Land of Talk

Applause+Cheer+Boo+Hiss+cover land_of_talk_cloak_and_cipher

Land of Talk are (were?) a 3-piece indie rock band from Montreal. Fronted by powerhouse siren Elizabeth Powell as the principle songwriter, singer and guitarist, they are a a true darkhorse of the Canadian music scene. With vocal and guitar work that trades buddy-blows with the likes of Feist, Powell boasts a bit more scratch and bite, dropping cuss words and bitter comebacks and ending the majority of her phrases with an exclamation mark. She has incredible talent, combining intricate guitar work, body-slamming patterns, and a deliciously crunchy tone. Powell unapologetically forfeits niceties and propriety to deliver a true, raw representation of what’s on her mind, and the resulting product is the hubris and conviction that constitutes impacting, emotional music.

The essence of Land of Talk can be boiled down to their 3 essential releases: killer debut 2006 EP “Applause Cheer Boo Hiss”, follow-up 2008 LP “Some Are Lakes”, and 2010’s amazing “Cloak and Cipher” album. Despite their moniker, there has been naught a peep from their neck of the woods, save for a rather depressing classifieds entry from Powell hocking her beautiful-sounding amp. Powell has reportedly had ongoing vocal chord issues from screaming herself pathologically hoarse, so perhaps there’s a gestating monologue or two making its voyage out of the Land of Talk. Update: Hallelujah, Powell has emerged from the woodlands with another slam-dunk rock record “Life After Youth” featuring some of her best songwriting to date (try the beating Heartcore).

Favourite track: Swift Coin… Shred nasty

The Amazing

Rock lives yet. The Amazing are a Swedish alternative rock quintet active since the late 2000s. They represent an ever-receding pocket of music, offering a no-frills, minimally processed sound conspicuously lacking in pop-hooks, yet undeniable all the same. With unwavering attentiveness to quality riff-writing, The Amazing stray from the limelight and simply let the art do the talking. Masters of blending layers of instrumentation, they never shy from classic rock arrangement, offering a refreshing mixture of electric and acoustic guitar, piano, tasteful harmony and unobtrusive drumming. The focus is on feeling; a palpable ethos cruising gently by at a comfortable pace, nothing forced, nothing contrived. Singer Christoffer Gunrop conveys an honest reverence for melancholy, without seeming downcast or depressing. Elegance in defeat – a gentle reminder that sadness can be pretty too.

I clued in to The Amazing with 2015’s break-out LP “Picture You”, an hour-long journey of conviction and apology spanning bedroom lullaby to muscular epic. In true rocker form, the instrumentation was reportedly recorded in a 3-day frenzy; you’d never know it though, given the air-tight precision only delivered by those of proficient musicianship. A mere 15 months later followed “Ambulance”, a quiet and meditative offering in 8 movements. With the exception of sore-thumb black sheep track “Blair Drager” (skip it), the album  whisks you into a soft carpeted living room with clashy decor, dim lighting, and 5 friends basking in the complementary myriad of each instrument’s sound. If ever I stop obsessing over these two, it’s comforting to know there’s many more earlier works waiting to help keep the flickering flame of rock and roll alive.

Favourite track: Circles… now that’s how you apologize

Empire of the Sun

empire_of_the_sun empire-of-the-sun-ice-on-the-dune-high-artwork

Empire of the Sun are an Australian duo comprised of singer Luke Steele and Nick Littlemoore (also one half of catchy electro group Pnau). Thrust into the spotlight upon release of 2008’s amazing instant-hit “Walking on a Dream” (one of my most-listened to songs of all time), these guys are the maestros of fantasy-flavoured bubblegum pop; Hits that you’d feel embarrassed singing along to if it weren’t for the fact everyone around you was wholeheartedly doing the same. The only thing more ridiculous than their album covers and outfits is the music they conjure, but it doesn’t matter because you’ll find yourself hip-thrusting regardless. Empire of the Sun use a simple instrumentation palate of airy synths, 4-on-the-floor drum programming, and processed guitars, but what makes them so special is the poised and forefront lyrics, melodies, and unmistakable timbre Steele boasts.

