Haley Heynderickx describes her life as one of paradoxes. She grew up in Oregon in a religious household with a strong connection to her Filipino roots, yet overlapping across many cultural identities. She is now based in Portland, OR and is an artist whose “faith is not overt, but [whose] introspection and continued struggle for self-actualization are easily accessible and relatable.”
On her debut LP, Heynderickx mirrors a seemingly contradictory existence with an album of contrasting or incongruent elements. From top to bottom, the album effortlessly blends soft folk melodies, delicate acoustic guitar plucking, vocal styles hinting at jazz, folk, and soul, some more traditionally structured pop songs, and an occasional flourish of piano and horns. It is a beautiful trip all the way from the opening track, “No Face,” dripping in feelings of powerlessness heard through angelic vocal harmonies to one of the final two numbers on the album, “Oom Sha La La,” an upbeat and electric guitar driven anthem with a message of empowerment.
The album is beautifully mixed at Nomah Studios in Portland by Zak Kimball. His work on this album, I feel, is at its peak on the second track, “The Bug Collector.” Heynderickx lively acoustic plucking fades in, setting a foundation for a layered vocal performance with equal parts unison melodies and expansive, rich harmonized responses. As each verse passes, new textures are introduced while never overpowering the repeating guitar figure. Shakers, bells, trombone, and translucent pads all contribute to this song which seems to gradually grow out of nothing before culminating in an almost supernatural ambiance.
References to her religious past can be heard across various points of this album, especially in “Untitled God Song.” Although it eventually crescendos to feature drums and trombone, Heynderickx’s performance feels strikingly lonely. This is a theme heard across much of the album as many of the songs begin with unaccompanied vocal and guitar statements. Looking at “Show You a Body,” the mid point of the album, provides a good example of how Heynderickx’s accompanying band provides an atmosphere for her vocal melodies to sit in what feels like solitude. In “Show You a Body,” vocal statements are interrupted by out of time and esoteric swells from the band. From there, the familiar sound of the nylon strings on Heynderickx’s guitar appear between more of these interruptions, sounding like the wind picking up and rustling leaves in the process.
I Need to Start a Garden is released on the Portland, OR label, Mama Bird Recording Co. This album may be a debut LP, but it has such a sense of cohesion and maturity that it is hard to believe that is is just the begin for Haley Heynderickx. Even with the contrasting elements that make up the album, there is a sense of continuity felt through the emotional weight poured into each song causing the listener to live the moments of heartbreak, confusion, gloom, and beauty right along with Heynderickx.
Haley Heynderickx is currently in the middle of a long line of tour dates. To find a show near you and explore more of her music visit her website, www.haley-heynderickx.com.
What comes to mind when you think about the harp? Maybe it is the magical timbre it adds to the orchestra. Perhaps you think of the sound of traditional Celtic melodies such as Greensleeves. Or maybe it is just the classic tranquil and heavenly sound that it contributes to any arrangements it is featured on. Los Angeles-based harpist, Mary Lattimore is breaking this mold one album and collaboration at a time.
Lattimore experiments with effects and her harp creating vast and varied ambient landscapes with harp as the unexpected main character in this ongoing and thriving endeavor. While the tools of choice on her earlier albums included nothing more than effects and looping pedals along with her harp, her latest album, released in May on Ghostly International, features new sounds that move beyond the harp. Lattimore’s voice, synths, piano, guitar, and percussion are all new additions in her arsenal of sounds.
While the harp remains the main voice on much of the album, the opening two tracks, “It Feels Like Floating” and “Never Saw Him Again,” are immediate displays of Lattimore’s experimentation with new sounds. The almost 12-minute opening track thickens in texture until the harp becomes a background instrument and eventual cannot be heard for about the last three minutes of the song where rich synth harmonies take center stage. “Never Saw Him Again” follows a similar formula. A captivating melody and ostinato are established early in the track, but when layered harmonies featuring Lattimore’s voice enter it is clear the harp is in the role of accompanist.
“Hello From the Edge of The Earth” and “Baltic Birch” shift the album in a darker direction. The gentle repetition of “Hello From the Edge of the Earth” leads into the more dizzying texture of “Baltic Birch,” another moment on this album where the extended instrumentation adds an impressive depth to Lattimore’s music. The over nine-minute track slowly crescendos to feature electric guitar and a detuning effect on the harp which disorients the listener away from the serenity of the ambient landscape.
Each track on this sophomore LP paints an extremely vivid and wordless picture of a moment or place seen by Lattimore since beginning the album at Headlands Center for the Arts in Marin, California, where she was awarded a residency. The final picture painted on the album, “On the Day You Saw the Dead Whale,” blends together the array of voices we have heard throughout the album and puts them working together, contrapuntally. Piano and harp melodies blend together with the space in between their phrases being filled with airy synth pads. It’s a final showcase on Hundreds of Days revealing the new landscape of harp music Lattimore is creating within the indie scene.
Sudan Archives is the type of artist that gets me excited. Really excited.
This 24-year-old violinist is creating some of the most original and inventive music in the country. Armed with a violin and looping pedals, her voices floats above a symphony of mysterious string sounds and beats. There are no rules for Sudan Archives and she is completely self-made as a musician. She first picked up a violin in fourth grade. At the age of 17, Archives and her stepfather did not see eye-to-eye about her future as an artist. He saw Archives and her twin sister as the next great pop performing duo, but in meetings with record executives, Archives saw herself in the producer’s chair.
She was kicked out of her house, but made her way to L.A. to enroll in Pasadena City College to study ethnomusicology. It was here where she began to create MPC beats with fiddle music and R&B vocals overtop which caught the attention of Stones Throw Records headman, Peanut Butter Wolf. Archives has now released two EPs on the label.
The lead single and true masterpiece on the EP is “Nont For Sale.” It displays the flexibility of Archives’ vocal performance abilities. She effortlessly shifts between lively R&B melodies and a spoken rap-like delivery all over a harmonized pizzicato ostinato. Stuttering hi-hats and strong kick contribute to the blurred line between hip-hop and Archives’ genre-bending violin technique. The subject matter of the song oscillates between personal narratives and issues of colonialism. “This is my time, don’t waste it up. This is my land, nont for sale.” she sings in the chorus.
“Beautiful Mistake” follows a similar lyrical theme. While being deeply personal and intimate in celebrating the imperfections of one’s self, “I’m a beautiful mistake,” Sudan Archives simultaneously tackles larger world issues such as addressing issues of power dynamics and authoritarianism with lines like, “they don’t know/they just fuckin’ old people tryin’ to steal all your gold.” Musically, there is a similar feeling of ostinato using the violin, but with much more percussive complexity. More intricate layers and polyrhythms make for an intriguing groove.
Her experimentation goes beyond the sonic landscape of her music. In addition to this modern take on West African music, her fashion and music videos also take on a contemporary aesthetic with clear West African influences. Her background in ethnomusicology helps pave the way for these influences and her research to find their way into the music.
Sudan Archives’ story shows that lessons don’t matter, money doesn’t matter, and if you have the drive, connections can be made no matter your prior status in the industry. It really comes down to the matter of desire. Sudan Archives is writing her own rules as she goes and with two brilliant EPs under her belt, this is just her beginning.
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.