erasing clouds

4 Music Reviews

Chuck Bettis, Sonic Sigils (Scarcelight)

Chuck Bettis' 6-song EP Sonic Sigils starts off sounding like an electric tsunami and ends up like a magical spell. The opening track "Night on Fire" attacks your eardrums with a barrage of electronic noises, some cloudy some sharp, though it backs off from its initial loudness in a way that suggests 'I'm not as scary as I appear to be'. That sentiment sort of runs through Sonic Sigils, as it feels both like a wild, freeform attack and like an olive branch, an attempt to make bugged-out sonic experimental soundfields feel comforting even as they sound wild and hard to pin down. Sonic Sigils was improvised, recorded live, and does feel like it. Bettis' music inhabits a place between 'noise attack' and 'atmosphere' - Sonic Sigils is both at once, demonstrating ways that loud can be gentle, rough can be beautiful, fierce can sound holy, and vice versa. - dave heaton

Luka Bloom, Before Sleep Comes (Bar-None Records)

I've never been especially taken with the music of Irish singer-songwriter Luka Bloom; though I've heard most of the nine or so albums that's he released over the last 15 years, they all kind of swept past me without making much of an impression. Consider it a bias against too-serious or too-mellow folk music, perhaps. So it surprises me that Bloom's quietest album turns out to be his most riveting by far. Bloom describes Before Sleep Comes as "whispery songs", a direction he went in after tendonitis forced him to play his guitar more gently. And the record label dubs the album "nine songs for insomniacs" (as well as the gag-inducing "acoustic chill-out music for the soul"). "Whispery," is right - these songs are lullabies and early Sunday morning countryside walks that never cry out for your attention, they just quietly live. And as such they're beautiful, just flat-out stunning like a quiet landscape that exists gracefully on its own, without asking for anything. Bloom covers a handful of traditional songs and sings a handful of his own songs. In both cases the quietness is not only a pleasurable stylistic approach, but offers a forceful concentration of feeling. By taking things easy Bloom seems to have taken his music into a more focused zone, where emotions come across more strongly than they would have if he was singing and playing more stridently. - dave heaton

Kawaii, If It Shines, We Have It (Shelflife)

"Mats Jorgensen and Hedda Fredly jigsawed these sounds together in their kitchen," it says in the liner notes to the Norwegian duo Kawaii's debut album. And it sounds like that's true, if their kitchen includes not just spoons and forks but xylophones, synthesizers and unidentified objects from outer space. Not to mention Tupperware containers filled with wonderful pop melodies. "We're happy people on a scary place," they sing on the first song "Happy People, Scary Planet." Their music reflects both the happiness of that first phrase (it's on the surface very upbeat and pop, reminiscent of both 80s new wave and Belle & Sebastian's most optimistic moments) and the complexity of the second. Their lyrics are both friendly and strange, touching and disarming (take great song titles like these as quick examples: "Friends Who Make You Lonely," "The Concept of Being a Slightly Wounded Bear,"They Would Probably Talk, Sleep or Fuck"). Kawaii's music radiates an anything-goes, kitchen-sink sort of creativity, as the music veers in and out of bossa nova, tropicalia and club-music terrain within the context of small, home-made tunes. Their songs also offer a rewarding sense of emotional depth underneath the pleasantly varied veneer. If It Shines, We Have It is both filled with simple pleasures and more complicated than it first appears: a lovely album. - dave heaton

Kid Dakota, The West Is the Future (Chairkickers Music)

In the world of The West Is the Future, everyone's searching for something, and there's nothing to be found. Everyone's headed out West, and what's there for them? "The west is an old lie/the west is a bad man," Darren Jackson sings on the album's opening and closing tracks, the religion-busting "Pilgrim" and the sadder-in-tone, apocalyptic "Atomic Pilgrim," itself a relative of the album's opener "Pilgrim." That first song offers a blessing that amounts to 'good luck on your voyage even though it's bound to end in death and destruction', while the latter song's every note resonates with sadness about the inevitability of pain and emptiness. This is a bleak world, where even the quest for love carries with it the knowledge that all hope is in vain. Kid Dakota's music echoes those lyrical sentiments at every step, through Jackson's rough-but-devoted voice and a hard-edged blues-rock style that tinges both meditative passages and power chords with hurt and sorrow. The West Is the Future is a devastating, draining journey but also a thoroughly riveting one. - dave heaton

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