaimed psych rock supergroup MIEN, Alex Maas will be stepping out into the spotlight as a solo artist with the release of his full-length debut Luca.
Named for Maas’ firstborn child, Luca, which means “bringer of light,” the Mass and Brett Orrison co-produced album, which is slated for a December 4, 2020 release through Innovative Leisure was a long time coming — with some of its material dating back almost a decade and put together piece-by-piece over the course of a couple of years. Centered around a much gentler, contemplative take on psychedelia, Luca is a decided sonic departure from Maas’ best known work, showcasing what Maas says “a whole different part of gym brain.”
“I wanted to go someplace musically that I’ve never gone before,” Maas continues. Thematically, the album is driven by the nature and quiet of Maas’ home state and by his meditations about his son, his future, the often frightening world he was born in and how to navigate through the perils and frustrations of modern society. Interestingly, the album’s first single “Been Struggling” is a dreamy and shuffling waltz, centered around strummed guitar, shimmering pedal steel and Maas’ imitable falsetto that sonically nods at the melancholy psychedelia of Scott Walker and the classic Nashville sound. Instead of the menace, madness and darkness of his best known work, “Been Struggling” is a pensive meditation on memory, fate and loss from the perspective of a narrator, who has lived a messy and drama fueled life.
With the release of their full-length debut 2017’s Ojaiá, (Spanish for “hopefully” or “God willing”) to critical praise, the members of Lost Horizons — Cocteau Twins’ and Bella Union Records label head Simon Raymonde (bass. guitar, keys, production) and Dif Juz’s Richie Thomas (drums, keys, guitar) — ended a 20+ year hiatus from creating music. “These days, we need hope more than ever, for a better world,” Thomas said in press notes at the time. “And this album has given me a lot of hope. To reconnect with music . . . And the hope for another Lost Horizons record!”
The world has gotten even worse. And the possibility of a better world seems — at this moment, at least — increasingly dim. Our political, economic and social systems are in the middle of a slow-burning collapse while entire sections of the world have burned down However, one small portion of Thomas’ hopes have been fulfilled: Raymonde and Thomas will be releasing a new album, In Quiet Moments. Adding to overall sense of doom, fear, heartache and tragedy, as Raymonde and Thomas were about to buckle down and craft the largely improvised instrumental bedrock of the new album’s material, Raymonde’s mother died.
Raymonde threw himself into his work as a way to channel his grief. “The way improvisation works,” he says, “it’s just what’s going on with your body at the time, to let it out.” The duo forged ahead crafting 16 instrumental tracks that they eventually sent to an eclectic array of guest vocalists including Ural Thomas, Penelope Isles’ Jack Wolter, The Hempolics Nubiya Brandon, Tim Smith, Gemma Dunleavy, the innocence mission’s Karen Petts, Horse Thief’s Cameron Neal, Marissa Nadler, Porridge Radio’s Dana Margolin, John Grant, Ballet School’s Rosie Blair, Penelope Isles’ Lily Wolter (as her solo recording project KookieLou) and an impressive list of others. When they sent the instrumental tracks to their then-prospective guest vocalists, Raymonde suggested a guiding theme for their lyrics: “Death and rebirth. Of loved ones, of ideals, at an age when many artists that have inspired us are also dead, and the planet isn’t far behind. But I also said, ‘The most important part is to just do your own thing, and have fun.”
During the writing and recording process, COVID-19 paralyzed and frightened the entire world. And while about half of the album’s lyrics were written in the middle of pandemic-related lockdowns, Raymonde in particular, saw a silver lining: people were slowing down and taking stock of their lives. Having heard a lyric written by the aforementioned Ural Thomas, Raymonde singled out one phrase “in quiet moments” and thought it would be the perfect album title. “It just made sense,” he says. “This moment of contemplation in life is really beautiful.”