Taking their sweet, sweet time with things, Empire of the Sun have put out 2 solid albums in 6 years: 2008’s debut “Walking on a Dream”, and this year’s “Ice on the Dune”, a sonic complementary victory-lap. Update: The sing-song circus act has returned with LP “Two Vines”, another fist-pumping collection of 14 anthemic tunes (get moving to Friends).

Favourite track: Walking on a Dream… Heart-conquering bliss.

The Radio Dept.

4333190975_377db08957 the-radio-dept-clinging-to-a-scheme1

The Radio Dept. are a shoegaze/dream-pop duo from Sweden. Formed in the late 90s, they are one of the classiest and most under-appreciated acts of the last musical decade. Soldiering along with humility and grace, these dudes have been quietly delivering a dynasty of golden nuggets, with each release better than the last. Singer/guitarist and principle songwriter Johan Duncanson is in constant battle with his own obsessive-compulsive tendencies, consequently writing literally dozens of half-completed songs before losing interest and moving onto the next. Apparently with their latest album, 2010’s magnificent “Clinging to a Scheme”, they were in the studio for 3 full years, with nary a finished song to show for it (despite a reported 100+ in progress). In their astonishment and frustration, the group agreed to simply commit to see the current 10 tracks to completion and cash in the chips. If you listen to that album, you’ll join me in wondering what the other bagillion turfed songs sound like, and which Swede you’d have to rob to attain them.

I have my partner to thank for showing me this group, via Sofia Coppola’s perfect placement of their accompaniment in pivotal, vulnerable film scenes. Alongside bands like The Strokes, The Drums, and Little Joy, The Radio Dept. prove once again that very little is needed to create memorable, meaningful and gorgeous music. With rarely more than a handful of fuzzed-out riffs, uninvolved lyrical phrases, a keyboard line or two, and a bare naked drum machine, they casually and effortlessly capture the listener. They just feel good to hear… deeper and deeper, way, way down. I only know the names of like 2 Radio Dept. songs because 99% of the time I throw on any one of their albums, I simply sit back and enjoy the whole ride. I can say with confidence that whenever someone piloting the musical selection picks Radio Dept., I never whine. And I’m a huge whiner.

Since their international debut in 2000, The Radio Dept. have remained a tortoise amongst fleeting hares in the music scene, with each album more refined, catchy, and satisfying that its predecessor. Their LPs include 2003’s “Lesser Matters”, 2006’s “Pet Grief”, and 2010’s “Clinging to a Scheme”, with 6 robust EPs, each featuring 3-5 top-quality songs. Update: at long last, LP #4 hath arrived – “Running out of Love” is a melancholic, stoned-out collective flourished with synth hooks only The Radio Dept. know how to craft (try the open letter This Thing Was Bound To Happen).

Favourite track: Every Time… it’s like a billowy cloud hugging your heart.

Lone

CS1667637-02A-BIG Lone-cover

Lone is British electronic producer Matt Cutler, now signed to the prestigious R&S Records. I was initially drawn in by his catchy and rather appropriate moniker, isolation being the creative arena for the majority of modern DJs and producers. Lone’s sound is beautifully represented by his album art, especially graphic artist Konx-om-Pax’s interpretations: a busy, shimmering intergalactic ocean of scintillating lights and obscure shapes. Lone has a slippery sound – it’s hard to get a hold on his timing and transitions, and harder to acquaint one’s self enough to know what’s coming next. However, despite my inability to fully comprehend every amorphous beat pattern and ethereal, haunting overtone, I enjoy them just the same. Definitely gives the ol’ sternocleidos a good workout.

Since 2007, Lone has amassed an astonishing amount of noteworthy music. Considering there’s only so much time in a day, and when you subtract the intervals spent sleeping, working, bathing, excreting and scream-crying, it takes a while for one to slog their way through an artist’s discography. However, what I’ve thus far ingested of Lone’s has been stellar, with particular nods to two of his more recent LPs “Emerald Fantasy Tracks” and “Galaxy Garden”, as well as his excellent 2011 “Echolocations” EP. Known for the odd remix as well, Lone was amongst the all-star lineup selected for Radiohead’s “TKOL RMX” series. Update: The Brit’s back with a distilled, jungle-meets-ambience interstellar hyperdrive LP entitled “Levitation” (try banger Alpha Wheel).

