New Music: Friday Roll Out! Pigeon John, JG Thirwell & Simon Steensland, and Ian Chang (Son Lux)

Yeah, it’s another week that passes us by and by the accounts of my friends and family, no one seems to feel things are getting better. Given, most of my family lives either northeast or southeast, caught within the grasps of NYC and Florida respectively. Of course I feel for my family, the sick and the dead. I’ve had family succumb to this virus but my cousin pulled through after battling it for a number of weeks, well enough that doctors took her off of a ventilator. Miracles do happen.

I appreciate everyone that reached out for condolences and prayers. I love my family and friends and we’ll all eventually get through this, everyone just has to take this more seriously than they have been. It’s real out here.

We can just get right to it here. Ian Chang is part of the driving force that is Son Lux, the group that seems to defy what music should sound like, shaping and manipulating sounds the way they see fit. This go-around, Ian Chang steps out on his own for his full-length debut with Belonging (City Slang).

On Belonging, Chang expounds on what Son Lux is familiar for; those off-kilter beats where extra percussive notes are added. Does it make a difference? Not at all because the artistry in which it’s done is quite fascinating. Like Scott Herren in his multiple identities, Chang is an artist that’s hellbent on showcasing beats where there are usually none to find. Opening with “舞狮 (Lion Dance)” he envelops the electronic wizardry with subtle Asian influences. His identity is fitted within the track twofold. This is followed by musical non-conformity with “Comfort Me” which features Kiah Victoria, and the lulling key drones as well as her vocals allow the track to move with a straighter lineage than it may have without them. Kiah bring a gorgeous delivery to such a beautiful number. I need to fast-forward to “Audacious” and this one features KAZU of Blonde Redhead fame. Her childlike delivery is offset against Chang’s more direct approach here, which moves as straight-forward a pop song he’s probably ever going to create. Yes, both juxtaposed against one another work wonders together.

Chang still mines through meshing post-rock and electronica on “Teem” with vibrant tones and percussion left in its wake. It’s a glorious and challenging composition and “Food Court” follows suit, more melodious with stop-start movements and an array of sounds cascading throughout. But it’s “(Bird’s Tongue)” featuring Hanna Benn that leaves me utterly amazed. It moves in a number of directions but the harmonizing vocals are captivating.

Ian Chang is definitely on some next shit with Belonging. He’s defiantly moving against the grain while heading in the same direction all at once. This album right here, this is art.

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Occasionally I wonder if an artist is past his/her prime because well let’s face it, we’re all not getting any younger. I remember The Foreign Exchange’s Nicolay even expressing that “Hip-Hop is a young man’s game.” That was an exact quote from 2016, but I’ve never been one to truly believe that, considering there are artists well within their 40s and 50s still releasing material that’s much more relevant than the majority of the younger crop of mainstream artists.

Enter: Pigeon John, who’s now on his 9th or 10th full-length release, Gotta Good Feelin’ (Park The Van), depending on who you ask. Now, Pigeon John isn’t the rapper you’d expect to rattle off tales of urban live, struggling on inner-city streets, or even guns & hoes. While his base is firmly rooted in Hip-Hop, his latest release seems to continue and expound on the path he’s been on for the better part of 20 years; adding in much more than semblances of pop music & culture.

Pigeon John has never been a guilty pleasure of mine because there is no such thing, just good music. John here, well, he always gives lots of it as well. On the new album, songs are rife with guitars, organic percussion and instrumentation that all allows songs proper translation within the cross-pollinating genres they exist within. The best way to listen is randomly here. “Cranium” takes a much more pop-electro vibe loaded with keyboard melodies and harmonies as he sings about a different kind of struggle, with his head on the verge of exploding. And while there’s a hodgepodge of music within Gotta Good Feelin’ where John seems to wear proverbial influences on sleeves, there’s so much with urges of his own essence.

