The Hardy Tree – Common Grounds

Serene and subtly haunting, the latest from The Hardy Tree takes a twilight stroll through empty streets and abandoned shops, capturing a portrait of a neighbourhood in the midst of the pandemic. Castle, the force behind the excellent Clay Pipe Records as well as an acclaimed illustrator and musician, would spend her days walking the mostly empty streets and her evenings writing and recording the music that would become Common Grounds. The draft recordings would become the soundtrack to the next walk, which would inspire the next round of composition, an ongoing dialogue of place, sound, and movement.

Ambient-leaning music can sometimes feel academic, lost in its own head. That’s not the case here. The conversational approach to Common Grounds‘ composition has lead to an album that feels embodied, anchored in movement and place. The songs have the leisurely pace of an aimless walk, open-minded and observant. The mellotron and synth textures are comforting but uneasy, expertly capturing the eerie beauty of spaces that are empty by circumstance rather than choice. That ambiguity disappears for album closer “Up on the Hill,” its triumphant strings and swelling drums seemingly a sign of life returning to the world—a grand way to end an album that’s otherwise defined by smaller moments.

Podcast: The AM, Mar. 7, 2022

This week’s episode of The AM (also streaming at CJSW.com):

Atmospheric sounds from Loscil and Earthen Sea, psych-tinged folk from Spencer Cullum and Alabaster DePlume, fuzzed-out guitars from Lorelle Meets the Obscure and Did You Die, and other soul-sating sounds for a Monday morning in March. Plus, Wordfest’s Shelley Youngblut joins in the third hour to talk about ImagineOnAir’s upcoming programming. Enjoy.

(Image by Chel Faust)

Podcast: The AM, Feb. 28, 2022

This week’s episode of The AM (also streaming at CJSW.com): Take a deep breath and submerge yourself in the oblique sounds of The AM, a three-hour respite from a chaotic world. This week is bookended by new music from Bitchin’ Bajas and Orange Crate Art, finding room for vintage soul, modern pop experiments, jangling guitars, desert psych, and other offbeat albums old and new.

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Podcast: The AM, Feb. 21, 2022

This week’s episode of The AM (also streaming at CJSW.com): The holiday Monday made for a groggier-than-usual episode, but fortunately the music holds up even if the hosting is slightly off. After all, it’s hard to go wrong with new tunes from Cate Le Bon, Animal Collective, Exek, Ombiigizi, Congotronics International, Reptalians, and the list goes on…

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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.

Podcast: The AM, Jan. 24, 2022

This week’s episode of The AM (also streaming at CJSW.com): I didn’t notice that the 400th episode of the AM had come and gone, but celebrating number 402 works just as well. I shared the first song ever played on The AM, and there’ll be a Spotify playlist of the first episode’s tracklist available sometime shortly—visit theam.ca for that one. But, we’re always looking forward, and this week’s mix of cosmic synthesizers, melodic art-rock, and psychedelic surf is your recommended way to ease into the last week of January.

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January 22 New Music Roundup

Ben Lukas Boysen – Clarion (Kiasmos Remix) (Erased Tapes)

The first single from Boysen’s upcoming Clarion EP, this reworking of a track from 2020’s Mirage condenses the sprawling original, adding a propulsive kick while preserving the elliptical melody. That pulse becomes the gravity holding the intellectual and emotional halves of Boysen’s composition together, keeping the body rooted to the dancefloor while the spirit soars into the cosmos.

Ben McElroy – How I Learnt to Disengage from the Pack (Slow Music Movement)

The Slow Music Movement’s first release of 2022 is a collection of spacious folk music from Nottingham’s Ben McElroy. Droning bass provides the soil from which McElroy’s songs grow and flower, fragments of melodies from flute, strings, and voice coalescing like breath in winter air. It’s ideal January music, sounds that would evaporate in the summer sun, but that linger and shimmer in the cold.

Jenny Hval – Year of Love (4AD)

The second single from Hval’s upcoming Classic Objects, and her first for 4AD, is a much more straightforward tune than her last few offerings. But even Hval’s most straightforward songs tend to feel more like questions than statements, and “Year of Love” is no exception. Her vocals here are as inquisitive as ever, tracing outlines of ambiguity even in a conventional structure.

Ray Barbee – Always Dreamin’ (Plant Bass Records)

ELECTRONIC KUMOKO cloudchild is an eclectic compilation that’ll take a few more listens to digest in full, but the chance to hear new music from Barbee is already enough to justify a spin. The skateboarder and musician is in full-on kosmiche mode here, gently drifting along with twinkling electronics and melodic bass. My only complaint is that three minutes isn’t nearly enough; Barbee wakes us up before the dream’s even really begun.