Music from the First Half of 2022 p.3: Rock & Psych

Favourites from the first half of 2022

Part One: Electronic

Part Two: Folk, Pop, & Pop Adjacent

Part Three: Rock & Psych

Part Four: Jazz & Experimental

Continuing on from the electronic and pop-adjacent selections of the first two posts, these 10 albums and EPs run the gamut from wiry post-punk to ocean-breeze dream-pop, with an emphasis on reverb, echo, and lysergic tendencies. Most of the artists here have found a way to balance nostalgic tendencies with forward-thinking restlessness, carving new niches in old sounds and proving there’s still plenty of mileage to be wrung from six strings and a distortion pedal.

Cola – Deep in View

Post-punk from two of the folks who brought you Ought, and Cola definitely sips from the same mug of angular post-punk guitars, elliptical lyrics, and caffeinated rhythms that fueled that earlier project. Tim Darcy’s songwriting is more concise here, and his melodies are more fleshed out, but the songs still have that blend of urgency and inscrutability that has always made him such a fascinating voice.

Congotronics International – Where’s the One?

Overkill in every sense, but if you approach this maximalist intercontinental collaboration in the right frame of mind, be ready to be overwhelmed by sheer joy. A decade in the making and recorded via fragments traded between 19 musicians across four continents (including members of Konono No. 1, Deerhoof, Juana Molina, and more), the songs are understandably eclectic, with distorted likembé rave-ups, indie-rock stompers, live fragments, and call-and-response anthems bubbling up for a minute or two, jamming on a theme, and moving on to the next idea. It’s all a bit much, but you rarely find music this freewheeling.

Exek – Advertise Here

Fusing elements of dub, post-punk, and psychedelic pop, Melbourne’s Exek make music that feels perpetually off-kilter, teetering on the brink of accessibility but always ready to wobble into realms of high weirdness. Picture pre-ambient Brian Eno fronting PiL and you wouldn’t be worlds way from the sound of Advertise Here; dispassionate vocals and deadpan grooves, woozy synths and motorik beats, this is serious strangeness delivered with a wink and a barely visible smile.

gerry – gerry EP

Four stoned krautrock jams that throb with consciousness-expanding joy. The gnarled synths on “Grimpy” are what initially caught my ear, but each of the four instrumentals is a gem in its own right, from the rollicking opener “Tune2” to the big-beat bliss of “Bloody” and the end-credit crawl of mid-tempo closer “Low Prophie.” Here’s hoping this project amounts to more than just a one-off EP.

Ghostkeeper – Multidimensional Culture

After the synth-heavy atmospherics of 2017’s Sheer Blouse Buffalo Knocks, it’s tempting to call Multidimensional Culture a return to form, but that doesn’t give credit to the last album’s quality, or to the new one’s adventurousness. Still, as a long-time fan of Shane Ghostkeeper’s corkscrew solos and occasional Beefheartian skronk, it’s nice to hear him returning to the guitar. Multidimensional Culture finds the band embracing a rich sense of melody, with string arrangements, choral backings, and gospel energy enriching Shane’s usual singsong-spoken delivery—his growth as a singer is startling. It’s the sentimental moments that really stun here, though, the gorgeous “This is How I Know You” and psychedelic ballad “Summer Child” showing a sweetness that suits the band surprisingly well.

Kikagaku Moyo – Kumoyo Island

There’s something to be said for going out on a high note, but it still seems slightly unfair that Kikagaku Moyo would choose their swan song to release their most focused, infectious, exhuberant album. In a way it’s almost an antithesis to last year’s Ryley Walker collaboration Deep Fried Grandeur, trading in that album’s two side-long jams for some of the catchiest tunes the band has put to wax. Things still get plenty spacy—”Meu Mar” is vintage Moyo in that regard—but the sitar hook and wah-wah guitar on “Monaka” and the woozy groove of “Dancing Blue” open the album with a pop flourish that they’ve only hinted at before. Clearly the band felt the project has run its course, but there’s no sign of creative fatigue on Kumoyo Island.