Favourite track: Spirals [featuring Anneka]… Brings the “2001: A Space Odyssey” Beyond The Infinite visual sequences to mind.

Tim Hecker

Muzyka elektroniczna Płyta: Tim Hecker - Harmony In Ultraviolet cover-ultramarin

Tim Hecker is a Montreal-based ambient artist and producer who has been steadily releasing music since 2000. A true visionary for abstract electronic music, Hecker has mastered the art of digitally crafting living, breathing sonic movements. He utilizes a multitude of instrumentation and field recordings, crushed, distorted and warped into writhing acoustic organisms. By nature of this surging density, the listener is pulled in every direction and simultaneously pinned down by weighty aural impact.

Under his better-known eponymous ambient side, Hecker has produced 8 quality LPs (my favourites being “Harmony in Ultraviolet”, “Radio Amor” and his debut, “Haunt Me, Haunt Me Do It Again”) and a host of supporting EPs. As a collaborator, he’s teamed with notable brethren such as noise/electronic producer Oneohtrix Point Never (also a talented individual), remixed the likes of Isis and Mogwai, and has been sought as a touring act with indie giants Sigur Rós and Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Via Jetone, his notable minimalist dancey side project, Hecker has released 3 elusive LPs, “Ultramarin” standing as the only one I’ve managed to attain. Update: the winter’s ice hath thawed into Spring, trickling through Tim Hecker’s subconscious as “Love Streams”. This LP finds him at his most frigid, raw and beautiful – a frantic, sometimes harrowing squall of fragmented, wandering voices curated with the help of talented Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson (try “Music of the Air” with trailing requiem “Bijie Dream”).

Favourite tracks:
Tim Hecker – Chimeras… constant change.
Jetone – Aerial Red… music for a club night after party’s after party.

Fennesz

venice1 CS2438188-02A-BIG

Christian Fennesz is an Austrian electronic, noise and ambient producer who has defined and transformed these genres for over 20 years. Revered as one of the most innovative and versatile electronic musicians of our time, he really is in a league of his own. Raised and still based in Vienna, Fennesz reports to have found great solace and inspiration from the wind that endlessly swept the valley of his home. Indeed, his music often embodies just that – layer upon layer of shape-shifting melody, beaten endlessly down by droning overlay and unpredictability. He is the sound of a sandstorm tossing blinded, desperate songbirds through the air, or of a drowned wind-up charm as it sinks slowly to the bottom of the sea. He at once embodies steadfast artistic consistency with unrelenting change, where every sound and texture was conjured uniquely by him, to be used for a specific musical moment alone, never to be heard again.

Offering probably the greatest solo live performance I’ll ever see, Fennesz demonstrated true mastery of his instruments, intensely  scanning his computer and studio-sized soundboard, generating and altering an immersive synthetic density while driving essential guitar-based accentuations through the fog. He rocked back and forth with a near-possessed look upon his face, like a zealot just moments away from enlightenment. Upon finishing his 1-hour non-stop set, the crowd sat in prolonged silence, seemingly for fear of cursing the molecular arrangement of the air. Fennesz sincerely apologized for his many “errors” during the set, to which one audience member simply returned, “Please, play more.”

Since 1995, Fennesz has amassed an amazing collection of work. Starting as a noise artist, he remained off the beaten path, steadily expanding his repertoire throughout the initial releases. Perhaps best known for his version of a pop record, 2001’s “Endless Summer”, this work secured his place in the music world and is an essential demonstration of his abilities. However, it’s in the 2004 follow-up “Venice” that I believe Fennesz found his masterpiece. With some of the greatest electronic songs to be heard, “Venice” is an absolute triumph of vision and execution. 2008’s “Black Sea” is perhaps less immediately accessible, but continues with his dedicated experimentation and innovation in engineering. 2014 broke a 6-year LP-hiatus with “Bécs”, a beautifully-wrought guitar-heavy return to his take on pop-influenced songwriting.