While generally centered around loss, the album’s material is more specifically tied to hope — and as a result, the album is more about rebirth than death. “I think it’s more joyous than Ojalá,” Thomas says. “But both albums have a great energy about them.” That shouldn’t be surprising as both Lost Horizons albums find the duo and their various collaborators undulating across a dizzying array of moods and voices. In Quiet Moments’ latest single, the lush “Cordelia.” Centered around atmospheric synths, some gorgeous steel pedal guitar from David Rothon, elegant strings from Fiona Brice, paired with John Grant’s layered and brooding vocals, the song is a painterly (and brooding) meditation on the passing of time, the changing of seasons and of loss — but with the tacit understanding and acceptance of the fact that all things are transient.
“This was one of the last tracks recorded for the album, though it came from the ashes of one the first improv sessions Richie (Thomas) and I had,” Raymonde explains in press notes. “Listening back to what we started with, I jettisoned the drums and most of the guitars but salvaged a small part of it and turned it into something brand new. Then I had the amazing David Rothon, who I had seen play live with Marissa Nadler a few nights before — and long-time collaborator Fiona Brice add pedal steel and strings respectively. Sitting quietly in the studio with our spacey slice of instrumental swirl, I closed my eyes to imagine a voice. While much of his recent work involves synths and crunchy beats, how he magnificently handles cinematic melancholy in his own work, and specifically in the Scott Walker Prom for the BBC, I knew my dear friend John Grant would nail this. I hoped he might enjoy the freedom of creating some melodic magic alongside elegant emotional lyrics. I sent him the piece, aware that he is always so incredibly busy, and tried to keep my expectations low, in case he had to turn it down, but to my utter and continuing delight he said yes and I’ll have to admit to shedding a tear or two when he sent me back the completed vocal a few weeks later.”
John Grant adds, “I really loved doing this track with Simon. I’d had the idea for this song for a long time and when he sent me the instrumental, I immediately thought: ‘CORDELIA’ – so happy to have found such a beautiful home for this track!”
In Quiet Moments is slated for for a two part release through Bella Union. The first part will be released on December 4, 2020. The second part will be released on February 26, 2021 with the physical release of the entire album.
Los Angeles-based duo Peel is a new collaboration between multi-instrumentalist and visual artist Sean Cimino and multi-instrumentalist and producer Isom Innis. The project can trace its origins to a month-long recording session the duo held at Innis’ concrete loft above the The Orpheum Theatre. The loft’s cavernous space, which once held fleets of sewing machines thrumming and humming served as the perfect setting for musical experimentation through drums, amps and modular synthesizers.
Last month, I wrote about Peel’s debut single “Rom-Com,” which interestingly enough, was the first song that Innis and Cimino wrote together. Centered around shimmering synth arpeggios, a woozy guitar solo and a hypnotic, motorik groove, the track may remind some listeners of Gary Numan and Antics-era Interpol to mind while thematically focusing on the difficulty of finding one’s existential footing in the cyclical information spiral. Building upon the attention they’ve received for “Rom-Com” and “Catch and Release,” Innis’ and Cimino’s third and latest single “Citizen X” is an atmospheric and meditative track, featuring shimmering synth arpeggios, a slow-burning groove, stuttering beats, shoegazer-like guitar lines played through delay and reverb pedals paired with a soaring hook and plaintive vocals that reminds me of The Veldt and Cocteau Twins but with a subtle hip-hop nod. “Citizen X” may arguably be the most cinematic leaning track off the duo’s soon-to-be released self-titled, full-length debut, which is slated for an October 16, 2020 release through Innovative Leisure. And interestingly enough, the track appears on EA Sports’ FIFA 2K21 Soundtrack.
“’Citizen X’ was an outlier to our usual stream of conscious lyric writing process— the framework began more conceptually,” Peel’s Isom Innis explain in press notes. “It has a tongue in cheek tone and is coming from a disillusioned place. Originally, it was a slower shoe-gaze inspired track, but Sean had the idea to re-imagine it, speed it up and really emphasize the groove and treat the guitar more like Robin Guthrie [Cocteau Twins].”