Large Plants – The Carrier

The artists on Ghost Box recordings are frequently steeped in nostalgia, but they usually lean towards haunted synths and radiophonic sound effects to conjure their vintage atmospheres. Wolf People’s Jack Sharp takes a different approach for his debut as Large Plants, channeling a strain of fuzzed-out folk-psych that sounds like it was summened straight from the 1960s via an acid-tinged ritual. Still, it’s not hard to see why The Carrier ended up on the Ghost Box roster. Listen to the library-funk groove on “How Far” or the mournful melody of “Hold Onto,” and you’ll find that this is every bit as haunted as anything from the Advisory Circle or Belbury Poly—just with distorted guitars and the occasional cowbell.

Modern Nature – Island of Noise

This one’s here on a technicality, as it was officially released in 2021 as a vinyl box set, but the digital release didn’t come until January, 2022. That scarcity was certainly part of the album’s initial appeal, but Island of Noise isn’t one of the year’s best albums because of a marketing approach. Jack Cooper’s post-Ultimate Painting project shares his former band’s impeccable taste, but nothing in that catalogue foreshadowed the nuanced arrangement and improvisatory feel that have come to define Modern Nature. Loosely inspired by Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Island’s songs feel timeless, even elemental. The music more an ecosystem than a collection of songs, themes decaying and re-emerging, new patterns growing like wildflowers in fields, comforting and unpredictable all at once.

Persica 3 – Tangerine

A too-brief collection of lush dream-pop released on France’s always-reliable Hidden Bay Records. There’s a distinctly coastal feel to this mini-LP despite its Parisian origins, a modern extrapolation of the Beach Boys’ proto-dream pop in its sun-soaked synths and reverb-heavy harmonies, refreshing as an ocean breeze. Album closers “Elliot” and “Unflattering / Untitled” end Tangerine on a melancholy note, but the impression the album leaves you with isn’t of sadness or even bittersweet; it’s the lighter-than-air feeling of a pleasant memory, distant in time but alive in the mind and ready to be recalled again.

Yoo Doo Right – A Murmur, Boundless to the East

Clocking in at nearly 45 minutes over the course of just five songs, it’s fair to say Yoo Doo Right approach their songwriting with a fair bit of ambition. Refining their heady blend of krautrock, shoegaze and Montreal post-rock, A Murmur, Boundless to the East is a more subdued patient record than last year’s Don’t Think You Can Escape Your Purpose, and more patient, too. The Morricone-in-space atmspherics of “The Failure of Stiff, Tired Friends” (just over six minutes long and still the album’s shortest track) makes for a solid entry point, but the closer “Feet Together, Face Up on the Front Lawn” is the album’s highpoint, showing off everything Yoo Doo Right do right. With apocalyptic strings courtesy of Jessica Moss, pounding motorik drums, and car-crash guitar, it’s up there with the peaks of Constellation’s dystopian post-rock, cacophany and catharsis doled out over 16 thundering minutes.

Music from the First Half of 2022 p.1: Electronic

Favourites from the first half of 2022

Part One: Electronic

Part Two: Folk, Pop, & Pop Adjacent

Part Three: Rock & Psych

Part Four: Jazz & Experimental

Part one of what will hopefully be a four-part look at some early favourites from the first half of the year. “Electronic” is a vague category, and even within that, there are albums here that hardly fit the descriptor, mixing live performance and organic instrumentation in with their synthesized sounds and sequencers. From minimal synths to new age visions, dystopian soundtracks and Eurorack explorations, these albums range from the accessible to the experimental, sometimes soothing and sometimes unnerving, but always engaging.

Charbonneau/Amato – Synth Works Vol. 2

Pietro Amato and Matthieu Charbonneau have been making music together at least since their late 2000s run in the vastly underappreciated Montreal chamber-pop trio Torngat, and while the synthetic sounds of their work as Charbonneau/Amato are superficially quite far removed from that project, Synth Works Vol. 2 has the same warmth and imagination that has always made their work so compelling. The duo coaxes surprising variety from this set of chirping melodies and simple rhythms, keeping the arrangements minimal without sacrificing nuance. It’s a gentle album, but one that rewards repeated listening.

