I don’t often post contemporary album reviews on the Rumble, but when I get offers of review copies of Jen Gloeckner records on vinyl I must reconsider. If you’re confident enough to splurge for the vinyl shipping costs, this is something that deserves a listen. Now that I’m spinning vinyl, it fits my page’s modus. So let’s continue.
Iowa’s Jen Gloeckner understands something that most artists can’t quite grasp. Pace and patience. Beware the record that opens with its best offering and follows with a steadily declining parade of grandstanders. For whatever reason, album construction hasn’t fully freed the shackles of the listening post. Ahh, yes. Recall the days when a music stores stuck towers or walls of headphones at the front of the store, ensnaring passersby with the allure of fantastic new music? Before the days of Spotify and streaming and unlimited access, listening posts were just about the only way to indiscriminately sample a new album. I also had a love affair with Blockbuster Music, who allowed you to sample any record in the store, but that is a reminiscence for another bl-g post.
Vine opens without fireworks, the album’s titular track lays downtempo groundwork with an electronic landscape. Digital seagulls, a sea breeze, Gloeckner’s sultry vocal bandwidth. It’s a perfect tease, something more than an intro but less than those listening post thumpers that hoped you didn’t listen beyond three songs. Gloeckner brought me back to the late 1990’s when trip-hop, breakbeat, and acid jazz ruled my 25-disc CD changer. We could also discuss the patently absurd “post-trip hop” categorization, but I’ll refrain from that micro-genre nonsense.
Sample Morcheeba’s “Big Calm” for a reminder of what 1998 sounded like:
The music of Massive Attack, Morcheeba, Lamb, and Tricky didn’t disappear; like most other sneakily-influential genre movements it become assimilated into pop music as prominent artists like Madonna, Janet Jackson and U2 claimed it in the name of progress. Radiohead perfected the merger. With the exception of perhaps Massive Attack, original artists slipped further into the underground. Albums like Doprah’s otherworldly Wasting from 2016 prove a receptive audience remains for downtempo music featuring scattered bpms, sampling, electronic layers and ethereal vocals.
On Vine, Gloeckner’s third full-length LP, she severs her already tenuous ties to the traditional singer-songwriter genre. 2010’s Mouth of Mars experimented with jazz and layered production. A standout track on that album, “Trip,” takes on all the elements of trip-hop without the otherworldly sheen that comes part and parcel with the inorganic roots of the electronics and sampling.
But back to pace and patience. Vine fully asserts its on “Firefly (War Dance)” — the trance instrumental second track on the album — by barging through the door with a tribal soundscape that would have slipped nicely into the backdrop Massive Attack’s Blue Lines. It’s not until the following cut, “Breathe,” that Gloeckner drops Vine‘s thesis statement. Muffled female orgasm, uneven drum machine cadence, synth, and droning guitar that tests the shoegaze temperature before scaling back to white noise.
Gloeckner seems less confident in the dream-pop entries “Ginger Ale” and “The Last Thought” that anchor the middle of the record. Amiable confections that fail to rise to the weight or evoke the same emotional resonance. This segment requires some pace and patience from the listener. Vine‘s pendulum begins its return on “Blowing Through,” a loopy woodwind and string-laden waltz that foregrounds some “Enchantment Under the Sea” romanticism.
Vine finishes as strong as it opens. Starting with “Counting Sheep” the second half of the record ebbs and flows, successfully weaving what the press release calls a “Twin Peaks vibe” with ambience, progressive guitar work, electronics, and even the strains of Americana that dominated Gloeckner’s early work. The wonderfully trippy “Prayers” and the AM radio “Sold” stand out as B-side highlights.
Either this is an artist that finally tapped into her wavelength or she’s placed her trust in muse-like producers with clarity of vision. Perhaps both. Producer Brian McTear has worked with Sharon Van Etten, Marissa Nadler and War on Drugs, and a certain relative retrospective throughline can be heard in all of these acts. Contemporary fans will hear Lana Del Rey (with a slightly less bombastic, more controlled vocal range) while others, like me, will be transported back to a time when trip-hop soundtracked our lives.
Perfecting the atmosphere of a record is a tricky thing. Jen Gloeckner may not have quite defibrillated the genre of Mazzy Star, Morcheeba or Lamb on Vine, but she did the next thing. She reminded us that the threads of their music remain vibrant and relevant. She also reminded us that proper pace and patience require attention and that that investment amply rewards.
Woke up today. To everything gray. And all that I saw just kept going on and on.
What a weird day. Thwarted attempt to be productive followed by another thwarted attempt. Had a tremendous banter going with the guy at Goodwill that almost fell over when I handed him my old boat anchor receiver. Road closed. Road closed. Errands finally done, I journeyed to the coffee shop and in order to embrace the chaos I ordered a latte. The barista wanted to check my temperature. In all the years I’ve known this guy I’ve never ordered a drink with milk other than a cortado.