Originally formed in Madison, WI and currently based in Chicago, the rising indie act Slow Pulp — Emily Massey (vocals, guitar), Alexander Leeds (bass), Theodore Matthews (drums) and Henry Stoehr (guitar) — will be releasing their highly-anticipated full-length debut Moveys, which features attention-grabbing singles “At It Again,” “Idaho,” and “Falling Apart” Friday through Winspear Records.
Initially taking shape while the members of the band toured with Alex G last year, the band scrapped an album’s worth of material after Emily Massey was diagnosed with Lyme Disease and chronic Mono. What the band eventually worked on and finished wound up being a testament to hard-fought personal growth and persistence during remarkably difficult times: Massey’s parents were in a severe car accident about a week before pandemic-related shutdowns began. And as a result, the album’s material is centered around blistering energy, emotional catharsis and the resourcefulness to complete the album when the world feels like it’s ending.
Moveys fourth and latest single is the slow-burning and shimmering “Montana.” Centered around jangling guitars, gentle blasts of gorgeous and twangy slide guitar, soulful harmonica and Massey’s achingly plaintive vocals. And while being a decidedly, 120 Minutes MTV alt rock, Sunday afternoon sort of single, the track is actually a deeply self-reflective track rooted in personal experience. “This song is about moving beyond defining myself in terms of my mental health. I’ve been working through this over the last couple of years and this song is a reflection of this process and where I am now,” the band’s Emily Massey explains. “‘Montana’ was the first song we finished recording for the album. Henry’s early demo was kind of heavy and distorted, and when we went to play it together for the first time, it came out a lot slower and cleaner. Our friend Willie Christianson wrote and recorded the slide guitar and harmonica parts.”
Tyson O’Brien is a rising Aussie electronic music producer and DJ, best known in electronic circles as Generik. Since relocating to Los Angeles, O’Brien has been rather prolific: 2018 saw him craft a piano house driven remix of Halsey’s “Bad at Love,” and a vibey remix of Dillion Francis’ “Hello There.” O’Brien has also landed a couple of ARIA Club Chart #1’s with “The Weekend” feat. Nicky Van She, “Late at Night,” “So High,” and “Be There” feat. A*M*E. Each of those singles have done well on the Shazam, Spotify Australia and Spotify US viral charts.
Last year, the Aussie producer released the “You Do You” series, which further showcased his classic house inspired sound and approach. And keeping with a busy schedule and growing profile, Generik had ongoing residencies at Ibiza’s Pacha, Las Vegas’ Omnia Nightlcub and Bali’s Omnia Dayclub and others.
“Need U,” Generik’s latest single finds him teaming up with British upstart Fourcès on a sun-kissed and euphoric bit of classic house centered around twinkling piano arpeggios, thumping beats, a soulful vocal sample and an enormous hook. Sonically, the track reminds me of Octo Octa’s Between Both Sides, as it possesses a sinuous and sultry quality — while being incredibly crowd pleasing.
Led by Jon Panic, the Sydney, Australia-based roots reggae and dub act Black Bird Hum have spent the past four years touring across the continent, becoming a rising name in the Aussie reggae and festival scene. And although “My Side” is their first single released through Denver-based funk and soul label Color Red, the Aussie band’s connection to the label runs very deep: Jeff Reis (drums) had spent 15 years playing in Denver‘s scene, performing with labelmates ATOMGA during that band’s formative years before relocating to Sydney.
