Kiefer’s music exists in an interesting sphere of the LA beats scene that is bursting at the seems with talent and sub-genres. While Kiefer cites the the MPC-created, sample-driven style of J Dilla as a major and audible influence on his music, Kiefer relies on almost no samples when producing. As a result, Kiefer’s piano technique is on full display giving his music the genuine and emotional sound that is rarely heard outside of live performances.
Kiefer, whose full name is Kiefer Shackelford, honed his voice on piano at UCLA. He is trained as a jazz musician, but he has been very vocal about the importance of not falling victim to a tunnel vision mentality he feels can be associated with being “only a jazz musician.” There is a strong sense of dedication to tradition when it comes to studying jazz. Kiefer cites Duke Ellington, who called his music “American music,” and Miles Davis, who called his music “social music,” as legends of what we call “jazz music” who were not necessarily playing jazz during their time. Ignoring these parts of tradition, to Kiefer, is where the “only a jazz musician” bubble is created. Collaborations with Kaytranada, Anderson .Paak, and fellow member of the Stones Throw Records artist roster, MNDSGN, shows Kiefer’s commitment to remaining musically innovative and curious.
Happysad is overflowing with head-nodding groves underneath melodies that wander up and down the keys of his piano and synths. “What A Day” and “Socially Awkward” are nothing-held-back showcases of Kiefer’s piano chops. Pocket bass groves on “Highway 46” and “Thinking Of You” provide a sophisticated grasp of the low end most likely perfected through the influence of Kiefer’s once teacher and former bassist for Stevie Wonder, Quincy Jones, and Michael Jackson records, Abraham Laboriel.
The exceptional balance of this record is rounded out by tracks such as “Memories of U” and “Agoraphobia.” These almost ballad-like additions to the album are perfect examples of the emotiveness gained from Keifer’s jazz-style approach to production which puts an emphasis on melodies recorded live by the producer himself. Keifer told Zane Warman of Bedford and Bowery that Abraham Laboriel was constantly reminding him to “play from the heart.” While it is not always a broken heart that is heard on this album, these slower and more open tracks are a window into the intimate emotions expressed amongst the complete emotional arc heard on Happysad.
Kiefer’s sophomore album, while not as explicitly dripping in feelings of loneliness as his debut LP, Kickinit Alone, still displays an impressive level of sentiment and continued mastery fusing jazz piano with thumping boom-bap beats. In an interview with Bandcamp, Kiefer confessed, “I’m very emotional, very sensitive, and for a long time I saw my own sadness as a weakness.” With Happysad, Kiefer embraces many emotions, some once seen as a weakness, creating this masterful collection of beats.
The scars of heartbreak do not hide themselves on Matt Dorrien’s latest album. It is an intensely honest performance and a textbook example of how a somewhat simplistic musical approach can be elevated to genius levels with phenomenal storytelling. In The Key of Grey takes the listener to the wee hours of the morning in a dimly lit piano bar, drink in hand, and sorrows aplenty.
Dorrien was once known as Snowblind Traveler and was releasing guitar–based folk records. He was ready to begin a new chapter in his musical life and wanted to experiment with songwriting on the piano which was the first instrument he ever learned. In the beginning stages of this album, Dorrien moved to Portland from San Francisco with his girlfriend. He was ready for a fruitful creative life in Portland with his girlfriend, whose keyboard would be the instrument of choice. This plan was not meant to be as Dorrien and his girlfriend broke up. His girlfriend returned to San Francisco, but left her keyboard with him in Portland as a parting gift. This gift, Dorrien says, was “both the melancholy and the medium that became the building blocks of these songs.”
The album opens with the heart wrenching plea of “Baby I’m So Lost.” The lumbering groove of this record floats by while lyrics of utter despair and helplessness are paired with slothful melodies played by saxophone and clarinet. “I Can’t Remember,” the first song written for the album, follows a similar structure both musically and narratively. It is an exploration of the tidal wave of emotions that follow a breakup. More so than in “Baby I’m So Lost,” Dorrien expresses utter confusion for how he ended up in this situation, completely unaware to the love he once felt. Slide guitar adds the sense of weeping so suited for this song soaked in heartbreak.