30Hz New Music Radar: Methyl Ethel – Everything is Forgotten
A thing I regret from 2016: not fully embracing Methyl Ethel.
This dream-pop substrate filters all manner of music through the smooth as a river pebbles delivery. A glimpse of grunge here. A trickle of shoegaze there. Psych-rock hidden behind salmon. What’s with the river analogy anyway?
At times reminiscent of the MGMT transition record that should have happened between Oracular Spectacular and Congratulations. Sneaky Tame Impala. Less trippy than Floyd. And especially Laser Floyd, which by the way should be viewed sober and maybe not at all. Just a public service announcement.
Dream-pop is not a dirty word. Great dream-pop transcends. It elevates and upflits, shepherds us through the days that we can’t go straight to 2:00am with whiskey and Tom Waits. Methyl Ethel has released two damn fine albums in two years, and it’s time to jump on the bandwagon before your Grouplove-liking work acquaintance starts asking if you’ve heard “Ethel Methyl” cuz they’re “pretty solid.”
Sample tracks: Ubu, Femme Maison/One Man House, Weeds Through the Rind
Welcome to February 17th. It’s pretty much President’s Day Eve already. If hearing President’s Day Eve doesn’t feel sobering, I congratulate you on being a stone-cold rock in a hail-storm. But about the music.
I’m scrapped for time, but seeing as how I’m trying to be consistent in recommending top-notch tunes week after week after week I can’t take Week 4 off. Maybe Week 12 but not Week 4. Especially considering that I’ve spent most of the day with headphones in my ears and half-listening to everyone around me. It would be a disservice to everyone I’ve ignored today if I didn’t post my new release findings.
As always, music fans, share good music. It’s one of our few pure joys, a renewable resource of life blood and energy. Music, you guys. #NotSoDeepThoughts
30Hz New Music Radar: Maggie Rogers – Now That the Light is Fading EP
Maggie Rogers teased us last year with the song “Alaska.” Just the one song. Something to whet our whistles. And just like that first sip of whiskey, we shuddered. Not the bad kind of shudder. The good kind. The kind that just gets us acquainted with this new, bold flavor. But that’s all we had — that first sip.
Today, Maggie Rogers released an LP. So it’s not a full glass; it’s a larger sample. A fingerfull, perhaps. And it’s as good as we hoped. Her bio suggests a merging of folk, dance, pop, whatever. These bios don’t do anyone justice. Maggie Rogers has soul. No. She has SOUL. Singer/songwriters more often than not could be lumped into categories like “pleasant” or “cloying” or “annoying.” It’s all too easy to dismiss their output as ephemeral twee. Not so with Maggie Rogers. Unless I’m unfairly falling over myself about five tracks, Maggie Rogers is one of the most exciting young artists in music.
Legend has it that Maggie Rogers wrote her breakout hit “Alaska” about a hiking trip in college with Pharrell Williams… in under 15 minutes. Legend also has it that Pharrell was moved to tears after first hearing the track. Those legends are tricky things.
Let’s boil Maggie Rogers down. She’s a banjo-laced electro-soulstress and you should listen to everything she’s ever released, which will take you all of 17 minutes.
Welcome to February 10th of the year we all turned to Tom Waits and whiskey for comfort.
Our psychological well being has taken a hit, but our attention to new music doesn’t have to. Good music, in fact, is the thing we all desperately need. I sift through the dozens of new releases each week trying to find you a few albums worth your time so you don’t have to sift through all the riff raff for that one record that hits your own personal frequency.
Many of you have asked about my evaluation methods. Okay, nobody has asked. But I’ll tell you anyway.
“Surely you can’t listen to all of these records in one day!”
Indeed. That would be impossible. I sample tracks 2, 4 and 7 on each record. If I like what I hear then I go back for more.
“Why 2, 4 and 7?”
Based on a scientific study — me listening to records all my life — tracks 2, 4 and 7 provide the best cross-section of any album. Go ahead. Try it on your favorites. Track #1 is showy. It’s meant to be ear candy. Or it’s meant to be an introduction. Either way, it’s not helpful. Tracks #2 or #4 are almost always the money track. #7 is the B-side sample. If there’s a hidden gem on the flipside, odds are it’s #7.
“Doesn’t this mean you also miss some good stuff?”
No more questions.
Stay tuned for more riveting 30Hz Q & A in future installment of New Music Radar.
30Hz New Music Radar: Jesca Hoop – Memories Are Now
Imagine if Alice Liddel of Lewis Carroll’s novels Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Alice, Through the Looking Glass performed art-pop as an indie singer-songwriter.
I’ve been a big Jesca Hoop fan since her 2010 debut Hunting My Dress. Her sophomore record Kismet became an essential record and goddammit just buy her stuff. I’m ecstatic to announce Memories Are Now as my Radar pick for this week.
