Various Artists – Singles and EPs

This sophomore EP from The Light That Kills is less granular, more directionally narrative than the debut A Day That We Drift And Fall. This is not to say that it consists of conventional musical phrases arranged according to a nice, accessible formal grammar; that really would be weird, given Scott Crocker’s established experimental proclivities, but there is a far less atemporal approach to the succession of events, and there is a discernible dramatic arc to most of these pieces. There is also a more extended use of recognisable sonic sources, including some protracted free-rock improvisation in ‘Woken By Bells’, ‘Letting Go The Gods’ and particularly, most successfully, ‘New Eden’.

Cutleri – We Sink Ships (avant-folk)

I never know how much to consider the visual artwork when I’m discussing a release. On the one hand, I don’t want to do the artist a disservice by basing my description on anything extraneous to the music, but then the artwork does unavoidably affect how the listener hears the music, and the visual component is often a valuable creative accomplishment in its own right. Personally I enjoy the artwork attached to the music I listen to; even if it’s only digital, it still provides a handle that I can hang my memories of the sounds off. What I’m trying to get at when I write about music is its meaning, and in the case of music, ‘meaning’ can’t really refer to anything other than the experience of hearing it; what goes on neurologically when we hear music …

Heidi Harris – All Fall Down (freak folk)

The way this album is presented, you’d think it was a more or less random bundle of artistic detritus, a set of oddments that didn’t fit anywhere else, of interest mainly to hardcore fans and completists. ‘Collaborations, new recordings, song sketches and 2 videos’ is the promise made on the Bandcamp page. Why then does it sound so creatively coherent? Either Harris is being deliberately disingenuous (or perhaps just excessively diffident), or she works with such a degree of creative and aesthetic clarity that her every artistic gesture, however casual, bears her unmistakeable imprimatur. I would guess that the truth lies somewhere between the two …

Olds Sleeper – New Year’s Poem (avant-country/ noise-folk)

This is a recording with a self-consciously ‘lo-fi’ sound, but there’s a whole sonic ideology wrapped up in an idea like ‘lo-fi’. What does it even mean? Low fidelity; and fidelity means truth. I would guess though, that it’s a primary concern of Olds Sleeper’s to get the truth quotient of his music right up there near the top of the dial. The whole duality of high- and low-fidelity has its roots in the early days of recording, a time when verisimilitude, a resemblance to actuality, was a technical challenge to be met, like pulling focus on a cine camera.

Various Artists – Singles and EPs

A thin-sounding electric guitar (maybe a Telecaster), an electric piano, filtered through the glitchy sound of dusty vinyl, and looped in incomplete gestures that sound like a needle jumping. It’s the sound of nostalgia, the sound of distance from a desired space that the imagination is better equipped to apprehend than the senses. The uppercut combinations of the kick, when it enters, are located firmly in the here and now. That’s the heartbeat of the subject, the locus of the act of remembering. Such a simple psychodrama between so few musical elements seems a shaky scaffold to hang anything off, but when the female voice enters…

Various Artists – Album Roundup

There’s more than a nod to dreampop and shoegaze in this music, but Lisa Masia and Marina Cristofalo are clearly too in love with the raw and ragged sound of a distorted electric guitar to tame it to the extent that might imply. Some of Wish You Were A Pony is downright heavy! This is pop music, but not lowest-common-denominator, mass-market pop; it’s pop because it’s all about simple, accessible melodies, infectious, danceable rhythms, lush, inviting soundscapes, and, well… fun.

Creature Breath – I Am Creature Breath (avant-folk)

There’s a simple poetry to this album, an economy of orchestration, of ornament and of lyrical statement. Given that the lyrical themes are of an overtly devotional nature, expressing a sense of rootedness and connection to the ‘Mother’, to the natural world conceived as a person, I find that economy something of a relief. Not that there is any particular reason why Shawn Marie Westendorf, sole author of I Am Creature Breath, should conform to my prejudices on this, but my experience of ‘neo-pagan’ art is that it tends toward the trite and sentimental, the uncritical valorization of the ‘old’, ‘natural’ and ‘traditional’, and in song lyrics towards the obvious and redundant. Fortunately, Westendorf’s writing is neither sentimental nor obvious.

olds sleeper – plainspoken (folk/ Americana)

I get a lot of visual clichés when I listen to this album. I get sunset, Mr. sleeper’s weatherbeaten face, eyes hidden by the brim of his hat, battered boots on the rail of the porch as he plays, wonky rows of telegraph poles marching off across a flat, parched landscape. I get dust: dust in the air; dust on the pots; dust on the needle. It’s all rubbish. The Pennsylvania landscape of olds sleeper’s patrimony is probably pretty similar to the green, rolling Suffolk I walk the dog in every day.

Various Artists – Album Roundup

I can just imagine the conversation We Are Warm had at an early rehearsal, going through that abominably tedious process of trying to think of a name: ‘well,’ someone must have said, in a last ditch effort to bring some method to the madness, ‘what sort of band are we? What are we like?’ And so began the enumeration of their characteristics… They got it right. If my irritating verbosity were brutally limited to a single adjective, ‘warm’ might well be it. Warm melodies, warm chord sequences, really warm vocal harmonies, warm tones on every instrument…

Hawk Horses – FALL (avant-folk)

Folk music, as a widely shared conceptual category, is largely defined by a sense of authenticity: it is culturally specific music, and it is valued by many (or most) of its fans for its truthfulness to a particular sort of shared experience. This is not usually the personal experience of its listeners, but of the social context of its production: the values and narratives that it encodes are those of a non-industrial, rural, orally constituted community, founded on ties of family and residential proximity. This is all very well, except that this sense of authenticity…

Heidi Harris – Underneath The Grass And Clover (folk)

Heidi Harris works with a palette of folk and Americana pigments, but she doesn’t paint quite the pictures you might expect. Folk music is a collective aurality, the sonic expression of an orally transmitted tradition, and as such, it daubs its canvases with the colours of communal experience: even when it trades in specificities, perhaps the transportation of a loved one in punishment for a minor crime, it is a shared misfortune that is lamented, and it is its similarity to the experience of other participants in the music that is important.

datapuddle – MonkeySkyMonkey (indie/ folktronica)

This is an entertaining and individualistic album, that makes you laugh one minute, with its absurdist, science-fiction tinged humour, and then, while your mouth is still open, slaps you with something altogether less superficial. This is music with something to say, and it says it without going to either extreme, of ramming it down your throat with bespoke dissonances, or of speaking in clichés. datapuddle is a collaboration between stevepuddle and lextrical, whose Deletia I have recently reviewed: all those lower case names!

Cutleri – Let Me Show You My Sweater (folk/ Americana)

Production standards for self released music have become so generically polished and exact, that it has almost ceased to be meaningful or valuable to release a well recorded album. I’m being facetious, obviously, and of course I like to hear music I like sounding good, but sometimes the slickness of everything becomes incredibly desolate; some noise, some artifacts, and the boxy sound of cheaper equipment can serve as a welcome reminder that a recording embodies something real.