by Evan Welsh
With the school year coming to an end, this will be the final installment of this series for the time being (realistically until the next school year begins.) That said, this list of 5 albums is slightly different than ones I have made in the past. As promised, there is a preview an album being released in May alongside 4 other April releases. I hope everyone reading these have enjoyed the suggestions and I look forward to writing for you again soon. Much Love.
1. Jordaan Mason- Earth to Ursa Major (Releases May 31)
The biggest problem with these lists being relatively short in form is that I cannot always do justice to albums that require much much larger pieces. I ran into this problem when thinking about what I was going to write about Jordaan Mason’s upcoming album, Earth To Ursa Major.
The first thing I listen for in Mason’s work are their lyrics. Mason is a published author and poet and throughout their back catalog language has been at the center of their work. The lyrical themes in Earth To Ursa Major involve Mason trying to find placement and belonging within the world as it currently seems to be crumbling under the pressure of its own postmodern nihilism, within themselves as a person, and within the larger cosmos. “I want to be found so badly…” sings Mason at the end of “If I Disappear…,” a line I feel encapsulates the themes on this album. That song in particular discusses history on both a large and personal scale, from ‘the history of warmth” to everywhere Mason laid their head to rest. Throughout my listens to Earth To Ursa Major I couldn’t help but be reminded of Stephen Dedalus writing his geography from his classroom to Ireland to the world to the Universe (it’s the English major in me, I’m sorry.) However, the two diverge upon the realization that Mason’s album is an exploration, an anxious interrogation, of that certainty of place.
Outside of lyricism, I felt everything in this album works perfectly in conjunction with everything else. The instrumentation on this album can range from the intimate and organic to the expansive and synthetic. I believe the song “Liturgy Part Three” does an incredible job of displaying that range. The 10 minute track begins with piano and Mason’s vocals and eventually grows into what feels like an emotional eruption with organ, synthesizer, guitar, and double bass. The instrumentation parallels lyrical content as Mason’s journey to find belonging travels from lying in bedrooms to floating in space and back again.
Earth To Ursa Major really feels to me like one of the first classic albums this political era has offered us. Mason speaks so honestly to the immensity and unease of the current socio-political situation as well as the ongoing anxieties of just being human.
Earth To Ursa Major releases on May 31. I am extremely excited for everyone to hear it. If you are unfamiliar with Mason’s work, I suggest you catch up at jordaanmason.bandcamp.com
Fav Tracks: Grief Poem (Everything’s Collapsing), Why Fit?, It Does Not Get Better, Liturgy Part Three, If I Disappear…, Awl/Leather
2. Hop Along- Bark Your Head Off, Dog
I have to admit something… before this album, I wasn’t head over heels with Hop Along. I know I am in the minority, and I’d like to clarify that it’s not that I didn’t like the band, I just wasn’t in love. However, Bark Your Head Off, Dog has been a catalyst of change in heart.
To begin with, this album has simply been dragging me back to it the entire month. From a sonics and songwriting standpoint Bark Your Head Off, Dog is an incredibly interesting listen. The instrumentation throughout the album is dynamic and layered and on many of the tracks the song structure shifts and changes in natural and captivating ways. The album also intrigues lyrically, with literary and biblical call backs that I found worthy of returning to and trying to decipher. Long story short: the entire record is layered and interesting enough to warrant return listens and is also catchy and fun at the same time. It has been an album I simply have not been able to leave behind since its release.
Fav Tracks: How Simple, Not Abel, What The Writer Meant, Look of Love
3. Anteloper- Kudu
It’s both easy and difficult to describe this album. On one hand, it is an experimental jazz album comprising mostly of synth-glued improvisational tracks from trumpeter Jaimie Branch and drummer Jason Nazary. On the other, it is difficult to fully describe the type of experience a listener is going to get with this album.
Kudu, the debut album from Branch and Nazary’s duo Anteloper takes listeners by the collar and leads them through the 50 minute runtime. As a listener I never could really tell what was coming next, and honestly, it made the experience all the better. This is a wonderfully odd psychedelic and experimental jazz album that excels most in its unpredictability and effective use of a just a trumpet, drum, and synths to create a vast soundstage that is easy to get lost in. It is a testament to the control and character of Branch and Nazary that they have made and album that, even after listening to it multiple times, surprises and endears me with every listen.
Fav Tacks: Oryx, Lethal Curve, Ohoneotree Suite
4. Grouper- Grid Of Points
For those familiar, Grid Of Points picks up seemingly right where Grouper left off with 2014’s Ruins, creating minimal piano-led ambient singer-songwriter tracks. While, at the time of its release, Ruins was Grouper’s most sparse and straightforward album to date, Grid Of Points has seemingly reached a new utilitarian peak for Liz Harris’ songwriting. This album is 7 tracks and 22 minutes long, and each moment is unequivocally essential.
The soundscapes on Grid Of Points essentially boils down to the light hiss of ambient noise against a microphone, skeletal piano melodies, and Harris’ vocals echoed and faded into atmosphere. The ambience created in Liz Harris’ music as Grouper to me has always felt so contemplative and transcendental, and Grid Of Points exemplifies this. This is one of the most affecting albums I’ve listened to yet this year, its entirety dissected and deconstructed until only a soul remains.
Fav Tracks: All: If I felt there were a weak track on this album it would have brought the whole thing down rather substantially.
5. The Caretaker- Everywhere At The End Of Time Stage 4
I find my enjoyment of Grouper’s album and this album endlessly interesting, as they are both ambient albums that gain their effectiveness basically through a deconstruction of their particular form. However, both records do so in completely different ways, accomplishing nearly completely opposite objectives. Admittedly, as I think about it, maybe deconstruction is not the right word for this album, disintegration is probably more fitting.
Leyland Kirby’s project, The Caretaker, has been on the journey set forth by Everywhere At The End Of Time for nearly a year and a half at this point. The concept behind the six albums The Caretaker has planned for Everywhere At The End Of Time is dementia. Specifically, following the descent into the loss of memory from Stage One, where the disease has not yet taken over but is looming, down to Stage 6 where complete dementia has set in, distorting and crushing all memory.
Stage 4 is the first of these albums that slips into total memory loss, and jesus christ is this album absolutely crushing. The Caretaker’s bandcamp reads, Post-Awareness Stage 4 is where serenity and the ability to recall singular memories gives way to confusions and horror. It’s the beginning of an eventual process where all memories begin to become more fluid through entanglements, repetition and rupture.“
The anxiety, fear, and loss that comes through on this album honestly makes it a difficult listen. If we the listeners are supposed to be put in the place of someone with dementia, this is the point in the process in which we being to fully understand there is something horrifically wrong, but with no way to change or help ourselves out of the abyss. All of the uneasy swingtime 78s from The Caretaker’s previous projects have been distorted and smashed into crippling walls of sound through the entire hour and a half runtime.
This album is wholly disorienting, paralyzing, and nihilistic. I absolutely cannot recommend this album for everybody. But, if you are interested in the concept of dementia being explored aurally, or if you’re interested in sound collage, noise music, or harsh ambient music, Everywhere At The End Of Time serves as a continuously interesting and worthwhile project.
Fav Tracks: Again, this is a whole entity kind of deal.