Furthering his versatility, Fennesz is a prolific collaborator with a large variety of musicians in studio and live performance – from the piano mastery of Ryuichi Sakamoto, to the raw and fragile croons of the late Sparklehorse, to the spasmodic insanity of Mike Patton, to the live soundtracking of a ballet performance (and literally dozens more), his diversity knows no bounds. Hacking covers and remixes into something wholly indistinguishable from the original, it never ceases to impress and perplex how it is Fennesz must approach and perceive music. Despite this, he offers incredibly simple, purist opinions when inquired, almost as though his music is the only thing that makes clear, logical sense. In a recent interview, Fennesz discussed how listeners sometimes state difficulty in finding the path connecting his interpretations, so he played an unreleased version of his 1998 originally-instrumental cover of The Beach Boys “Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder)”, featuring the magic of Brian Wilson’s vocals to guide the listeners’ ears. I have to say, I join much of his fan base in my inability to completely understand his soundscapes, but that hasn’t stopped him from becoming my very favourite electronic artist and a cherished, quintessential component of why I love music. Update: Enlisting frequent collaborator Jim O’Rourke, Fennesz recently released 2-track LP “It’s Hard For Me To Say I’m Sorry”. Again, perhaps with the ear of a music master I might be able to find hints of Chicago buried throughout, but to me it simply sounds like the usual intensity and elegance that emanates from Fennesz’s mind. You can listen on label Editions Mega’s YouTube.

Favourite tracks:
Venice – Rivers of Sand
Venice – Circassian
Seven Stars – Liminal
Endless Summer – Cecilia
Jensen Sportag Rain Code (Fennesz Remix) (free download)

Tourist

artworks-000077364591-dwq911-t500x500 Tourist-Tonight

Tourist is UK-based pianist-turned-electro artist William Phillips who came into the scene around 2012. He keeps a pretty low profile, releasing a precious few delicacies per year on small-scale labels and offering the rare remix. Tourist exists in the same esthetic arena as artists like Jacques Greene, Ifan Dafydd and Nosaj Thing, crafting brightly-coloured, beautifully-constructed dance music featuring chopped vocal samples, unassuming rhythms and ample drive to keep your blood surging. It’s like keeping your finger on the pulse of a purring mountain lion.

Tourist’s Soundcloud offers much of his array of works for your perusal, with a few free downloads (new single “Stay”, “Your Girl” and his excellent remix of Sharon Van Etten’s “We Are Fine”). I enjoy all his stuff, with my favourites being his “Patterns” EP (featuring a standout vocal performance by Will Heard on “I Can’t Keep Up“) and 2013’s “Tonight” EP. Update: After much ado, we’ve now been graced with Tourist’s debut LP; “U” is a 10-part dessert tray of frozen cream puffs and chocolate kisses (try single “Waves“).

Favourite track: Together… Yes we should.

Gold Panda

GI-123_1400_300dpi_540_540 d7ddc39f

Gold Panda is the the project name of UK based beat-maker and knob-turner, the mononymous Derwin. His music is immediately distinguishable due to an incessant use of karate-chopped mini samples looped in unconventional patterns. It’s like sitting on a train and seeing some curious abstract art piece go passing by, but as you whirl around to look it’s already gone. First turning heads upon release of his amazing 2009 epitome single “Quitter’s Raga“, he hasn’t looked back since. With eye-catching esthetic and tasteful incorporations of music from various Asian influences, Gold Panda really is in a category of his own.

You know how most DJs and electro artists keep a pretty cool, even-keel front while performing, wearing a vaguely indifferent face and throwing in the odd head-nod? Yeah, Gold Panda is about the opposite. I witnessed him destroy a packed out venue, and he was almost as entertaining to watch as to hear – we’re talking wheeling, full body, gigantic head bangs, fist-clenched chest beating, and ear-to-ear smiles upon regarding at the audience’s unabashed dancing.

Since 2009, Gold Panda has released two exceptional LPs “Lucky Shiner” (his finest) and this year’s “Half of Where You Live”, as well as a slew of EPs, singles and remixes. Update: the mixing panda is back after a 3-year reprieve with new LP “Good Luck and Do Your Best” (try opener “Metal Bird“).

Favourite track: Marriage… now picture a dude slamming his finger into a sampler so hard you think he might break it – that’s Gold Panda.

