erasing clouds

10 Music Reviews

Ammoncontact, New Birth (Ninja Tune)

Only 6 months have gone since the release of Los Angeles duo Ammoncontact’s album One In A Infinity Of Ways and friends Carlos Niño and Fabian Ammon Alston are already introducing us to their new work. The duo – who released records on many labels such as Eastern Developments, Soul Jazz, Plug Research, and Ninja Tune and featured on many compilations, alongside the likes of DJ Shadow, Cut Chemist and King Britt – has just released New Birth, a sort of mini-album (it is less than 35 minutes long and contains 9 tracks). Ammoncontact’s music has often been labelled “machine funk,” but it’s much more. New Birth is indeed a trip through different genres: the album is predominantly instrumental, and inspired by that same funky, groove-based minimalism that has become Ammoncontact’s trademark. Drum machine, samples and vocals are mixed with live instruments creating subtle soundscapes: the opening track, “Omniverses 1”, is mesmerising while “Omniverses 2” has got a sort of lounge feeling about it; “Naeem” is a funk explosion; “A Satelitte's Return” is a classic sample-based track A while back, Carlos Niño claimed, “Ammoncontact are all about having fun as well as trying to stretch the boundaries of hip hop.” New Birth shows that Ammoncontact are sonic adventurers, essentially interested in good vibes and creative sounds. – anna battista

Auburn Lull, Regions Less Parallel: Early Works & Rarities, MCMXCVI-MMIV (Darla)

The earliest recordings on Auburn Lull's collection Regions Less Parallel are less muscular than the dream-rock on the group's two albums. The three tracks from 1997's Dual Group EP are wisps in air in comparison, albeit gorgeous wisps, like shadows moving in slow motion across the wall. As the CD progresses towards the present time, Auburn Lull's sounds retains that misty tone, while gaining diversity. The Alone I Admire outtake "Simca" adds brilliant soft electronic sequencing to the guitars and misty singing. The compilation track "A Harbored Distance" offers a majestic depth of sound, while on the two songs from the Behind All Curses of Thought… 7", the group trips out slowly in a futuristic echo chamber. Overall Regions Less Parallel is a sensual trip through interesting sonic spaces, documenting the unique vision of these independent-minded musicians. - dave heaton

The Charade, The Best Is Yet to Come (Skipping Stones Records)

Swedish pop trio The Charade's debut album The Best Is Yet to Come lightly rolls to an open, with a bouncy, gentle song called "Monday Morning" which sounds sunny but has some sweet sadness in its portrait of domestic life. This is the trail blazed by The Shermans over the years – perfectly catchy pop songs with optimistic surfaces and more complicated emotions within. The Charade – which joins the Shermans songwriter/singer couple Mikael and Ingela Matsson with Magnus Karlsson, guitarist for Happydeadmen in the '90s – continues along that same path, to great success. The Charade's sound echoes '50s pop a bit more, and sometimes is slower and more lush than the Shermans' often-streamlined pop…but the effect on listeners is quite similar. Theoretically you'd think this sort of style – the happy/sad duality, the gorgeous pop melodies sung beautifully – would get old, but it certainly doesn’t, when the musicians are as talented as these are. I love hearing a pretty pop song, smiling along to it, and then hearing, and feeling, the real sadness and confusion lurking underneath. The Charade, like the Shermans before them, are masters of this sort of song, one that's at once uplifting and filled with melancholy. - dave heaton

Duplex!, Ablum (Mint Records)

Kids need good music too, right? And adults need music that's full of enough goofy surprises to remind them of what it was like to be little kids, when life was free? Ablum is a kids' album made by a Vancouver-based super-group of adult indie-rockers and their kids. It's music for kids, made both by kids and by grown-ups who like to tap into their inner kids. In other words, it's fun and free of full of ideas, from the opening words – "All the grown-ups talk and talk / this is what we want / we want to rock" – through to the closing number, a sing-along called "Pooing and Peeing." There's no children around in my everyday life, so I can only guess about the album's appeal to children…but I love it. I love that there's an anti-salad dance song written by two 11-year-old girls…I love that there's a repetitive call-and-response sung by a 3-year-old boy and a 37-year-old woman…I love that there's a ridiculous, short "barnyard song" about multiplication…I love that the opening 'call to rock' quotes from the Ramones and mimics part of "The Girl From Ipanema"…I love that there's a cover of a Schoolhouse Rock song that starts out like a jazz ballad and then turns tough and rambunctious…I love the song about DNA with the fabulous horn section, the off-key song about animals that live in the desert, and the Hollywood showstopper about Bethlehem. There should be more eclectic pop-rock groups with both adults and children as members, which tap into the imaginations of both. The world be a much better place. - dave heaton