Centered around fluttering flute, a sinuous and two-step inducing groove, twinkling keys and laid-back riddims, Little Green’s sultry vocals and an infectious horn line composed by Greg Chilcott (trumpet), “My Side” is the band’s homage to some of their favorite artists — Roots Radics, Gregory Isaacs, and Hollie Cook but with a modern take. Developed and honed over months of touring. “My Side” is a road tested song that feels both modern and timeless as it tells an age-old tale of good love gone horribly and confusingly wrong. Most of us have been there and have reflected on what was, what could have been and what happened with a vivid preciseness. The B side is a classic and very trippy dub mix that further emphasizes that deep and sinuous two-step groove with reverb-drenched everything. Listening to the dub mix is an enveloping trip into groove, if you dig what I’m saying?
“The groove got it all started, the horn line kept it going, and then Little Green (Amy) singing over the top was all we needed to know it was our next release.,” Black Bird Hum’s Jon Panic says of their latest single. “All our songs are fun live, but this pocket is probably the best to drop into. It’s a nod to all of our favorite reggae artists and the mad grooves they’ve given us.”
Portland, OR-based The Parson Red Heads — currently Evan Way (guitar, vocals), Brette Marie Way (drums, vocals), Robbie Augspurger (bass), Raymond Richards (multi-instrumentalist, production), the band’s newest member Jake Smith (guitar) and a rotating cast of friends, collaborators and associates — can trace their origins back to when its founding members met while attending college in Eugene OR back in 2004, studying for degrees that as the band’s Evan Way once joked “never used or even completed.”
The members of the then newly formed Parson Red Heads spent the next year writing songs and rehearsing constantly. “We would rehearse in the living room of my house for hours and hours until my roommates would be driven crazy — writing songs and playing them over and over again, and generally having as much fun as a group of people can have,” Way fondly recalls. “We weren’t sure if we were very good, but we were sure that there was a special bond growing between us, a chemistry that you didn’t find often.”
In 2006, the band relocated to Los Angeles, with the hopes that they would take music seriously and become a real band. The members of the band moved into and shared a one bedroom apartment in West Los Angeles. “Eventually the population of our 1 bedroom ballooned to 7 — all folks who played in our band at that point, too,” Way says of the band’s early days in Southern California. The Parson Red Heads quickly became mainstays in a growing, 60s-inspired folk and psych folk scene primarily based in Los Angeles’ Silverlake and Echo Park sections. “We played every show we could lay our collective hands on, which turned out to be a lot of shows. We must have played 300+ shows in our first two years in L.A. . . . . We practiced non-stop and wrote a ton of songs, and eventually recorded our debut album King Giraffe at a nice little studio in Sunland, with the help of our friends Zack and Jason,” Way recalls.
After the release of King Giraffe, The Parson Red Heads spent the next three years writing new material and touring, which eventually resulted in their sophomore album, 2011’s Yearling. The album was partially recorded at Los Angeles-based studio Red Rockets Glare with Raymond Richards, who had then joined the band to play pedal steel and in North Carolina at Fidelitorium with The dB’s Chris Stamey. After finishing the album, the members of the band decided to quit their day jobs and give up their apartments to go on a lengthy tour with their friends Cotton Jones. After the tour was completed, they relocated to Portland.
With their first two albums, the band had developed a reputation for performing an uninhabited live show, in which they could easily morph from earnest folk to ass-kicking rock anthems with their sound and approach being inspired by The Byrds, Teenage Fanclub, Big Star, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and Jackson Browne. Interestingly, with the band’s third album 2013’s Orb Weaver, the band desired to capture the energy and sound of their live sound. “We’re always made records that were more thought-out,” Way says of Orb Weaver.
2017’s Blurred Harmony found the JOVM mainstays actively intending to do things much differential than their previously released work — with the band recording and tracking themselves. They would set up drums and amps and furiously record Blurred Harmony‘s material after everyone put their kids to sleep, finishing that day’s session before it got too late. And as a result, Way says “the record is more a true part of us than any record we have made before — we put ourselves into it, made ourselves fully responsible for it. Even the themes of the songs are more personal than ever — it’s an album dealing with everything that has come before. It’s an album about nostalgia, about time, change, about the hilarious, wonderful, bittersweet, sometimes sad, always incredible experience of living. Sometimes it is about regret or the possibility of regret. These are big topics, and to us, it is a big album, yet somehow still intimate and honest.”
