As a composer and producer, the majority of my inspiration comes from visual images and media. I rarely sit with a musical idea by itself and there is almost always an image or setting present in my mind. Because of this, I have found that my ear has become more naturally drawn to composers and producers who work, to an extent, in the same manner. Some of my favorites recently have been the work of composer, John Luther Adams and his pieces that are deeply rooted in nature, the incredible soundscapes created in Tim Hecker’s albums (I highly recommend the Red Bull Music Academy interview with Hecker where he goes in-depth on the importance of fog machines), and all things Flying Lotus. Also on this list is the subject of this here post, Range Rover Sound Test (RRST).
This is the first release under for Ani Bharadwaj under this name. Prior to this album of ambient work, Bharadwaj gained a significant following producing music under the name “weird inside.” This included an EP, As We Know, which tells the producer’s life story, but backwards had he not made certain decisions. Beyond his music, Bharadwaj is also a talented animator and filmmaker. Samples of his visual work can be found on his website, www.weirdinsi.de. Music and visual art seem to feed off of one another in Bharadwaj’s creative world, which yields vibrant imagery in all mediums.
The concept for CRUISE CONTROL was built around driving. Each track of this entire composition, to me, acts as it’s own slowly evolving world. When the three to five minutes of a world has completed, a new one begins, yet somehow there are no jarring transitions and there is a feeling of a continuity.
There is something new to focus your listening towards every time play through this album. I attribute this to the meticulously organized layers that each of these tracks–each of these worlds–is comprised of. “Traction” and “Miles To Go” are two instances on the album where a sophisticated groove is tucked away from plane sight in the frequency spectrum. In “Traction,” the stalwart and haunting melody is in the foreground and is heard over what sounds like rain pouring on top of windows. At roughly the 40-second mark of this track, a syncopated and fast-paced tick or snap appears among the sounds of rain. Yet “Traction” never looses its sense of stillness as rich bass, gleaming arpeggios, and this haunting melody steadily crescendo seeming to always drown out the feeling of a steady groove.
The same idea of a “hidden groove” appears but on the opposite end of the frequency spectrum on “Miles To Go.” Starting with guitars dripping in reverb and playing in polyphony, a foundation is established for this evolving landscape. A bass drum pattern can be heard peaking out of the thick curtain of reverb, but just as in “Traction,” the sense of stillness is never lost. We remain firmly in one key and transfixed by one pattern. These hints of percussion subtly nudge the tracks forward to their completion.
Pulse is not always hidden on this album. In “I-275,” a clear rhythm in both the percussion and the harmonic motion is established early. The theme of evolution is not lost even in a clearly metered tune. At just under 6-minutes long, this is the longest number on a relatively brief album, and every last second is used to create a steady build on the original rhythm established by a shaker and pulsing piano chords. By the final minute of the track in a subtle manner, an eclectic texture has been built.
Bharadwaj’s creativity in the sources of the sounds for his music has always been something that pulls me towards his work. In “Shifting,” the chords of the song are created from the sound of car exhaust. The song sounds eerily alive to me, almost as if the car is breathing in and out while a distant piano provides yet another meditative melody.
Grab a friend, hit the road, and turn up your stereo, CRUISES CONTROL is an ode to the open road and begs for you to experience it.
Let’s try that word association game:
RRST, is a.k.a. --> weird inside, is the creation of --> Ani Bharadwaj, who is a frequent collaborator with --> Zack Villere, who once made music as --> froyo ma, including a 2015 EP titled --> Pants, which has the track --> “spent missing,” featuring the one and only à Charlotte Day Wilson.
Wilson is a 25-year-old soul singer hailing from Toronto. The February release of her latest EP, Stone Woman, marked a shift in her recent career. Wilson’s impressive vocal talent had been heard across a range of project, many of which have come from fellow Canadian musicians. She has been featured on albums by Daniel Caesar, River Tiber, and BADBADNOTGOOD. While these are all impressive interpretation of Wilson’s soulful voice, Stone Woman gives her the chance to shape the production and representation of her voice within the context of her own narrative–in this case Wilson maps out the fall of a relationship.
An immediate feeling of cold and raw emotion is set with the opening and title track. The minimal production leaves space for simple and repetitive vocals, but I do not view this a let down. Wilson is grounded in this vocal range and emotional subject and the opening track gently introduces the listener to her story of heartbreak.