Cool Maritime – Big Earth Energy

New Age-y and ambient as it may be, Sean Hellfritsch’s latest release as Cool Maritime feels positively energetic compared to the coastal transcendentalism of his earlier albums. Big Earth Energy is billed as a soundtrack to an imaginary ecological-themed video game, and its mystical pulse certainly conjures visions of ray-traced vistas and point-and-click puzzling in the glory days of CD-ROM adventures. Fans craving long-form meditations will need to adjust their expectations, but even the tighter compositions still offer plenty of opportunities to expand your mind.

Ecotype – Civil Version

Released back in February, this Calgary duo’s sophomore release was better suited to the frost-covered streets of a Canadian winter than to our current mid-summer heatwave. Give it a couple months for the air to crisp up and the leaves to fall down, and Civil Version’s Boards of Canada-evoking blend of hip hop beats and haunted synths will be back in season. Like a midnight scene lit by campfire, it’s soothing and at least a little bit sinister.

Field Works – Stations

The conceptual heft of Stations certainly helps the album feel momentous—it’s built around samples harvested from ground-recording stations and billed as a collaboration between human performers and the voice of the Earth itself—but that highly cerebral concept would be weightless without the gravity of the actual compositions. A bevvy of collaborators help Field Works mastermind Stuart Hyatt flesh out the sounds, finishing on a note of joy and good humour with Laraaji’s infectious laughter. Don’t pass up the companion remix album, either. With mixes from Deantoni Parks, Green-House, Alva Noto and more, it turns out to be just as essential as (and even more inventive than) the proper album.

Green-House – Solar Editions

A welcome EP from the spiritual successor to Mort Garson’s Plantasia (a bit of a reductive comparison, but the recurring plant and fungal themes make it inevitable). Only four songs, but as the title implies, it’s a burst of sunshine, the playful new-age melodies radiating warm, revitalizing energy. Truly blissful stuff; as with the whole Green-House catalogue, it’s hard to imagine hearing more than a few measures of Olive Ardizoni’s music without cracking a smile.

Jilk – Haunted Bedrooms

Scarcity is something you rarely run into nowadays, but the Castles in Space label has cultivated its mystique through a refusal to cater to the whims of streaming services, and through consistently brilliant curation. As consistenly impressive as their catalogue is, Jilk’s Haunted Bedrooms still stands out as a highlight, a unique musical world with a sonic ecosystem blending discordant folk, pastoral post-rock, and unpredictable electronics, and still manages to be accessible despite its eclecticism.

Moat Bells – Bones of Things

A confident sophomore release from this London, ON electronic project, but then, last year’s debut was strong enough out the gate to justify that confidence. Bones of Things is a more cohesive album than its full-length predecessor, its five tracks exploring a narrower and more distinctive sonic range, drawing from downtempo, IDM, and ambient influences. “Circles in June” breaks that mold, indulging in four minutes of chopped vocal samples and chiming, vaguely post-punk guitar, but even that welcome digression just highlights how quickly this project is refining its sound and expanding its ambition.

Pneumatic Tubes – A Letter from TreeTops

Jesse Chandler of Mercury Rev and Midlake makes his Ghost Box debut as Pneumatic Tubes, providing a pastoral American spin that labels hauntological sound. Composed in response to the death of his father, A Letter from TreeTops is understandably contemplative, but also surpringly reassuring, its rural kosmische evoking the resiliance of the upstate New York landscape where Chandler grew up and where he returned to write these tunes. Synths and vintage keyboards mingle with flute and clarinet (hence “pneumatic tubes”), and the result is organic and hypnotic, a landscape of rolling hills, dense fog, and sterling vistas.

Polypores – Hyperincandescent

Eurorack explorations spanning two 22-minute compositions, Polypores’ first album for the UK’s DiN imprint shuns conventional song structure for a more freewheeling approach. There are distinctive movements throughout Hyperincandescent, but as the title’s prefix implies, the music never rests for too long in any one place, preferring to shift between thoughts like a radio panning long-range frequencies. The second side is the more patient of the two, but both reward a slow listen, eyes closed, headphones on, adrift in the aural aether.