At first listen, take in the face-value pop sensibility. Off-kilter and somewhat askew, but still inherently pleasurable. With your second listen, dig deeper — immerse yourself in the layers of orchestration as they rise and fall, teasing minimalism, and how her voice plays in and around the cadence of her songs. Memories Are Now resists easy interpretation. Not as accessible as Hunting My Dress or Kismet, it challenges the listener, at least at first. Stay here awhile, it says. Linger here. Come down the rabbit hole.
Partake of the Eat Me cake and the Drink Me potion. You’ll be glad you did.
Sample tracks:Memories of Now, The Lost Sky, and Songs of Old
Another rotten week of the upside-down. But at least we have Besty Devos. God save you, Betsy, for giving us all hope. Hope that in this brave new world, nobody is unqualified for any job. Like just today I decided I’d become Nickelback’s new tour manager. One would have though that my well-documented tweets about how Nickelback’s music causes hemorrhaging in deaf children would have precluded me for consideration! But thanks to Betsy Devos, I’m convinced that my constant attempts to undermine the terror that Nickelback has brought to the general populace in now way prevents me from becoming the person most in charge of Nickelback’s career. In fact, before coming here to tell you about some amazing new music (that’s not made by Nickelback), I stopped over at LinkedIn to declare my candidacy for the position.
And when I get the job, for which I’m totally qualified, I’ll have to stop writing all this nonsense and start on my memoir — On the Road with Nickelback: Aural Regurgitation and the Blood of Bleeding Baby Brains.
Anyway, while we wait for that, let’s check back in with the New Music Radar. This was supposed to be the week we all got time to digest the handful of solid records that came out last week. But what ho?!? No rest for the weary. The first week of February has offered up a trio of records that require your attention.
Sampha’s first full-length LP Process had been on my list of most anticipated records of 2017 after his track “Blood On Me” stormed onto my Best of 2016 list. Sampha Sisay — singer/songwriter, keyboardist and go-to producer for Drake and Beyonce — blends pop and R&B with subtle, almost seamless electronic production. His soundscapes envelop the listener, yet his vocals are present but largely unremarkable. They hover in a narrow but well-trodden band of traditional, breathy soul singers. That would normally be a criticism, but Sampha uses this predictability to his advantage. Note how he uses his upper range on “Blood On Me” to shake the listener’s cobwebs of complacency, inspiring a “call to action” or more appropriately a call to intent. Conscious music appreciation relies on intent. To be present and accountable. Divided attentions account for the majority of our listening. Which is why I’ve returned to vinyl as my preferred listening source.
After “Blood On Me” switch gears and sample stripped-down Sampha on “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano.” It’s a moving portrait of family and nostalgia. He again uses his upper range to float his chorus along with the notes on the piano before again bringing both down a level for the verse.
Just when you think you’ve got the artist pinned down midway through the record, he increases the electronic production, adding blips and bloops for tracks that would likely normally linger as tossaway B-sides on a lesser record. The more overt production causes the listener to adjust and recondition. Process grounds the listen, reminds of the importance of intent and consideration. It will no doubt hang on to become one of the finest records of 2017.
Sample tracks:Blood On Me, (No One Knows Me) Like the Piano, Incomplete Kisses
We’re living in a world of the waking nightmare. We can’t wake up. It won’t go away. The upside-down time. The boogie-monster in the emperor’s clothes continues to disassemble forward progress. If we keep marching backward, slipping against time, we’ll soon be back in the 1950’s. And as much as that thought haunts me… at least there’ll be good music. I could see all of those original icons of jazz up close with a glass of gin in hand. We could witness the birth of rock and roll, like Marty McFly. Believe in harmony. Believe in the power of time travel to fix all that ills us. We’re in the future with the Gray’s Sports Alamanac.
Silver linings, I suppose.
I had this week marked as a prime-choice release week. January 27th did not disappoint. Though I found myself facing four fantastic records, all worth your time and needing to pick just one. And quite honestly, I’m still digesting some other releases that weren’t even on my radar at all. Those sleeper picks that will reveal themselves as the year carries on, ceaselessly.
Julie Byrne is a bit of an anomaly. A singer-songwriter with bombastic, breathy range. She can scar and she can heal simultaneously. One minute she’ll drop down into fragile, seductive Julie London come-hitherness before pulling herself gradually up, up, up, hope breaking through the haze of modern disillusion and moral distrust. The power of her voice overcomes, a fragile warble warm enough to remind you that she’s indeed a human folk singer and not an ethereal being waiting for her call back to her mothership docked in the Horesehead Nebula.
I cannot recommend this record more highly — which is why I’m placing this record at the top of your listening pile. Ahead of the new Cloud Nothings (which disappointed), ahead of the new Japandroids (which did not), ahead of — yes, indeed, the new Bell Biv Devoe (which just exists and that’s pretty cool).
Julie Byrne will seduce you. When you fall in love and stop listening to other records, I’m sorry.
Sample tracks:Follow My Voice, I Live Now As a Singer, All the Land Glimmered