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John-Pauls, The – “Bon Mots” – [Aagoo Records]

humana   2/6/2023   A Library, CD

This Texas band is quite catchy with its guitars and alternating male and female vocals that deliver quite pleasing post-punk rock ballads. The music made me think briefly of Modern English and the Dwight Twilley band, but The John-Pauls have their own fresh sound. This is pretty great stuff.

X.Y.R. – “Aquarealm” – [Not Not Fun]

humana   2/6/2023   12-inch, A Library

This is absolute analog synth heaven from Russia with love. Combined with field sounds, you are transported to the pulsing depth of the ocean. The vinyl is sea-green, and there’s not a track on here that isn’t mesmerizing in its fluid ambience–it’s almost like being transport to the womb, but with so much more room to float, swirl, and dream. I dare you to listen to this and not visualize the enchanting exhibits at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Cold Beat – “War Garden” – [Like Ltd]

humana   10/19/2022   12-inch, A Library

These very peppy electro-pop songs feature Hannah Lew’s pretty vocals. The beats on here are energizing, especially on Side A. The vocals get hazier on Side B and I remember what shoegaze is, and that I love it. This album is likely to lift your spirits as it did mine.

Aeon Station – “Observatory” – [Sub Pop Records]

humana   10/18/2022   A Library, CD

Kevin Whelan has written and performed some pretty great songs on this album, which starts out rather melancholy but picks up starting with “Fade.” Pianos, vocals, guitars, drums, gentle to rocking melodies that soothe or ignite your spirit. Family members join Whelan in this worthy project of observing life and time with an infinite lens.

JJJJJerome Ellis – “Clearing, The” – [NNA]

humana   10/14/2022   12-inch, A Library

Ellis explores his dysfluency (to others known as stutter) with an amazingly fluent and poetic two-album setting of his clear vocalizations set to music he creates and plays on instruments as a background to his story: tenor sax, flute, hammered dulcimer, piano, synths, drums, bass programming, and electronics. His voice tells us he is black, he speaks with a stutter, and is a musician who creations inspect the intersectionality of these identifiers. There is a space within his vocalizations that is like a clearing in which he escapes time and identifies with his blackness. “The Bookseller, Parts I and II” offer fascinating examples of how Ellis interacts through his speech. “Stepney” contains an interview about his other-abled speech and compares to as a slow-motion shattering of glass.” His brother Kelvin raps on “Brush Fire Smoke.” This is a stunning work of spoken word and music. Play it and open that window in time so you can really listen.

Everything But The Girl – “Walking Wounded” – [Atlantic]

humana   10/13/2022   A Library, CD

This comes to us from 1996, a treasure since this British pop duo hasn’t appeared live since 2000. “Walking Wounded” features Tracey Thorn’s hearty voice and Ben Watt’s beats, synths, abstract sounds, acoustic guitars, and vocals. Together they create catchy love songs that indicate how well they work together. There are two remixes at the end, but the standout tracks for me are “The Heart Remains a Child” (4) and “Flipside” (6). I love their music, and feel lucky we scored this CD.

Knudsen, Wednesday – “Soft Focus: Volumes One and Two” – [Feeding Tube Records]

humana   10/12/2022   A Library, CD

Knudsen creates all the sounds on this album (except for harp on the first track), and mesmerizing sounds they are: flutes, electronics, pianos, synths, chimes, and voice. Her voice is so rich that words are not needed, only the sounds, and only the first couple of tracks have voice weaving in and out of the other sonic layers. “Sunshine” brings to mind the dust motes you’d see in a shaft of sunlight, and the last track is an epic drone with piano embroidery. Any of these songs provide a chance to destress and put a true soft focus on your world-weary experiences.

Girlfriends and Boyfriends – “Fallacy of Fairness” – [Pop Era]

humana   10/11/2022   A Library, CD

These tracks created by four gentleman in British Columbia are peppy throwbacks to bands like Simple Minds, with a modern spin since this release is from 2021. Like the post-punk bands of the past, the content of the songs is often relationship-driven. The vocals are clear and easy to understand, and the guitars, drums, and synths all work together well to deliver the message.

Ronald, Graeme JD – “Danielle” – [Rock Action Records]

humana   10/11/2022   10-inch, A Library

If listening to a soundtrack and being able to feel what is happening in a film you’ve never seen is the measure of great composition, then Ronald has set the bar high with this album. With only the music and the track titles as my guide, I was surrounded by atmospheric loveliness and a sense of my heart breaking. The tracks are short but full of a gentle sadness and strength that I later learned accompany a short documentary set in the Scottish islands about a woman named Danielle, her son Peter, and how she lives with multiple sclerosis. The music attests to the exquisite nature of a life well lived.

Engel, Clara – “Their Invisible Hands” – [Self Released]

humana   10/10/2022   A Library, CD

These beautiful folk dirges sung in Engel’s strong, storyweaving voice are captivating. The inner sleeve describes instruments like a cigar box guitar that gently weeps throughout the songs, and it feels like there’s a cello in there, too, although it is probably something else. Some tracks are instrumentals that their titles help you in deciphering the aural experience; others (like 3 and 9) have clear fairy tale connections; 8 is an evocative sad song about a tired out “high alien priest.” The final track will have you wondering what the original words to “It’s raining, it’s pouring” ever were since Engel’s lyrics fit so much better. Get lost in the images created by voice and instruments.