The L.J.'s, Likwit Junkies (ABB Records)

"Miraculous, astronomical, super-soul fantastic," the announcer proclaims about the L.J.'s, the Likwit Junkies, at the start of their debut album. Those adjectives are over-reaching a bit, but they give a sense of where the duo's heads are at. They're trying to make hip-hop which takes classic soul sounds and compacts them in an impactful way. Both the DJ and the MC have previous experience in this regard. DJ Babu is a member of the World Famous Beat Junkies, one of the strongest DJ crews of the last decade or so, and of Dilated Peoples. And the MC here is Defari – an inconsistent but also quite proficient mic fiend. On their debut as The L.J.'s, they're working it hard, laying down tight grooves of deep soul (with occasional dips into reggae) and putting focused, strong rhymes over them. They're pulling in friends like Planet Asia and Evidence to offer little explosions of their own. And they're often taking their music in especially thoughtful directions, as on the contemplative "One Day Away" and "Change." Most of the focus, though, is one the simple art of hip-hop, on rhyming and scratching. And they excel. The L.J.'s might not be innovating, but they are making consistent soulful hip-hop. Their songs sometimes offer a compelling vision of the darker side of L.A.'s city streets, sometimes consider the mistakes men make, and sometimes are all about having a good time. But in every case, they're definitely easy on the ears. – dave heaton

Lorna, Static Patterns and Souvenirs (Words on Music)

"If you stay awake all night / the entire world is a beautiful girl," Lorna's James Allen sings softly at the start of their second album Static Patterns and Souvenirs, and the achingly gorgeous album that follows carries that feeling through. It's that feeling that comes late at night or early in the morning, when everything seems perfect and magical but a bit off, quite out of the ordinary. Lorna's songs are definitely out of the ordinary, both in terms of feeling and because of how impeccably the various instruments – pedal steel, French horn, theremin, the usual rock instruments, etc. – are gently arranged for the greatest effect. Lorna's music is both delicate and powerful, communicating both an overall feeling and very specific, deep emotions. The songs on Static Patterns… combine the intimacy of one person singing into you ear with the transcendence of a group that can conjure up the feeling of an open galaxy, or an empty desert. Sometimes it seems there's a strong presence of the third Velvet Underground album here, sometimes I'm hearing the minimalist pop of Low…but I get the impression that the U.K. quartet is getting inspiration from more sounds and places than I could chart out on a map. Who cares where the inspiration is coming from, the important thing is that it's here in full force. Through a holy combination of melody, atmosphere, and heart, Lorna create music which slows down the world so we can breathe. - dave heaton

A Northern Chorus, Bitter Hands Resign (Sonic Unyon)

On their third album Bitter Hands Resign, the Canadian sextet take their previously genteel brand of orchestral pop music to dizzying new heights. The moment of realization, when you hear that this is something unique, comes about 30 seconds into the album, when a couple lonely guitars are joined by a thundercloud of power, with cello, bass and percussion ringing out loud, tough noises along with the now soaring guitars. Then everything gets quiet for a pretty pair of voices, who quietly sing with passion. You know it's just a matter of time before the intensity is ratcheted up again, and before the song's end it is. "You'd always said you'd never let yourself become and accessory to mediocrity," a line in that song goes, as if the band is reminding themselves that this time around they're putting it all on the line, reaching for the stars. Throughout Bitter Hands Resign, A Northern Chorus display an amazing grasp on song dynamics, slowly weaving their songs together and then lifting them up towards the sky. "Please direct your eyes to the trembling skies," they instruct on one song. "Trembling skies" is an apt description of the space this music inhabits. It's filled with nervous energy but also feels wide-open. It's pretty music, but also forceful – much of it is slow and careful, but even when they're playing slow it's with an extra sense of urgency. And that urgency is very uplifting. The music A Northern Chorus plays often feels dark and moody in tone, but on Bitter Hands Resign the overall ambition makes the music feel very optimistic, full of hope for the heights art can take us. As they sing on "Don't Think of Collapse", "it's foreign to think of collapse / now on course, we'll drown out our cries with lullabies"… - dave heaton

