Time Wharp – Spiro World

A marvelously eclectic “full-length coming of age collection” from Brooklyn-based composer and artist Kaye Loggins, Spiro World doesn’t lend itself to easy categorization. There isn’t a clear overlap between the burbling melodies and spacious atmosphere of opener “East River Dusk,” the Brainfeeder-esque ambient jazz of “TOTP,” and “Mixo World’s” woodwind-laden kosmische, but the lack of an obvious throughline somehow doesn’t hurt. Despite the freewheeling approach, Loggins’ aesthetic judgement has the gravity to keep Spiro World from spinning off into the void.

The album’s eight-and-a-half-minute centrepiece “No Furniture/Tanagra” is also its strongest point, capturing the appeal of the album in its languid evolution. Looping guitar melodies and flittering woodwinds gradually coalesce around a pulsing bassline, sonic textures shimmering like dust in the starlight before drifting back into the void. It’s more a sculpture than a song, and while the second half of Spiro World does settle into a more consistent mood, the compositions still shy away from familiar forms. Instead, Loggins allows the elements to find their own structures, never forcing them together, drifting freely in acoustic space until the album dissipates in a cloud of delay.

Pneumatic Tubes – A Letter From TreeTops

A project from Mercury Rev and Midlake multi-instrumentalist Jesse Chandler, A Letter from TreeTops was written in the aftermath of his father’s death, its foundations laid in only a few days of solo recording in his family home. Knowing that, you can certainly pick up an undercurrent of melancholy in TreeTops’ meandering melodies, but it isn’t the dominant emotion by any stretch.

Take “Mumbly-Peg”, with its bubbling synths and gentle clarinet, a riverside walk propelled by quietly insistent drums; or the playful buzz of “Saw Teeth” and its overlapping melodies clamboring over one another. Both are album highlights, and both seem rooted in sun-dappled nostalgia. “Magic Meadow,” one of the few tunes to feature prominent guitar (and what sounds like maybe a singing saw?) perfectly captures the feeling of emerging from a dense wood into an open expanse; it’s a song to bask in.

With a variety that belies its rushed creation, A Letter from TreeTops is a gorgeous addition to the Ghost Box catalogue, a collection of richly textured, contemplative instrumentals.

Group Listening – Clarinet & Piano: Selected Works, Vol. 2 (PRAH Recordings)

The second full-length from Stephen Black and Paul Jones is another testament to the Welsh duo’s impeccable taste. That’s apparent in eclectic covers assembled here, including takes on two outsider Can-con classics in Syrinx’s “Hollywood Dream Trip” and Beverly Glenn-Copeland’s “Sunset Village,” one from new-age legend Laaraji (“All of a Sudden”), and an offering from unheard-of-outside-Wales New Waver Malcolm Neon, among a half-dozen others.

It’s also obvious in the arrangements, which generally feature the two titular instruments, embellished by occasional flourishes of keyboard, guitar, glockenspiel, and subtle percussion, but always given plenty of room to breathe. It’s clearly a labour of love, the sort of affectionate reinterpretations that can only come from a deep and respectful understanding of the originals.

Reverent and playful in equal measure, Selected Works Volume 2 is a work of beauty in its own right, a collection of thoughtful, inventive instrumentals. Better still, it doubles as an entryway into the catalogues of a diverse assortment of ambient, new age, and otherwise left-of-centre artists, a rich vein of sounds waiting to be unearthed.

The Soundcarriers – Wilds

Released Jan 21, 2022

What a delight to have The Soundcarriers back in my life. There have been quite a few bands mining the same vein of nostalgic psych-pop in the seven years since the band’s last release, but very few have pulled it off with quite the same flair. Their sound has never been about faithful recreation of an era, though; it’s an imaginative mish-mash of scenes that existed separately at the time, stitched together from the most appealing elements of Nuggets-era psychedelia, krautrock grooves, Free Design whimsy, and breezy tropicalia.

For this reunion, prompted in part by AMC’s short-lived series Lodge 49, the band picks up right where it left off, their chemistry not at all diluted by the extended hiatus. If anything, those years have only concentrated The Soundcarriers’ sound. The songs on Wilds are concise and focused (no 12-minute jams here), built around Paul Isherwood’s forceful bass and drummer Adam Cann’s relentless drive. The commitment to melody is still there, Leonore Wheatley and Dorian Conway’s vocals blending as sweetly as ever, but the songs feel a little more urgent, more anchored.

Album closer “Happens Too Soon” is about as gentle as the album gets, but even that one ends with a build-up of head-held-high defiance. It’s a fitting end to a release that feels assured from start to finish, a confident reclaiming of The Soundcarriers’ space in the psych-pop pantheon.

Contagious Yawns – Dream of Consciousness

Outside of a single review from a podcast called Tabs Out, this release from anonymous producer(s?) Contagious Yawns seems to have been mostly missed in 2020. That’s a shame, because Dream of Consciousness’ breezy sampledelia is well suited to this atemporal moment. Peppered with spoken-word samples that coalesce around themes of perception, consciousness, and the self, the album is a warm bath of hazy synths, loping cadences, and lo-fi beats.

Puzzle of Who I Am” and “Keep Yourself Together” are highlights, the former for its playful appropriation of Alan Watts (who seems to have become a patron saint of chill electronica), the latter for a timbre that lies somewhere between the lysergic and the liturgical, building to a climax of overlapping voices, insistent drums, and church-organ swells. Elsewhere, “Infinite Mirror” follows a post-rock path of continuous crescendo, a welcome change of pace from the laid-back mood that dominates the album.

It’s a very soothing album, living in the same neighbourhood as Bill Holt’s Dreamies or the esoteric plunderphonics of Lesbianhorse, just a bit more affirmational and accessible than either. Like a nostalgic tribute to an era that never quite existed, it’s a calming, questioning refuge from the world outside.

The Hologram People – Sacred Ritual to Unlock the Mountain Portal

A satisfying slab of instrumental psychedelia and earthy kosmische from the UK. Acoustic guitars add bright textures, while walls of fuzz and cosmic synths aim to pierce the veil between this world and the great beyond. “Planet Sahara” makes the Sabbath influence explicit, although The Hologram People are less spooky, the buoyant grooves of tracks like “Pray to the Maypole Witch” and “A Seventies Void” indebted as much to Air’s hazy nostalgia and the prog-inflected library music of the Space Oddities series as to any lords or darkness.

Barring the extended ambient interlude of “Lord Shiva’s Mother Ship”, The Hologram People’s incantations are more concise than the mouthful of an album title would suggest. They may be opening the portal, but they aren’t leaving you adrift.