This soft-spoken opening number leads into “Doubt,” a true highlight in this small collection of songs. Her range in both her vocals and production open up revealing compelling synths that meander underneath her harmonized vocals: “what have I done for your love?/ I’m selfish and dumb for your love.”
“Falling Apart” further utilizes dreamy synth and string arrangements. It is a song about cold and fragile emotions, but sung through the warm and comforting voice of Wilson. This duality that can be heard throughout the EP and gives the project a unique melancholy.
The final track on the EP, “Funeral,” brings closure to the story of this relationship. Similar to how the EP opens, “Funeral” begins by featuring minimal production, allowing the story and voice to shine through. A simple chord progression repeats at a steady rhythm making the listener bask in the reality of where the relationship has ended up. As through much of the EP, stunning vocal harmonies are used as a pad underneath Wilson’s soulful recounting of parting ways with the troublesome person and feelings of love towards them.
Stone Woman is a powerful collection of songs. While not the type of soul that would get you on the dance floor, the EP is a well-crafted storybook with harmonies and melodies that give you the chance to sit and really grasp the story presented. When asked about how she knows when a project or a song is finished in an interview with The Fader, Wilson commented, “a physiological response is how I judge other music.” As I sit here with goose bumps and a lump in my throat as the saxophone solo at the end of “Funeral” fades out, I can’t wait for the next chapter in Charlotte Day Wilson’s story.
Ok, let’s try this again. This one might be a little tougher. Let’s see where we end up:
Charlotte Day Wilson, is a featured vocalist on the album --> IV, by BADBADNOTGOOD which also features --> Colin Stetson who is based in Montreal but is originally from --> Ann Arbor, MI and attended --> the University of Michigan School of Music, much like members of --> Vulfpeck, the funk group featuring --> Joe Dart on the fender bass who is now on tour with frequent Vulfpeck producer and engineer --> Tyler Duncan, the co-founder of --> the olllam
We made it.
the olllam is a project that has excited, fascinated, and inspired me since the release of their self-titled album all the way back in 2012. It is a project dreamt up by John McSherry, a native of Belfast and legend of the low whistle, and Michiganders Tyler Duncan and Michael Shimmer. Early on, Duncan was a talented piper and won many prestigious Irish music competitions propelling him to early notoriety in the Irish music scene. When Duncan was 13, he met his idol, John McSherry, who became a mentor to Duncan. After becoming the first low whistle player to be accepted into the University of Michigan jazz studies program and having success as a producer and through other bands, this ongoing partnership and collaboration between McSherry and Duncan culminated into an incredible record and band, the olllam.
The album is a testament to the positive effects modern technology has had on the creative process. Much of the album was created via skype conversations that connected Duncan in Ann Arbor to McSherry across the pond in Ireland (to see this process in action, see the documentary on the group posted below, simply a must watch). The genius that is Joe Dart was brought in to round out the group and contribute his bass playing to the album. The final product is a groove-oriented album fusing traditional Irish timbres with an insane rhythm section-driven vibe.
Every track has a very simple and stripped down sound allowing the virtuosity of all four performers to be highlighted. There are no tricks or gimmicks, just catchy melodies and intense groove. “the devilll for my hurt” is one of my favorites on this album. The looming guitar ostinato gives way to a rhythmically complex and intriguing tune that cycles through variations of the original 7/8 groove. Each instrument has its moment to take the reins of groove–be that the flowing melody of the whistle and pipes, a stop time section for featuring drums, or a flurry of arpeggios in the keys–the complexity and urgency of the groove is tamed by each musician.
Tracks such as “the tryst after death” provide a more laid back response to “the devilll for my hurt.” The song opens with a four-on-the-floor bass drum pattern and syncopated chords that set a foundation for the whistle to explore. It is a perfect example of the simplicity that makes this album undeniably great. There is so much space within the track that could have easily been filled with countermelodies, synth pads, or many various effects, but the space becomes part of The Olllam’s sonic footprint. This track and the album as a whole becomes about the interplay of individual musicians creating memorable moments– i.e. Dart’s bass against McSherry’s whistle–rather than an oversaturated and over-composed dialogue.
