Whether it's someone searching or someone who doesn't want to be found, we can't help but be drawn to the drifters. Steven A. Clark is that next stranger to roll into town, a restless artist recasting R&B. He's a straight-talker in a genre filled with wish-fulfillment, whimsy and cliched beats; think the Outlaw Josey Wales raised on N.E.R.D. and 808 & Heartbreak.
Briana's lyrics are forceful, and throughout her second album, All Around Us, traditional song structure gives way to plainspoken declarations that pull back the record's shroud. Her first single,"Surrender" is musically delicate at first, with flickering blips and chords that float into earshot like fireflies. "Take Care of Me" is the album's brightest and most immediate song, a buoyant celebration of friendship with a skittering beat and a warm, sweet melody. And title track "All Around Us" is a stark but inspiring beauty, built on the memory of a family member of Briana's who passed away, and the sadness of not being able to say "goodbye" or "I love you" one last time. It is the balance of the abstract and the intimate that makes Briana Marela and All Around Us so special.
Music For Dogs is a deeply personal album on which Gardens & Villa pokes, prods, and even strangely celebrates the zeitgeist of music commerce, pleasure culture, technological advances and the new home they've found in Los Angeles. The New Age and Eastern Religion sentiments that rippled across their first two albums (2011's Gardens & Villa and 2014's Dunes) have been swapped out with a new sort of zen pop- Nihilsm. What's Nihilism anyway but Buddhism with a fuck-it attitude? They've found a way to live on the firing line, a way to actually harvest creative energy from our sad Internet tendencies, the uncertain future. "My whole life fixation/See if we can make it underneath the radar," goes the respective call and response of primary songwriters Chris Lynch and Adam Rasmussen on "Fixations," a song about the beauty in bottoming out and then finding the false bottom. Lynch could mean living as a creative in the underground or living outside peripheral view of the NSA. Under the stewardship of visionary producer Jacob Portrait and with irreplaceable rhythm section Dusty Ineman (drums) and Shane McKillop (bass), "Fixations" -- and a great deal of Music For Dogs -- is really just Gardens & Villa doing what it has always done best. G&V creates Byzantine melodies and richly interwoven arrangements for synths, guitars and vocals that work incredibly well on a cerebral level, but wouldn't upset a late night Korean karaoke outing either.
The jaunty, jarring piano and bass that begin "Everybody" perfectly frame the song's anxiety-riddled themes of 21st Century voyeurism, surveillance and the turnstile of avatars intended to represent our true selves. "Everybody wants the new you/No one cares who you are," Lynch sings in a repeating chorus before the band collapses into a lovely out of time mall piano breakdown, which itself drops effortlessly back into the jaunty verse section. And the speedball ripper "Maximize Results" that begins the record is perhaps G&V's most ecstatic, vulnerable moment laid to record to date. It alone is worth the price of admission.
For Jakub Alexander, the languages of music and visual art are permanently intertwined. And he's always been this way - from his birthplace in communist Poland, to growing up outside of Detroit, to his current home in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. "When music like Gas, early Dial Records, and Mille Plateaux releases in the 2000s popped up in my headphones," Alexander begins, "it was completely visual for me. Something clicked from collecting pages out of old Architectural Digest magazines and being completely overwhelmed with inspiration for my own visions of interior architecture." The concept carries on still, now as an integral part of Body Complex, his second album as Heathered Pearls, which also features contributions from fellow Ghostly artists The Sight Below, Shigeto, and Outerbridge (mem. Beacon). Body Complex represents a new form of Alexander's visually inspired sound creation, but just as it points to changes in direction for the ambient-inclined producer, it also revisits the past experiences that make his music possible.
Night Beds, the musical project of 26-year-old Colorado Springs native Winston Yellen, received much acclaim for his 2013 debut album, Country Sleep, scoring plaudits for its tortured take on alt country and Yellen's soaring vocals. But after finishing that album and before Country Sleep was even released, Yellen began experimenting with the kind of melancholic, neon-tinged R&B that makes up the mesmerising Ivywild.
The thread that weaves through all of Yellen's music and holds it together is his unmistakable voice - plaintive, yearning, soulful, heartbreaking. Whether it's ascending over the luscious epic-electronics of "Tide Teeth" or aching alone on Country Sleep's opener "Faithful Heights", Yellen's voice has a unique beauty matched by few of his contemporaries.
The second Night Beds album draws on Yellen's original love of Bill Evans through to J Dilla and is made up of what Yellen calls "sad sex jams" and was inspired by a long-term love and a break-up which looms large throughout the albums veiled lyrics. Its genesis can be found in the stoned night in Nashville when Yellen first heard Yeezus. Lying on the floor, Yellen blared the album at top volume.
Ivywild is a truly collaborative effort with a makeshift team of 25 musicians, notably Abe, Yellen's younger brother and closest friend - his credit on the album comes above Winston's own, so much value does he place upon the work Abe put in. Additional vocals come from Heather Hibbard, a singer from Maine who features on over half of the 16 track album, and was contacted by the gregarious Yellen through YouTube, after he found a video of her covering one of his songs. She came out to the studio the very next day.
Finessing the poignant assortment of songs was a sometimes painful task, but dedicated to the core. "I felt at some points we were losing our minds," he says. Initial versions of "Me Liquor and God" band "On High:" were 17 and 33 minutes respectively while "Finished" took four months to record. His editing process though was simple: "If it makes you cry, keep it in." Field recordings also flood the record, offering it a deep textural grain. "It is a luxury record, but it has a worn shirt feel," explains Yellen. "It's lived in. It's like a quilt - but it took forever, cutting up all the vocals and letting it breathe."
The Most Lamentable Tragedy [hereafter TMLT] is the fourth studio album by Titus Andronicus [hereafter +@] and the band's debut for Merge Records. A rock opera in five acts, it will see release on July 28, 2015, as a digital download, double CD, and triple LP.
The central narrative of TMLT ("a work of fiction," claims singer/songwriter Patrick Stickles) concerns an unnamed protagonist whom we meet in deep despair. Following an encounter with his own doppelganger (an enigmatic stranger, identical in appearance though opposite in disposition), long held secrets are revealed, sending our protagonist on a transformative odyssey, through past lives and new loves, to the shocking revelation that the very thing that sustains him may be the thing to destroy him.
TMLT is both the crown jewel of the band's discography and the legend that contextualizes their entire body of work. It reveals that +@ are what hardcore fans have said they are for years, and what the world must now recognize them to be: not merely the greatest rock and roll band of this era, but one of the greatest rock and roll bands of all time.