What do we do?
Has anyone noticed that the year does seem like it’s quickly coming to a close? Probably because it is. I’m never one to think that things will get worse before they get better because things have been relatively bad all year long. The elections may be over but death seems to creep around corners. And as one administration exits, another enters but I’m not very optimistic of what it can or actually will do. This isn’t the world I want to leave for my children and it seems it’s going to be long ride for them with more hurdles to jump. Well, it’s time to prepare them.
In the meantime, I lather them up with suds of music, exposing them to artists they would never have heard otherwise. Listening to a few things I come across JyellowL, a Dublin emcee who just released his sophomore full-length D|Vision, on his own label. Honestly, I can’t find anything wrong with the release that’s clean & concise and made for mass consumption. The beats are on point, and while there’s nothing wrong with having mainstream vibes, JyellowL does seem to challenge himself here. On “Jewels” his words are quick over a keyboard, drum machine, and harmonica and is perfect. Unflawed and unrelenting. JyellowL is an alternate to the tired same-old radio play we hear every day. His words are poignant and pretty dope. D|Vision is filled with 14 tracks that are different than anything else out right now.
Does one need to be the best vocalist or musician they can be? Well of course. But what if some believe you’re just…not? Well, it makes no difference so long as one follows that passion that burns brightly in their heart(s). I’ve heard bad before and there’s one group whose name escapes me at the moment that was just really wrong for recording music. But as usual, I digress.
I’ve followed Anna McClellan since the release of 2018’s Yes And No, which did capture my attention with the childlike innocence she delivers in her songs. It shouldn’t be confused with something along the lines of Daniel Johnston (in all honesty, I never understood the appeal of Johnston’s music) because what we all get out of McClellan is something more extravagant, lush, and structured amazingly. Did I give anything away already? Yes, I actually may have. McClellan takes an expansive journey with I saw first light (Father/Daughter Records). She’s incorporated stings and horns much more cleverly within her structural design. Still present is the monotoned vocal delivery but it’s easy to overlook, even on the simpler tracks like her single “Desperate,” that seems to meander along but who cares??? The flow of the track and the atmospheric guitar notes throughout give it an unequivocal charm. But that doesn’t mean McClellan hasn’t grown or is unable to give vocal deliveries that aren’t entertaining or engaging. On “Feel You” she stretches her range a bit more over the lilting flow of the song. When she sings “Only intuition of our deep connection to the land / Can we go further than we’ve ever gone before…” her words and delivery are fitting.
It seems McClellan allows the music to take her where it wants and she’s fully aware she’s not the one in control. When listening to “Pace Of The Universe” you almost get a sense of abandon throughout the track but then midway through, it all comes together. Strings, keys, horns, and other instruments come together into an escapade that’s reminiscent of Mark Linkous compositions to an extent. The vocal harmonies that are pieced together surely tell the tale of McClellan’s own ability and makes me rethink any earlier commentary. The song itself is a beautiful piece of work.
The lengthy interlude that is “Celery” allows piano and guitars to take on a life all their own, following a rhythm all their own, coalescing nicely together leading us directly into the stunning “Gone.” Strings are arranged around McClellan’s vocals and when she hits those notes that don’t seem to fit, they actually do. Irregularly but fitting nonetheless. But it’s “Trying Too Hard,” where instruments build around the wall that is her voice, the harmonized male vocal compliments McClellan’s. This is possibly my favorite track off the release, showcasing another side of the singer/songwriter, as the powerful dynamic changes let us all know, yes, she’s not the one to be fucked with.
These sessions have unveiled a sleeper of a songwriter in McClellan and of course, the willingness to challenge herself. I’d be hard-pressed to find another singer/songwriter with the amount of creativity found on I saw first light.
Multiple albums in, I sometimes lose track of an artist only to return somewhere down the road. Or I may never come back at all. In some scenarios, an act has a shift in membership and just doesn’t feel the same, so I move on. It’s happened time and time again. And then there are moments when I discover a “new” band, although they have previous releases. The latter happens a LOT.