The band’s name is a reference to early Irish folklore and the character of an “ollam.” An ollam is a master, or a member of the highest rank, and is a distinction that is usually given to someone of with social stature equal to or close to that of a king. The band brings together four masters of their respective styles which naturally blend into a genre that seems to have been pioneered and created by this group. This is an album I find myself always returning to for long drives and creative inspiration.
After many years of silence following the initial release of this project, the group is back on tour in Ireland this summer. I sit patiently now, watching the Irish tour unfold through social media, with my fingers crossed hoping a new olllam project is in the works. In the meantime, there are few better summer activities than lying on a quiet porch with the low whistles of Duncan and McSherry, the low end of Joe Dart, and the pocket of Shimmer to keep you company.
The sports airwaves are busy right now with the chatter of NBA free agency and the World Cup and for this reason I feel it is only fitting that the theme of this first July post be “superteams.” The idea of a superteam is, quite frankly, the reason why I cannot stand the NBA. Two teams have every elite player in the league on them? Sounds like a seven month snoozefest to me. While Lebron is moving out west to the Lakers, a different kind of superteam–one that I really can get behind–has been tearing up a European tour this past month fresh off the release of their debut album.
R+R=Now is a band comprised of some of the most prolific young musicians on the scene right now featuring the sounds of Robert Glasper on keyboards, Terrace Martin on synthesizer and vocoder, Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah on trumpet, Derrick Hodge on bass, Taylor McFerrin on synth and beatbox, and Justin Tyson on drums. While Glasper was the mastermind in assembling this supergroup, no one sound or ego takes over. The group plays as one and seamlessly blends genres and the voices of the players, each of whom could be considered a visionary in their own right.
R+R stands for “Reflect and Respond,” a concept that Glasper grabbed from an interview with the great Nina Simone. The soul and jazz legend was pleading with her fellow musicians to do more with their music and more with their art. “An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times,” said Simone. Glasper then added to this, “when you reflect what’s going on in your time and respond to that to that, you can’t not be relevant. So ‘R’ plus ‘R’ equals ‘NOW’.”
What is surprising about this album is how unattached from politically motivated messages it is. Even though the group seems to have formed around a very politically charged statement, this is an extremely spontaneous and meditative album. Each track was recorded in one take and follows the mood of the group without adhering to a specific genre or roadmap. “There’s something about the spirit of it,” says Glasper. “I don’t record until I’m ready and I don’t do extra takes just to do it–you burn out. We’d chill, watch some basketball, have some drinks, and hit record when the vibe was right.”
A highlight of this work to me is “Colors in the Dark.” While at just under five minutes it is one of the shorter numbers on the album, it is a great showcase of the open sound heard on the entire record. Starting with a bass solo by Hodge, the track steadily builds with each new layer sounding first like a solo voice before settling into the collective sound of the band. Martin’s vocals sung through the vocoder begin as a melody before shifting to an accompanying color underneath Glasper’s solo over the form. Tyson’s groove becomes steadily busier and eventually thunderous near the end of the track before giving way to a warm, floating, and lush transition into “The Night In Question” featuring the spoken word of none other than Terry Crews. The impressive list of vocal features also includes Omari Hardwick, Amanda Seales, Stalley, Yasiin Bey, Amber Navran and Goapele.
Collogically Speaking is refreshing. In a time where escaping the stress and uncertainty in the world that suffocates our lives is nearly impossible, this album provides an escape even if it is for just a moment. Eleven unique atmospheres are available to bask in to clear one’s mind of the heavy burdens are carried by nearly everyone at this moment in the history of the United States and the World.
It recently had its first birthday, but the 2017 release from the LA-based soul and new-school jazz group Moonchild has crept back into my queue with its infectious summertime vibe. The final track on Collogically Speaking, “Been On My Mind,” provides a great segway into spending some time with Moonchild’s third full-length album as Amber Navran, the band’s vocalist, is featured on this closing number. Navran is joined by fellow multi-instrumentalists Max Bryk and Andris Mattson to fill out this superteam’s roster.
The word I have always associated with Moonchild since being introduced to them in 2014 is “clean.” There is never an element or a sound out of place in any of their albums. Navran’s bright vocals float over boom-bap inspired drums, insanely rich and juicy chords, and bass face-inducing bass lines. There is no possible way to escape some level of joy and euphoria with Moonchild pulsing through your headphones.