After the release of Blurred Harmony, the band’s founding member Sam Fowles left the band, and the members of the band were forced to ask themselves tough questions about both the future of the band and its creative direction. The remaining founding members recruited touring guitarist Jake Smith to join the band full-time, and then they decided to approach any new material with a completely new lens. Slated for a November 13, 2020 release through their longtime label homes Fluff and Gravy Records across North America and You Are The Cosmos across Europe, The Parson Red Heads’ fifth album Lifetime of Comedy reportedly finds the band excavating the bedrock of their well-honed sound and allowing it to be remolded. While remaining a quintessentially Parson Red Heads album, the material as Way contends in press notes are the most collaborative they’ve written and recorded to date.
Initially starting the recording of Lifetime of Comedy earlier this year, The Parson Red Heads quickly found themselves and their plans in limbo as a result of pandemic-related lockdowns and quarantines. And once studios could reopen, sessions continued at a snail’s place for small, very intimate sessions. With the material being recorded in a delicate, touch and go period, the album’s material seems to be deeply informed by a sense of perseverance and hope.
Earlier this month, I wrote about “All I Wanted,” Lifetime of Comedy‘s first single was classic Parson Red Heads — a breezy yet carefully and thoughtfully crafted song centered around shimmering guitars, twangy steel pedal. rousing sing-a-long choruses, saccharine bursts of multi-part harmonies, Evan Way’s plaintive vocals and incredibly earnest lyricism, born of lived-in experiences. And while superficially sounding as though it could have easily been part of the Blurred Harmony sessions, the track possessed a subtly free-flowing, jammier vibe, that evokes the sensation of longtime friends creating something new with a revitalized sense of togetherness. Interestingly, Lifetime of Comedy‘s second and latest single “Turn Around” is a shimmering and heartfelt declaration of devotion but unlike its predecessor, it sound as though it were influenced by classic 80s and early 90s jangle pop, complete with soaring organs. It’s the sort of sweet and timeless love song that’s deceptively simple yet absolutely necessary. Sometimes all that ever needs to be said to our loved ones is “I’ll be always there.”
“‘Turn Around’ started as a lot of the songs I’ve been writing these days do – as a half-jibberish sung melody line, sung into my phone’s voice memo while driving,” The Parson Red Heads’ frontman Evan Way explains in press notes. “It stayed in that form for a good year before I found it, dusted it off, and brought it to the band. This song is a testament to the strength of the bands collaborative writing on this album. Everyone’s parts are so integral to the song’s small and simple beauty. It’s a simple love song, the lyrics a statement of devotion – in many ways, it is like a classic old Parson Red Heads song, in both theme and sound, but it has this element of The La’s or The Charlatans in it that I just love. And Raymond (Richards, multi-instrumentalist and producer) was able to help us get such a great mix of guitar sounds, 12-strings, Nashville strung electric – a great balance of being lush without being over-crowded.”
Cape Town, South Africa-based singer/songwriter, actress and poet Chantel Van T is best known in her homeland as the frontwoman of the space rock act Diamond Thug — but she recently stepped out into the spotlight as a solo artist with the release of her full-length debut Nicalochan, which was released earlier this month.
“Petrichor,” Nicalochan‘s third and latest single is a cinematic and brooding track centered around twinkling keys, shimmering and reverb-drenched guitars, persistent drumming and reverb-drenched percussion that sounds as though it could easily be part of a David Lynch soundtrack — but interestingly enough, as the song’s title suggests, the song evokes the cleansing smell of rain on the ground, of wet earth and wet leaves, and of trying to find one’s way out — of the city, of one’s burden’s, of one’s struggles and towards something new and uncertain.