Leon Vynehall

Leon Vynehall is a UK-based producer and high-flying electric trapeze extraordinaire who started making waves eons ago in 2012. The eye-catching flourish of his breakout LP “Rojus” pictured above is what recently drew me in like a tractor beam. Thought to myself ah what the hell let’s give it a go shall we. First track flutters gently by, cruising at about 5 km/h under the limit. Ok not bad so far, you know, whatever. Then Beau Sovereign starts, rising slowly but surely, emphatic whispers chanting into your ears, beat building, the attenuated keyboard line expanding and layering upon itself, then at about the 2:00 mark a deal-closing synth line that commits you to a head shaking, hip swaying solo rave. The remainder of the album follows suit, providing a delicious 47 minutes of just straight up, no frills dance music. Vynehall masterfully combines a tasteful dose of club-hit flow within gorgeous, at times exotic samples, baselines and beats, making for a driving, gratifying listen.

Besides “Rojus”, I’ve enjoyed his debut LP “Music for the Uninvited” and his recent “Brother / Sister” EP.

Favourite track: See above; Brother is also a banger… “Your love love love love love…”

Galcher Lustwerk

Galcher Lustwerk is a Brookly-based house producer who releases through his own Lustwerk Music as well as boutique label White Material. In a world of open-book, heart-on-your-sleeve, spread eagle nudie leaks, it’s awfully refreshing to learn there are still some that keep their shit tight and cards held close. Getting into Lustwerk has involved some of the most online dirt-digging and Where-is-Waldory I’ve ever subjected myself to, as much of his material is accessible only by limited-press vinyl (which upon release I’m sure disappeared like a fresh kill to ravenous hyenas). His phenomenal (and free!) 1-hour mix “100% Galcher” for mixtape hosts Blowing Up The Workshop is the closest thing us non-aficionados will come to attaining much of his work.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what of Galcher Lustwerk makes his music so addictive, but let’s see what I can conjure up here. Foremost, he’s somewhat of an oddity in the house world, in that he raps over much of his productions. Lustwerk’s vocal performance is a lackluster, almost vapid, monotonous drone that in isolation would be drab and unappealing; but nestled atop this dark beat-based foundation with scarce yet critical movements, his utterances become enchanting as the Pied Piper. Permeating his sound is a drug-soaked, blackout drunken hypnosis; like you’ve stumbled your way home at 4am and flopped onto the couch, shoes still on, face down in a throw pillow, with a muted next door party emanating through the wall. He’s the tinnitus-bathed stumbling stupor as you walk outside the club, dance music cross-fading to the sounds of the city.

For those up to the challenge, some 10 Galcher Lustwerk tracks are available on iTunes, but the rest are found scattered throughout the www – namely EPs “Nu Day”, “Tape 22”, and a slew of other random bangers. You can find other avenues of his craft via side projects Road Hog and Studio OST.

Favourite track: Put On… “One minute I’m on, next minute I’m gone.”

Suuns

suuns-zeroes-qc suuns-images-du-futur

Suuns are a 4-piece group from Montreal that are about as hard to categorize as a band can get without being just straight-up bizarre. They not only traverse many genres over the course of their LPs “Zeroes QC” and “Images du Futur” (that’s French),  but also manage to get away with their plethora of genetically-modified sound fusions. A friend of mine despises Suuns, and described them as “music a city of rats would listen to underground”. After I finished having a good laugh, I began dissecting into this statement and realized its profound accuracy; Suuns make jiggy, eerie, intense, visceral outbursts of incoherent whine-singing, rudimentary distorted drum programming, shrill guitar lines, and haunted organ overtones. And it’s great.

It took me a few listens to each album to really get interested, but it quickly became apparent these guys are calculated and esthetically brilliant.  Masters of restraint, Suuns take care to use the open space of their songs as a stage that accentuates the perfectly-placed melodies and drum fills unleashed. So the next time you’re feeling musically adventurous, see if you can make it through a Suuns album without ending up doubled over, foot-stomping with your eyes closed in a sewer. Update: Ruthless and uncompromising, Suuns have thrown down the gauntlet with brand-new LP “Hold/Still” (get terrorized by “Translate“).