The laid back feeling of tracks such as the lead single, “Cure,” are balanced with more driving and bouncy numbers like “Every Part (For Linda).” The simple but head-nodding drum pattern remains in a steady pocket while the reputation in the chords is interrupted with a playful clarinet solo and effects that sound straight from a Gameboy adding to the lighthearted mood of the tune.
The group was formed after having met in USC’s jazz performance program. The collaborative songwriting process felt natural for this trio and their shared music taste and influences meant they were all speaking the same musical language. Three albums into their time together, they have started to gain the attention of some of their well known peers and influences. The likes of Robert Glasper, Stevie Wonder, Jill Scott, The Internet, Tyler, The Creator, and hip-hop production legend, 9th Wonder are some of the impressive co-signs on this band’s resume.
The trio once described their sound in an interview with Brownswood Recordings as “electronic Dilla soul,” a nod to the late great, J Dilla. Many of the aforementioned co-signs have styles deeply rooted in Dilla influences as well and this lineage can be heard especially on songs such as “Run Away” off Voyager. The stutter kick drum, back beat, and woozy synth sound creates a feeling that would fit right into the style of the iconic Dilla album, Donuts.
Voyager, just as Moonchild’s first two albums, is intensely hypnotizing. A dreamy landscape is created and it is hard to find a reason to leave. The instrumentation on this latest album has been added to since their sophomore LP adding more colors to their arsenal and new level of maturity in their sound. The warmth of this album is contagious and pairs well with a calm summer morning.
I know what you are thinking, one singer/songwriter does not really seem like it fits the theme of “superteam.” Hang tight, let me explain.
I walked into the scaffolding-lined entrance of The Ark (America’s finest listening room located in Ann Arbor, MI) having heard one of Sam Lewis’ songs…ok half of one of Sam Lewis’ songs. I stumbled upon the video for “One And The Same” through The Ark’s website and heard the first two minutes before buying my ticket. I was immediately pulled into a trance by this Nashville-based country and soul singer’s voice whose sound combines the timelessness of James Taylor with the rougher blues vocals of Johnny Cash. I was needed to experience the mysterious hooded figure that is seen in this music video for myself.
Ann Arbor was Lewis’ last stop in a stretch of shows that followed the May release of his latest album, Loversity. This 14-track album finds a sweet spot between the feel-good sound of country and soul music and a powerful punch of social and political commentary that hits you right in the gut. The country has changed a lot since Lewis’ music career began in 2009, and it is clear he has some strong feelings about this. Back in 2009, Lewis was working at a Walmart and would play small venues where he made connections with local musicians who helped him record his first album. By 2014, he had established himself in the Nashville scene and got his big break when Grammy winner, Chris Stapleton invited him out on tour with him in 2015. Lewis’ newest release has been highly anticipated and does not disappoint.
Lewis wrote 12 of the 14 songs on the album. “Accidental Harmony” and “Natural Disaster” were written by John Mann and Loudon Wainwright, respectively. Boasting a message of living in some sort of harmony, even if by mistake, “Accidental Harmony” and it simplistic arrangement fits neatly into the album.
“Great Ideas” is the third track on the album and is a great display of how Lewis’ wonderfully simple lyrics carry great weight especially in front of catchy and soul-filled instrumentals. “Take some of out great ideas/and help each other put them in motion/we won’t always be right here/if we never ever start a commotion.” When seeing him live, Lewis took mere seconds to introduce this tune simply stating, “here’s one about the First Amendment.”
Turning to a darker track off the album, “(Some Fall Hard) Living Easy” begs the listener to look a little deeper and reflect. “What’s your purpose? Are you a cure or disease?” sings Lewis. As the song continues the questions seem to get more pointed and difficult, but never in the tone of exasperation or wanting to quit. There is a hint of motivational energy. To ponder these questions is to work towards better days and to ignore them is to be complacent.
Loversity is rich with the feeling of community. To Lewis, the title embodies “love without boundaries.” Current events are driving the country apart, but Lewis is determined to send a reminder that we are in the struggle together. “This is the closest thing I’ll ever write to a concept album,” he says. “The idea is that we are all trying to get somewhere – all running from something and toward something. We’re all together in it, though.” It is a message embracing hardship by promoting a strong sense of unity. It doesn’t take million dollar contracts to build superteams, it takes great ideas and the genuine support of those around you to put them in motion.