Pacific Ocean Fire, self-titled (Smokeylung)

As the Pacific Ocean Fire's self-titled CD opens, I can't help but thinking, "what, is this My Morning Jacket with a different singer, one who sounds similar but whose voice isn't as transcendent?" That's unfair, but it does give a sense of the direction Pacific Ocean Fire are headed in. A key reason it's unfair is that the roots of MMJ's music are much older than they are; like that Kentucky band, Pacific Ocean Fire sounds like they've listened to a lot of old country & western, a lot of Neil Young, a lot of The Band. Whether they have or not, it's hard to say – they are, after all, a U.K. band playing music that sounds like rustic America. Of course, American country music had its roots in British folk, so it all comes round again. Regardless of how fresh the Pacific Ocean Fire's sound is, or isn't, their album is quite enjoyable for a few simple reasons: their songs are melodic, heartfelt, and filled with atmosphere. There's a sense of longing to their songs, plus a dreamer's sort of spaciness. They sound like they're sitting on a front porch somewhere, thinking about good and bad times passed, dreaming about a better tomorrow and projecting those dreams into songs that are often tender and sad but also possess a nice sort of glow. - dave heaton

Soltero, Hell Train (self-released)

Soltero's latest album Hell Train is filled with self-inquiry – not the pretentious, ego-centric sort, but the kind that's sincerely concerned with human foibles, and curious about their inevitability, but also has a sense of humor about it. The love song "From the Station" – catchy and casual in tone, but full of yearning – is centered around thoughts of a place where everyone tells the truth. The pretty opening ballad "If I Had a Chance" ponders people's selfish and selfless tendencies. "If I had a chance to make things right / I'd only waste it on my life," Soltero's Tim Howard sings, "but there's something nice in thinking I might never learn." Other songs direct that same level of inquiry to a societal level. "Hands Up" ponders what people learn or don't from life's events, including a pertinent line or two about the ways we let our anger about political events fade as the days pass on. Hell Train's compelling and insightful lyrics come cloaked in a variety of musical styles, as Soltero casually alternate between fuzz-laden rock, lazy country songs, and stark, late-night solitary meditations. In the album you can hear Howard opening his songwriting up to a variety of influences and inclinations. That works perfectly for an album that continually, acutely considers the complicated elements that make up that most confusing and confounding entity, the human being. - dave heaton

Dwight Trible & The Life Force Trio, Equipoise (Ninja Tune)

You can bet that when you read the name ‘Dwight Trible’ on this single you’ll think it can’t possibly be THAT Dwight Trible, associated throughout the years to different musicians from Bobby Hutcherson and Charles Lloyd to Harry Belafonte and better known for being the vocalist with The Dwight Trible Ensemble and the Pharaoh Sanders Quartet and the director of the LA institution Horace Tapscott Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra. Well, it actually is the Dwight Trible you are thinking of. Trible met Carlo Niño (of the duo Ammoncontact) when the latter invited him onto his radio show. Their friendship resulted in an LP (out this summer) and “Equipoise” is the first single taken from this forthcoming album. The two versions of “Equipoise” included in this single are produced by Sa-Ra Creative Partners and are atmospheric, avant-garde, funky and jazzy. Trible’s voice sounds distant but soothing, and will definitely melt your heart. The single also includes the minimalist “Rise” featuring Georgia Anne Muldrow; “Waves of Infinite Harmony”, co-produced by Madlib, Niño and Daedelus, a psyched out hip hop track and “Otherwordly”, a sensual soundscape. Surely if this is just a taste of Dwight Trible and Carlo Niño’s collaboration, you can expect great things from their album. Try to be patient, at least until July. {}– anna battista

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