Sanctums – Neon Wraith

After a six-year silence, Calgary darkwave duo Sanctums return with an EP that reconciles the ambient leanings of their last full length with the IDM pulse of their earlier releases. Like 2016’s Migrant Workers, Neon Wraith is shrouded in dark clouds, but this time dystopian skies let in a little light, especially in the new wave groove of “Pattern Play” and in the breathy climax of album closer “Radiant Silver.” It’s not all sunshine — most of the tracks could still be the soundtrack to an impending apocalypse — but if this is the end at least we’re going down dancing.

Sankt Otten – Symmetrie und Wahnsinn

My original description of this one was “The spirit of Neu! lives on,” but that doesn’t seem fair to Neu! co-founder Michael Rother, who also released a quite-good album this year. But Sankt Otten’s strain of contemporary kosmische is the one I keep returning to, and Symmetrie und Wahnsinn is an impeccable collection. Opening with the pitch-perfect motorik of “Hymne der melancholischen Programmierer,” the album takes off on some moodier tangents, culminating in the 10-minute “Die Ordnung des Lärms,” but cinematic as it gets, it never loses a core of hard-won optimism.

Test Card – Patterns

Test Card is largely based out of Vancouver, but their music has always felt more of a piece with bucolic UK artists like the Hardy Tree or Ellis Island Sound than anything out of Canada. Patterns is no exception, blending folk and electronic influences into songs that seem inspired by rolling hills and old Roman roads. At its best when its acoustic and synthetic sides are given equal standing — as on the lovely and self-explanatory “(Seventeen guitars and one piano)” — it’s an excercise in low-key escapism, a sunset walk through idyllic fields.

Time Wharp – Spiro World

From chaotic future-jazz to blissful Terry Riley loops to woodwind kosmische, Kaye Loggins covers a lot of ground on Spiro World (or One Must First Become Aware Of The Body), but the result never sounds disjointed. Probably because each track is so fully realized in itself that it’s easier to let yourself get immersed than to worry about through-lines. It’s enough that the momentum of each composition pulls you into the next, making it impossible to turn away until the album dissolves in a cloud of delay.

tstewart – elysian

Travis Stewart’s first release under the seemingly more personal tstewart banner strikes a much lower-key pose than his work as Machinedrum. Inspired by a park in downtown LA, Elysian is every bit as Edenic as the title implies. Each track takes inspiration from a different nook in the park’s landscape, and between the triumphant peak of “Baxter Climb” the dulcimer shimmer of “Isle of the Blest” and the gentle meandering of “Cumulous,” Stewart has convincingly captured a slice of urban paradise.

Untrained Animals – Stranded Somewhere on the Planet Fantastic

After a five-year silence between 2016’s Obsolescent the Moment You Get It and 2021’s Good Vibes on Bad Acid remix compilation, Calgary’s Untrained Animals have seemingly been making up for lost time, with two LPs, two mixtapes, and another release due later this year. Stranded Somewhere on the Planet Fantastic is the newest of the those releases and also the strongest of the bunch — a slightly slower pace lets the melodies come into a clearer focus compared to some of the last few albums’ more manic moments. Moving from space rock to breakbeats to “beatless floaters” and acid freakouts in its 14-track run, the project’s creative restlessness can be disorienting at times, but that’s what happens when you sign up to explore the Planet Fantastic.

Videodrones – After the Fall

Released on the always essential El Paraiso Records, the third album from Danish duo Videodrones expands their synthwave sound to include live guitar and drums. The result is as lively as you’d hope. ’80s film scores and heady psychedelia are ground up and recombined into Videodrones’ new flesh, but things aren’t as grim as the band’s cinematic namesake and the album’s post-apocalyptic title may imply. In fact, the stretches of beauty and triumph outnumber the darker moments. Whatever fall humanity suffered, it’s clear from the retro-futurist tones that we’re well on our way to rebuilding.

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.

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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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.

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.