From deep in the bowels of the Queens City come noise, spazz masters, Alpha Hopper. But this isn’t the band’s first foray with sonic explorations or music in general. The quartet – comprised of vocalist Irene Rekhviashvili, guitarist Ryan McMullen, Douglas Scheider on drums, and guitarist/programmer John Toohill – just released its 3rd long-player, Alpha Hex Index (Hex Records). I was set to dismiss the band as a novelty because while the album delivers heavily, it wasn’t resonating. Second go-around, things changed. Everything began to make sense. A lot more. The band opens with “In The Desert In The West,” which is direct and in-your-face, bludgeoning away yet has so many elements rummaging through it. Given, the band has the respective guitars and drums surrounding everything but Toohill’s programable touch is evident, ever so slight, but it’s there echoing at the 35-second mark. Irene’s vocals are treated similarly with the same effects a little more than halfway through the track. The band is engaging in so many facets.
There are obviously hints of oddness within Alpha Hopper’s framework, and “Big Body” captures much of it. Again it seems Toohill’s electronic skills are at play, with semblances of strings open the track (or it could be controlled guitar effects, what do I know?) as Scheider drums slowly build around it with Irene’s high-ranging screeches. The band comes together and expounds on it all, with guitars augmenting the song, turning up levels creating one monstrous beast. The dynamics shift, allowing the increase in volume to captivate and control the track until its expected dissipation. But it’s “Wrestles Snakes” where Irene’s delivery is reminiscent of one David Yow, sans the unadulterated masculinity and muffled vocal posturing. The band’s dual guitar attack is razor-sharp and leaves a lot of room to breathe with stop-starts throughout. It’s engaging and offensively brilliant.
I thought I’d be on the fence with Alpha Hopper’s Alpha Hex Index but on the contrary, it’s the storm before the calm, the raging waters of a tsunami that obliterates islands and leaves one clutching a bare tree wondering, “What the hell just happened?” Alpha Hopper did.
Some groups have long and storied histories some know, and many don’t. While some may take a break in recording, manny groups like Gang Of Four and Wire always bounce back. never given up on creating music, releasing album after album. Some quietly return, cautiously releasing material with nary an eye batted.
Spanning multiple decades and watching the musical landscape morph and change, continuously in flux, Cabaret Voltaire returned last year with Chance Versus Causality. While filled more with movements of sound rather than actual songs, the group took an educated risk releasing material no doubt culled from experimentation. With its new Shadow Of Fear (Mute), Cabaret Voltaire seeks to make its mark again within an augmented sound that still may fit neatly within a post-punk, electronic/industrial aesthetic but also finds solace techno & house, as well as other electronic subgenres.
Richard H. Kirk, the sole remaining member of the group continues to wade in the waters he was partially responsible in creating. The beats are relevant throughout the release, filled with industrial styled backdrops, all the while allowing bodies to shift and sway to hypnotic sounds. The opening “Be Free” utilizes staticky percussion, noise, and turns it upside down with a bossa nova twist. All the while we’re more that able to dance and swing to the shifting rhythm. Kirk layers the track well with a load of elements. He continues that process from track to track but never duplicates a song. “The Power (Of Their Knowledge)” starts off like a madcap drum pattern sample of “Weird Science” but Danny Elfman has nothing to do with this. The layering is obvious here, with much going on but its all fitted well together.
Songs are lengthy but rarely does it seem that way, from track to track we’re taken on a journey and Kirk makes sure we enjoy the ride. “Microscopic Flesh Fragment” is odd though as two separate rhythms clash with one another and vocal samples pop in and out alongside keyboard washes and noisy escapades. The quicker-paced “Papa Nine Zero Delta United” differs a bit, not only in rhythm but with the obvious incorporation of guitar and other instrument samples. It’s grandiose in expansiveness and layered so thickly but is uncluttered. Tasteful in it’s restrained freneticism. Kirk has outdone himself with this one right here. As the album progresses, it almost seems as if Cabaret Voltaire wants to get the party started, and we feel that energy on “Vasto” with its power and melody. I’m all in. Are glow sticks still a thing? Yeah, I’m still in!
Cabaret Voltaire has shifted down to one member but still, Shadow Of Fear is filled with vibrant beats, intense energy, curiosity, and concepts that haven’t been imagined before. Yes, Cabaret Voltaire is still a creative force to be reckoned with.