LEY LINES Ley Lines, March 2024 By James Gui · April 02, 2024

As techno is folded into Berlin’s intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO, the opposition of technology to tradition seems to be coming apart. This month’s roundup of musical memories and traditions also speak to that blurring of boundaries, moving through cybernetic Sufi, Irish, and American music before arriving at virtuosic solo buzuq from Lebanon, with detours through Chinese avant-folk, Brazilian esotericism, and tried-and-true indie folk.

HJirok
Hjirok

Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP

On Hjirok, Kurdish singer Hani Mojtahedy joins forces with Mouse on Mars producer Andi Toma to recontextualize Sufi percussion and setar melodies with electronic glitches and ambient interludes. “Yahu” melds dubwise bass with tabla polyrhythms, Mojtahedy singing trance-inducing microtones against a lurching beat. “Tehran,” however, combines multiple field recordings, beginning with a percussion solo around which ululations, muffled conversations, and traffic noise weave together in a rich portrait of urban life.

Li Yilei
NONAGE

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Vinyl LP

Chinese composer Li Yilei dives into her own memories to create a sonic archive of her childhood on this unique ambient album speaking to the impact of nostalgic recollection on the construction of diasporic identity. “Go, Little Book” samples a broadcast of a woman reading Chinese literature, including parts of Cao Xueqin’s Dream of the Red Chamber, alongside the gentle whirring of machinery and crystalline piano tones. Most of the track titles are imagistic poems in threes: “Pond, Grief and Glee” unfolds as a patient synth exploration amidst lo-fi wind chime samples, while “Sandalwood, Ivory and Summit” uses expansive singing bowl tones and subtle electronic flourishes to evoke the sandalwood incense common at Buddhist temples.

Grimório de Abril
Castelo d’​Á​gua

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Cassette

Veridiana Sanchez, aka Grimório de Abril, is from Garça, a town of less than 50,000 people on the rural outskirts of the State of São Paulo, Brazil. While the artist is currently based in São Paulo, Sanchez’s latest record evokes an eerie non-place “far from the metropolis.” Combining lo-fi, voice note crooning with unsettling synth textures, Castelo d’​Á​gua feels like the soundtrack to a video game–simulation of a dream. “Orchid is Born” best exemplifies the atmosphere of the record, dripping water lapping against the muffled sound of horns in another room; “Twins of Dawn,” on the other hand, displays Sanchez’s songwriting style, a fuzzy synthpop track driven by 808s and her meandering vocals.

Oisin Leech
Cold Sea

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Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)

Recorded in the village of Malin at Ireland’s northern extreme, Cold Sea combines Irish singer-songwriter Oisin Leech’s melancholy vocals with Steve Gunn’s shimmering guitar strumming in a meditation on the ephemerality of life. Ambient synth interludes (“Daylight,” “Cold Sea”) highlight a more contemplative mode, while contributions from bassist Tony Garnier (“Colour of the Rain,” “Trawbreaga Bay”) evoke the gentle sway of a ship docked for a brief respite. Leech’s poeticism completes this idyllic picture. “Sadness runs like a fever,” he sings in “One Hill Further,” reckoning with difficult emotions but recognizing that this sorrow, too, will pass like the rolling waves.

more eaze, pardo & glass
paris paris, texas texas

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Vinyl LP

Like the Wim Wenders film of its namesake, paris paris, texas texas is a trans-Atlantic collaboration that reconstructs an imaginary American South. Here, Brooklyn-via-Texas Auto-Tune crooner and sound collagist more eaze collaborates with OOH-sounds boss Pardo and Glass in a masterwork of emo ambient with a twist of Americana. Crickets chirping in the distance, weeping steel guitar bends, and snatches of conversation combine in the cinematic soundscape of “still part of the ceiling.” The rest of the album is in a similar nocturnal register. “Weather underground” fills in the space between ASMR whispers and idiosyncratic guitar plucking with dirgelike fiddle tones.

