Tag Archives: Experimental

Album of the Day: Mind Over Mirrors, “Undying Color”

 

Though Jaime Fennelly is the sole figure behind the Mind Over Mirrors handle, years of performance projects in the Chicago experimental/improvisational music scene have revealed him to be a natural collaborator. The personnel that contributed to his latest LP, Undying Color, might be best described as a Chicago avant-garde dream team; their own achievements aside, each individual contributor is known as a long-standing ensemble member of the city’s interlocking musical community. Fennelly’s rotation through these circuits connected him with Haley Fohr (Circuit Des Yeux), Janet Beveridge Bean (Freakwater, Eleventh Dream Day), Jim Becker (Califone, Iron & Wine), Jon Mueller, Mike Weis (Zelienople) and Cooper Crain (Bitchin’ Bajas), all of whom are present here.

The seven compositions on Undying Color are anchored by Fennelly’s Indian pedal harmonium and synthesizer; the harmonium, especially, is preeminent across Fennelly’s discography. The device’s distinctly droning reeds have fascinated him to the extent that he has spent nearly 12 years bending, shifting and filtering it in veneration.

With Undying Color, Fennelly emerges with a sequence of pieces that interweave traditional European ceremonial forms with modern corollaries in experimental electronic and ambient directions. While opener “Restore & Slip” could be mistaken as a bagpipe-led Scottish battle hymn and “Gray Clearer” could be its consequent funeral march, Fennelly sounds positively German kosmiche on “Glossolaliac,” overlaying Becker’s fiddle and Fohr’s rhythmic murmurs on a bedrock of treated harmonium lines.

Fennelly’s twined interpretations of ancient and modern disciplines have been a signature of his Mind Over Mirrors project over the course of five albums, each one gaining greater clarity and prominence than the last. He furthers this course on Undying Color, broadening his range via collaboration and reconstructing classical concepts with a modern palette of sound.

—Joseph Darling

London O’Connor Wants to Make Music for Interplanetary Travel

London O Connor

On O∆ , inventive beats and textures provide the foundation over which London O’Connor reflects on his upbringing, delivering lyrics that channel suburban boredom, the ups-and-downs of friendship, budding romance, and the pains of growing up. A kaleidoscope of tones and moods, O∆ never limits itself to a singular style or genre. Laid-back rhymes and hip-hop rhythms are flanked by ballads and easy-going electronic tracks. And even when he’s at his most heartfelt and vulnerable, O’Connor exudes an aura of cool. He’s been wearing the same yellow sweater for months now, which he says he plans to do until his music makes more money than his parents. It’s an outward representation of his commitment to his dreams.

O’Connor created O∆ in his bedroom after relocating from his hometown outside San Diego to the bustle of New York City. It took O’Connor two years to realize his vision for what O∆ should be: a sonic account of his coming of age.

We spoke with O’Connor about his work methods, his creative aims, and why he doesn’t write songs—he’s just trying to render his surroundings.

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Album of the Day: Lawrence English, “Cruel Optimism”

A little bit of advice when listening to Lawrence English’s new album, Cruel Optimism: turn the volume way down before track three kicks in. Considerably louder than anything that comes before or after it, “Hammering a Screw” is a palate cleanser spiked with cyanide. It’s noise that’ll knock you out.

There’s a method to all this madness—English is making moody protest music with such new and old friends as saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, two key members of Swans‘ current lineup (guitarist Norman Westberg, percussionist Thor Harris), cellist Mary Rapp, and pianist Chris Abrahams. That’s the plan on paper, at least. Liner notes aside, it’s difficult to discern who did what here, as disembodied voices point the way to Popol Vuh (“Somnambulist”), church bells and chimes ring out through the night (“The Quietest Shore”), and muffled brass melodies slide across soupy winter atmospheres (“Exquisite Human Microphone”).

In many ways, Cruel Optimism serves as a compliment to the abstract score English and Xiu Xiu frontman Jamie Stewart performed as part of David Lynch’s contemporary art retrospective in Australia. Ominous but never overwrought, it’s as if the titular fog in John Carpenter’s 1980 film returned in the middle of the night and strangled the sun for the next 60 days. Or as English puts it in a press release, “the storm has broken and feels utterly visceral.”

—Andrew Parks

Earthen Sea’s Night Moves

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Earthen Sea by Shawn Brackbill

There are those fleeting moments where the fear of change dissolves, when our vision becomes clear and we accept whatever inevitable transformation might come our way with open arms. For Jacob Long, a musician whose past includes stints in rollicking dub punk group Mi Ami and shambolic noise rockers Black Eyes, the ability to change seems not only innate, but essential to his creative survival. Under the solo moniker Earthen Sea, Long has been exploring the beauty and drudgery of everyday life through remarkably personal electronic music.

An Act of Love, Earthen Sea’s debut on Kranky—a safe haven for fellow travelers in cosmic experimental waters, like Tim Hecker and Stars of the Lid—is night music. There’s a ghostlike mood to it—a sort of halogen-lit, steam-through-a-steel-grate metropolitan atmosphere. Being a solo artist in a city—any city—when you’re unconcerned with popularity can be a lonely, but rewarding, task. Songs like “Exuberant Burning” are carefully textured and layered to evoke that mood, while others, like “The Flats 1975,” feel kinetic and alive. As an album, An Act of Love doesn’t simply drift cautiously through the silent streets—there is intention and grounding to Long’s work.

We talked with Long about experimental music performance, shifting dynamics in art, personal change, and community-centered acts of love.

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Album of the Day: Palberta, “Bye Bye Berta”

Palberta’s seventh release, Bye Bye Berta, opens with “Why Didn’t I?,” a song built on sparse percussion and out-of-sync guitars that serve as a foundation over which the trio of Lily Konigsberg, Anina Ivry-Block, and Nina Ryser can harmonize. “Why didn’t I/ Say a thing like that?/ My Friend, didn’t I/ Say a thing like that?” It takes a full two minutes for the lyrics’ anxiety and insecurity to fully seep in and, as soon as they do, an irregular guitar scale moves in from the back of the recording, ending the song in a far different place from where it began. In that respect, the song acts as a perfect encapsulation of the album’s aesthetic: No track is too similar, but each is made up of distinct parts that build a complicated—but cohesive—whole.

Palberta met at Bard College and spent playing in and around Hudson Valley before ending up in Philadelphia. That transitory history colors the album; “Jaws” has an industrial quality that mimics the pace of a new city. “Bells,” the song that immediately follows, has a ringing, pastoral feel. New York City no-wave skronk is revitalized in the first half of “Trick Ya.” Bye Bye Berta is 20 tracks long, with most songs clocking in around a minute—in other words, it goes a lot of places but it doesn’t stay in any of them for too long.

Palberta are often compared to legendary acts like the Raincoats and Kleenex/LiLiPUT, but on Bye Bye Berta, Palberta seem more fascinated with movement and structure than either of those groups. Their sinister songwriting showcases individual musicianship while crafting something bigger and  much more harmonious. At times, it’s a challenging listen, but it’s by forging new paths that cult heroes are made.

—Maria Sherman