Favourite track: Arena… in actuality my favourite is Pie IX but I’m cognizant it might scare people off, so I recommend starting elsewhere.

Moderat

moderat_album_rgb-600x600 Moderat_Cover_Digital-600x600

Moderat is the portmanteau project title adapted from German electronic artists Modeselektor (Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary) and Apparat (Sascha Ring). Curiously, I know very little about their respective bands (mainly because it’s like impossible to approach a new artist with 5+ studio albums… where does one start? What does it all mean!?), but it definitely doesn’t stop me from jamming on a regular basis to this side project. The members of Moderat combine forces beautifully, creating intense, tasteful electro that crosses effortlessly over subgrenres and emotional states-of-mind, making for a coherent and captivating listening experience. With an amazing sonic foundation of textural blends and elegant beats, the vocal work of Ring provides a silky-smooth webbing that amalgamates their worlds together into passion and sincerity.

Pumping out a multitude of music with their home pet projects, these dudes have still somehow found time to put together a few Moderat EPs and 2 stellar LPs: 2009’s “Moderat” and this year’s top-notch “II” (one of my most listened-to albums of 2013). In addition, their killer live performances feature crazy eye-candy visuals and they’ve one of the most interesting music videos I’ve seen in a while. Update: Ze Chermans are back with a deep, gauzy mediation into darkness: LP “III” (try stand-out banger “Finder“). And while we’re at it, check out these a-ok reciprocal remixes by Jon Hopkins and Moderat.

Favourite track: Gita… Just bask in it.

The Field

FIELD-LOOPING-STATE-OF-MIND c1ed0c6e

The Field is the project name of electro master Axel Willner, based out of Sweden since 2009. Amalgamating pop hooks, techno and ambient with short term memory loss, it’s like listening to the expansive darkness of outer space swallowing a lollipop whole. Repetition is a powerful but dangerous tool; it takes a keen mind to tip-toe the fine line between emphasis and overkill / monotony. The Field is amongst the select few who does this flawlessly. With lengthy, familiar loops, trucking 4-on-the-floor beats, shape-shifting bass lines and a crucial peppering of sample tweaks and change-ups to keep the listener’s mind attentive, he’s got it figured out.

I was introduced to his music with 2012’s amazing “Looping State of Mind”, and only after being affirmed of his brilliance with this year’s “Cupid’s Head” took the time to head retrograde in his catalog. It’s all noteworthy and critically successful, including 2007’s “From Here We Go Sublime” and 2009’s “Yesterday and Today”. Not surprising, The Field is an avid remixer, adding his amnestic touch the likes of Tame Impala, Bear In Heaven, Thom Yorke and many more. So the next time you’re feeling hypnotic from the lull of a robotically repetitious task, throw on The Field and see what happens. Update: Willner recently released a drone-heavy LP “The Soul Is Quick” under the moniker Hands, and is offering free download of his excellent new remix of Wild Beasts’ “Wanderlust“… this guy’s on a roll (or should I say, a loop). Update II: The Field is back with his latest brainwashing sonic march “The Follower”, a 6-track LP with an average song length of 11 minutes (let “Pink Sun” take you over).

Favourite track: Then It’s White… Sweet, supple trance.

Taragana Pyjarama

Taragana Pyjarama (or Banana in Pajama, as I like to call him) is Danish producer Nick Eriksen. Starting off around 2010 as Eim Ick, Taragana  specializes in summery, glowing dance tunes with razor-sharp sampling and full-bodied beat pulse. He’ll whisk you away to a lakeside summer afternoon, legs dangling off the dock, idly fluttering wakes and rifts through the water, the sun glistening and shimmering off each peak, with swirls of fuel adorning the surface with metallic colours. The sounds are at once crystal clear, yet softened as a nostalgic memory. Jovial, but not blithely so.

Hopping from label to label, Taragana Pyjarama has crafted multiple gorgeous EPs, one LP entitled “Tipped Bowls” and a series of  remixes. Pretty much everything is worth a listen, in particular his self-titled debut and 2015’s “Ariel” EP, featuring a killer title track reinterpreting Ciara’s “Sorry”.

Favourite track: Ocean… See you in the sunshine.