Sandwiched between these two tracks is “Underwear Blues”–a bouncy and lighthearted gesture towards a past one-night stand. Dorrien recalls falling head-over-heels for someone with a voice so pretty he wanted to cry. He pours his heart out to her, but seems to do this despite his being convinced she is bound to leave him very soon, a relapse into a familiar state of loneliness to follow.
Another moment of melancholy with a twinkle of comedy shines through in “Dayton, Ohio – 1983.” Dorrien dreams of Los Angeles and a woman he has fell for there, but can not escape the grasp of Dayton, Ohio. He sings, “there’s nothing in Dayton, it’s really quite sad / I live here in Dayton with my own mom and dad / they’re perfectly loving, it’s not them you see / there’s just somewhere I’d rather be.” The melody of the chorus meanders by as if the thought of Los Angeles and what could be has completely possessed Dorrien.
In The Key of Grey leaves nothing to be uncovered. Matt Dorrien wears his heart on his sleeve through all ten beautifully crafted songs of this album. Great storytelling has he power to transport people. Whether it is transporting back to the golden era of songwriting or to the tear-soaked nights of a heart wrenching break up, Dorrien’s beautifully honest lyrics and poignant melodies cement his place among songwriting greats.
In 2002, French musician, Boris Billier started the first major shift in his career. A sound technician for cinema since 1998, Billier left this industry to focusing on soundfield based composition. For the next 10 years, he travelled choosing live publication of his music rather than recorded. He cites having traveled “with his own auditoriums” as he played his compositions for small audiences anywhere except for concert venues. 2012 marked the next transition for Billier, this one towards making music using what he calls “more usual tools” with a specific interest in the piano. Many of Billier’s collaborations up to this point were with contemporary theater groups. These collaborations continued all throughout Europe, but Billier began releasing music online under the pseudonym of Aries Mond. Come On Let’s Wait is Aries Mond’s debut album released on Eilean Records.
Since 2014, Eilean Records has been releasing music focused mainly in the electronic and electro acoustic genres. It is made clear on their website that the definition of what it means to be electronic, to the label, is fluid. Aries Mond’s debut album is part of Eilean Records’ ongoing and foundational “map project.” Despite the non-profit and independent record label being based in France, “eilean” is the Scottish Gaelic word for “island.” The label is built around the idea of an imaginary island where 100 points or locations exist. Each release on this label represents one of these points. The musical artist shapes what this region of the island looks like–the colors, the shape, all the details–and when all 100 locations of the island have been defined and the map is full, the label will end. Come On Let’s Wait defines location #18 on the island.
Location #18 sits in isolation off the northwestern shores of the island. This secluded point is defined by Aries Mond’s use of one of his favorite “more usual tools,” the piano, the sounds of which dominate the frequencies of this album. Set in the winter time to a white and grey backdrop, the album unfolds slowly and deliberately. It is hard for me to see the location of this album on the map and not hear the album unfolding like a tide. The first six tracks seem to build in to a brilliant shimmer which is the seventh track, “So Long.”
The album opens with “Come.” There is an exploratory element to this track. The sound of the piano is introduced and found along with the distant and glitchy atmosphere created in the periphery. The second track, “Again,” reminds us that we are not alone. If the piano was the main character introduced first, the subtle noises and breaths made by a female mouth and a male hum are the supporting characters for the rest of the album. The use of space and silence within these tracks and throughout the album creates the push and pull of the tides. There is a nonlinear but noticeable build in texture, pulse, and sometimes (but rarely) volume leading into “So Long,” which is what I hear as the high tide of the album. A jovial voice overtakes the piano which gleams brightly before exhaling into “Once Again,” the album’s closing number. A steady pulse remains mirroring the consistency of the tides, but distance and space return. The piano retreats until it is nothing more than an echo in the final moments of the album.
Even though the medium through which Billier chooses to perform his music has changed since 2002, the spirit in which he wishes his music to be heard is still very much alive in Come On Let’s Wait. This album is an intimate experience. You are subjected to the sounds of whispers and breathing that are so close an element of claustrophobia could very well set in. The listener is pulled in extremely close to the piano; every element of the mechanical structure of the piano becomes an instrument and a color of the landscape. There is solitude ingrained in this album that forces you to bask in the loneliness of location #18, far from the crowds of familiar concert spaces on the mainland, just as Boris Billier wishes.