美好药店 Glamorous Pharmacy
喧​嚣​的​死​寂 Loud As Deadly Silence

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Cassette

Glamorous Pharmacy has been a staple of Beijing‘s experimental rock scene since the mid-’90s, known for incorporating avant-folk stylings into their jazzy, idiosyncratic compositions. Having built their name through legendary live performances (it would be nearly a decade before they would release their debut album in 2005) they’ve returned with a live album courtesy of Shenzhen’s Old Heaven Books documenting a recent comeback tour. While there’s no new material (the first two tracks are off their debut album and the last six are from the second), their renditions contain improvisatory extensions; “走神“ and ”废梁” are four minutes longer than their originals. Their lyrics are also updated for the social media age, with snarky rants about social media and influencer culture rounding out the metamorphic vocals on display in “崂山道士” and “甩呀甩.”

Laucan & Samuel Organ
LORCAN

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Vinyl LP

Laucan and Samuel Organ produce a cybernetic take on Irish folk on LORCAN, the latter offering his bass-y production chops to the former’s voice. Their rendition of traditional lullaby “Aignish on the Machair” begins with what sounds like an archival recording which they harmonize with subtle synth pads. “Blood and Time” shows Laucan at his most vulnerable, his delicate vocalizations heard through a haze of lo-fi noise. When the synths come in halfway through, they gradually overpower the pillowy guitar line in a cathartic crescendo. While most of the record leans ambient, “Chalk” is more lively, driven by a steady bass synth and syncopated kick pattern that bring Laucan’s voice into night-drive synthpop territory.

Kevin Coleman
Imaginary Conversations

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Cassette, Compact Disc (CD)

Kevin Coleman’s latest record is a grandiose masterwork of American fingerstyle guitar in three movements that span 40 minutes. “Mammut Americanum” chugs along like a techno or krautrock track, driven by a single cut-time beat around which a panoply of rustic instruments, from the harmonica to the jaw harp, congeals or dissipates. “Truckers to Pulaski” turns down the energy, focusing on intricate guitar picking that layers delicate runs with aggressive, rhythmic strumming. Saving the longest for last, “Imaginary Conversations on Fish Hatchery Rd.” brings together lo-fi drum machines, cosmic synths, and repetitive guitar riffs for a bit of folk hypnosis that reaches into outer space.

Various Artists
Big Hug Volume Two

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T-Shirt/Shirt, Cassette

Brooklyn’s Big Hug Records brings together a who’s who of American indie for a benefit compilation of demos and covers raising money for eSIMs crucial for Gazans to stay connected with the outside world in the midst of brutal war. Florry’s contribution, “Fishes of the Afternoon,” is recorded in lo-fi fashion, steel guitar bending plaintively alongside Francie Medosch’s cracking voice. Allegra Krieger’s “Reaching Out” is more polished, her breathy voice matching the melodic contour of the muffled guitar picking. The record’s general emotional tenor, a detached sort of sadness familiar to indie crooners across the world, is perhaps best signaled by Truth Club’s “Blue Eternal,” a short track which brings together languid synths with Travis Harrington and Yvonne Chazal’s murmured vocals.

Farah Kaddour
Badā

Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP

Beirut-based Farah Kaddour improvises masterfully on her solo debut Badā, pushing the buzuq to its limits in a rare recorded display of solo virtuosity on the Levantine lute. A member of experimental rock band Sanam, Kaddour takes center stage in these recordings, most of which are either improvised or original compositions that take the buzuq to its rhythmic and percussive extremes. “Bulbul El-Afrah” is the sole exception, breathing life into the traditional tune with swaying rubato, ornamentation, and drastic dynamic changes. On “Fil-Bamb” and “Mad ou Jazr,” Ali El Hout lends his expertise on the Persian daf frame drum, at times dueling Kaddour’s blazing tremolos and at others moving in polyrhythmic lockstep.

Gabriel Seaver
Reeling

Merch for this release:
Cassette

This release from Gabriel Seaver is an ambient reflection on the nature of healing. The record contains sounds both soothing and harsh. Each guitar phrase in the patient opening of “Oak~Duir” breathes and opens up negative space, while “Bivalvia” contains a cacophony of percussion and clinking shells. “Hand’s Feeling” might be the most structurally conventional track on the record, adopting a bossa nova rhythm interspersed with whimsical aquatic synths. Reeling is hard to pin down sonically, but these largely instrumental explorations are strangely grounding, evoking a feeling not unlike waking up after a particularly odd dream.

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