Whenever “Geeshid” drops, as it has over and over here, John’s lowkey braggadocio is prevalent over a laidback and free flowing beat that’s filtered with guitars. This is the track that stands out from the rest as he raps with ease while he changes pace completely on the anthemic “Running It Now” with vibrant percussion at the foreground. Here John is in full-control in this stadium-sized joint that can’t be locked down or held in place. He’s in charge and running shit. Fuck. Yes. And then there’s the piano-driven “The Hook Up” which is sure to turn into a classic number. This opens with vocal and piano hitting the same notes which makes for some interesting harmony there. Yeah, it’s bordering on brilliant. This is probably one of the catchiest numbers he’s ever penned, if not the best.  

The album’s title track is a no-holds-barred unadulterated club jam that hits with a 1-2-3 combo, leaving room for multiple uppercuts. The horns and percussion blend seamlessly together and John once again, toots his own horn here, but he’s well within his right to do so. He takes a different turn with the dancey, electronic feel of “They Don’t Make Em Like Me,” which sounds like he’s taken his lead from Mr. Scruff on this one. And you know what? That’s ok! The song is filled with enough of his own DNA to call it his own. The reinvigorated Pigeon John has a lust for life on the playful “Play It Again,” with a base around guitars and a whistling melody. Honestly, no one else would be able to pull this off. Same goes for “Without You,” with semblances of chamber pop and a vocal cadence everyone would expect here.

So where do we go from this point on? Listening to Gotta Good Feelin’ will leave you in a positive mood and if you’re like me, lead you back to his catalog to when you – or me in this case – discovered his music, a while back. Yeah, it all still holds up and I’m sure without a doubt, Gotta Good Feelin’ is going to stand the test of time as well.  

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How long has it been since I sat down to listen to noisy fuckery at blistering levels? Well, not that long actually, but it’s been some time since I’ve come across anything reeking of Bowery antics and Lower East Side swing. There are a number of groups that have challenged my views on music, from Gunga Din to Firewater to Elysian Fields, but nothing was ever as enticing as Foetus and the numerous variations of the name J.G. Thirlwell put them through.

It’s been some time since hearing his name mentioned through a few different circles. While Thirlwell has appeared on a number of releases throughout the past few years, we haven’t seen a proper full-length release since his 2013 Versions (Sacred Bones), alongside Zola Jesus and the Mivos Quartet. Now seemingly out of nowhere, he reappears with a new collaborative album, Oscillospira (Ipecac Recordings) with Simon Steensland, who Mr. Foetus met in 2017 when he was invited to a workshop and perform a commission for the ensemble Great Learning Orchestra. Steensland is an accomplished musician himself and Thirlwell was a fan. This set the stage for the collaboration. If this doesn’t intrigue you, move on and simply stop reading.

Oscillospira, in layman’s terms, is a combination of genres that fits both classical and rock elements together for something so expansive, it’s literally mindblowing. The movements in the opening 11+ minute “Catholic Deceit” alone allow the track to sound like 2 to 3 songs in one. Beautiful string arrangements are offset by distorted guitars and deep bass grooves as a marimba lightly taps away in the rear. Haunting vocals wistfully dissipate as if they never existed. There’s drama throughout the song, with horns and snare drums providing the movement to the military march. But again, it’s the guitars and strings that draw listeners in.

“Heresy Flank” stands apart here as well. Again we’re bombarded with the drama embedded in the movement but there’s also a darkness lurking beneath, ad it sounds as if it’s delivered directly from Steensland’s bass. The harmonizing vocal delivery adds to it as well but it’s the deep horns that almost provide a percussive feel, which is unrelenting. If Edgar Allan Poe were alive today, I’m almost sure this would be his own theme song, filled with wicked undertones in search of solace.

There’s nothing easy about Oscillospira, with most of the 8 songs compiled hitting way past the 7-minute mark, eschewing conventionality for something less rudimentary. In honesty, this is a beast of an album that takes steps far away contemporaries daring anyone to step towards the madness. Are you willing?

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