The song was written after a big storm while recording in Berlin. “The lights were dim and the skies were still grey but there was a stillness in the air and there I was reminiscing of being in nature after such a downpour. ‘Nothing like bare earth showing off its bursts,'” Chantel Van T recalls in press notes.
Acclaimed Kigali, Rwanda-based folk act The Good Ones — co-lead singer Janvier Hauvgimana, co-lead singer and primary songwriter Adrien Kazigira and Javan Mahoro — can trace their origins back to roughly 1978 when the founding members of the band were children. Hauvgimana’s older brother taught them music — and they’ve been writing and playing together ever since. Starting off a long list of heartbreaking tragedies and unthinkable horrors, Hauvgimana’s older, who was also blind, later died in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
The members of The Good Ones formed the band as part of the healing process after the genocide and interestingly enough, the band’s original trio featured individual members of each of Rwanda’s three tribes — Tutsi, Hutu and Abatwa — symbolically and metaphorically reuniting a country that had been split apart at its seams. But on a personal level, for each of the band’s founding members, the band was an active attempt to seek out “the good ones” after witnessing and enduring unthinkable horrors.
Most of the members of the band are small plot, subsistence farmers — with two of the band’s members living on family plots that have been passed down through several generations. Because most Rwandans are very poor, instruments are very rare. And yet, they find creative ways to play and create music: Sometimes they may find and use a broken guitar. But in most cases, they’ll make their own instruments, sometimes incorporating their farm tools.
Last year, the Rwandan folk act released their critically applauded album Rwanda, You Should Be Loved through Anti- Records. The album was written and recorded during periods of profound loss and heartbreak for their producer: Adrien Kazigira’s 13 year-old Marie Claire had a life-threatening tumor that afflicted her left eye. Producer Ian Brennan’s mother and a former bandmember and founding member had both died during the sessions. The album was recorded in a very simple fashion without overdubs at Kazigira’s family farm — and thematically, the album focused on their experiences and lives. Although, written and sung in their native tongue, their work has drawn comparisons to bluegrass, country, Americana and acoustic Mississippi Delta Blues as it talks about the plight of their fellow farmers, their countrymen and off working men everywhere struggling to get by as best as they can.
“Soccer (Summer 1988)” is the first bit of new material from the act since last year’s Rwanda, You Are Loved. Much like all of their work, the song was recorded at Kazigira’s family farm — without overdubs. Centered around a deceptively simple yet mesmerizing arrangement of plucked acoustic guitar and a milk jug filled with milk from Kazigira’s prized cow for percussion, the band’s founding duo effortlessly interweave intricate and achingly earnest harmonies. Fittingly, the song is an end-of-summer song — a tale of of nostalgia for Rwanda’s beloved soccer club Rayon Sports F.C. in the more innocent days before the 1994 genocide, which later claimed some of the club’s players and countless fans. And as a result, the song is an acknowledgment of time passing, the prerequisite losses of time and a longing for when things were as simple as going to a soccer game and rooting for your beloved club with friends, family, coworkers and others. Other than memories, you can never get that back. But we push on as we always do.
With the release of Out in the Dark, the Israeli-born, Paris-based psych rock singer/songwriter and producer MAGON quickly established a unique sound, which he has described as urban rock on psychedelics. Over the course of this past year, I wrote about two of the album’s released singles — the incredibly self-aware and introspective, The Strokes-like “My Reflection” and the David Bowie and T. Rex-like “Same House.”
The Israeli-born, Paris-based singer/songwriter and producer’s latest single “Change” is the first bit of new material since the release of Out in the Dark, and the track is a shimmering and lo-fi bit of psych pop with a subtle nod at glam rock — with the song being centered around shimmering strummed guitar, narcotic drumming, MAGON’s droll, ironically detached vocals and trippy reverb and other fluttering percussion. But at its core, the song is a dreamy meditation on the passing of time, inspired by a year, which saw a number of sea changes in his personal life.