Fachada – “Mundos Secretos” – [Electric Cowbell]

humana   7/16/2022   12-inch, A Library

This is Rob Smith, known as Fachada (facade), creating “secret worlds” from his home in Washington, D.C. Worlds filled with his percussive talents and influenced by a bunch of Brazilian LPs he once found in a junk yard. Each track on here is a short delight of Brazilian rhythms, funk, jazz, Afro beats–and it’s his debut release. If you love Brazilian music, you’ll love this.

Cyrillic Typewriter, The – “Buzz” – [Jaz Records]

humana   7/16/2022   12-inch, A Library

This album contains some incredibly mellow music composed by Jason Zumpano of Vancouver, BC. Side A has more of a soundtrack feel to it with the channeling a mellow saloon (A2) or an otherworldly atmosphere (A4). Paul Rigby’s pedal steel contributes to this feeling. On Side B, Zumpano’s rhodes and synthesizers create more of a solemn feeling like wind whistling through a graveyard (B1) or a hushed cathedral (B3), although the pedal steel threads in and out to give an unexpected Hawaiian feeling. All instrumental, this is a pretty, gentle aural experience despite the eerie moments.

Massage – “Still Life” – [Bobo Integral Mountain St. Mtn]

humana   6/2/2022   12-inch, A Library

Think of how good you feel during a massage, and you’ll come close to the amazing feeling you’ll have as you listen to the songs on this release–nary a track that isn’t upbeat, pure pop joy. The vocals are smooth, the lyrics are sweet, the drums keep the guitars, keyboards, and bass in line. “Somersaults and summer days” (from A3) is about as good a descriptor as any for this entirely enjoyable album. There is really nothing still about the way it makes you feel.

Fisher, Mark & Barton, Justin – “On Vanishing Land” – [Flatlines]

humana   6/2/2022   12-inch, A Library

Fisher (RIP) and Barton took a walk along England’s Suffolk coast one day, and this album, which is really more of a docu-fictional aural experience, is the result. Barton’s narration of the walk is interspersed with interviews with people encountered on the walk, and all of this spoken word is set into music composed by ambient artists who are listed on the album. It is nearly impossible to figure out exactly whose music is accompanying the different narrations, but this is not of great consequence. The atmospheres are alternately eerie (very appropriate since Fisher, a cultural theorist specializing in hauntology) and calming. Read the liner notes and listen to the “dream within a dream,” and figure out what the sound is that comes back when the radar clicks mentioned at the end of Side B are sent out into the unknown. The land may be vanishing, but are we?

Contranistas – “Center Negative/Memory Divided By Time” – [Killer Kern]

humana   6/2/2022   7-inch, A Library

Although this Bakersfield duo has been called gloomy, I’d say their sound on this release matches the rather bright blue of the 7″ vinyl it’s etched into. “Center Negative” sounds rather positive to me, while “Memory Divided by Time” is bit more intense and you can hear more of the live looping sounds. The percussion, drums, and bass add to the atmosphere. You decide where it leads your mind. Personally, I like it both a lot.

Price, Michael – “Hope of Better Weather, The” – [Control Room, The]

humana   2/25/2022   12-inch, A Library

This gorgeous album starts out with three beautiful piano pieces composed and performed by Price in 2012. Gradually, other musicians join the British composer with vocals and guitar (“In Spite of the Weather”), cello (“The Warmth of the Sun”), and finally, musicians remix Price’s “The Anatomy of Clouds,” leaving the listener feeling blissed out, calm, and indeed hopeful that better weather feels as good as this music sounds.

Orbit Service – “Door to The Sky, The” – [Cloud City Records]

humana   2/6/2022   12-inch, A Library

Listening to this album is a matter of immersing yourself in synth-laden atmospheres interspersed by the deep, wise vocals of Randall Frazier and the strings of Patrick Q. Wright (especially in “Three Knots”). Electronics are the name of the game, with percussive beats (especially in “How Do I Get Back Home?”) and aural effects that will have you spiritually ascending the ladder created by Elisa D. Canali-Frazier on the inside cover art to achieve the door in the sky. Let the music take you into orbit.

Blackwater Holylight – “Silence/Motion” – [RidingEasy Records]

humana   1/24/2022   A Library, CD

The tracks on this one progress from a “blackwater” feel with the black metal-ish lyrics of “Delusional” to a “holylight” at the end of a tunnel by the time you reach the more inviting vocalizations of “Around You.” The words are dark and depressing, and the four band members from Portland, Oregon certainly create an atmosphere worthy of their name. The rhythms and vocals arise from the murk of the guitars to create a mood worthy of the time we live in–black at times tinged with light.

Yoshimura, Hiroshi – “Green” – [Light in the Attic]

humana   1/23/2022   A Library, CD

This re-release of Yoshimura’s 1986 vinyl album is electronic, dreamy, somnambulant. Harps and strings mix in with other ambient sounds to create relaxing, soothing music like the rhyming track titles that flow into each other. This listening experience makes you feel like you’re walking through a tranquil Japanese garden or spa where water drips gently down a wall fountain. From Japan with love.

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