Play One Note

Psychedelic music blog covering psychedelic, folk, drone, metal, and all other forms of out music.

Posts tagged with ‘psychedelic music blog’

Cynic – Carbon-Based Anatomy EP

April 10, 2012

cynic carbon based anatomy epAnd now it’s time for something a little different from our usual, spare Play One Note fare.  It’s Carbon-Based Anatomy, an absolutely gargantuan deluge of busy ideas careening between arpeggiation, aggression, and calm from Miami’s Cynic, a band that got its start and made its name with an unabashedly weird and aggro blend of early death metal and jazz fusion, and now makes music that sounds like…this.

What “this” means is difficult to say, because antecedents for this record’s sound are few.  So I’ll cop out and say that this EP is an uncommonly wide-ranging take on contemporary progressive rock.  Atmospheric and peaceful at times, crushing and aggressive at others, Carbon-Based Anatomy also reaches tremendously emotional highs and lows, ranging from the expansively triumphal to the helplessly fragile.  All of which is to say, Cynic covers a lot of ground on this brief EP.

Speaking of brevity: Carbon-Based Anatomy consists of only six songs, three of which are bookends or interludes that improve cohesion while serving as necessary palate-cleansers.  I write “necessary” because stuff this massive is often taxing after a while, an effect frequently compounded by the bloated album lengths that typically accompany all-in, in-the-red records of this nature.*   Blessedly, Cynic hits the perfect length here: It’s easily digestible in one sitting, and feels cohesive and satisfying to play through.

That’s more of an accomplishment than it sounds.  On the three fully-fledged songs, there’s hardly a stray shaft of light or a breath of fresh air among the torrential onslaught of sounds Cynic throws at us.  So while Carbon-Based Anatomy may be unapologetically huge and emotionally open, it’s never a drag.

The EP’s mass may nevertheless raise other concerns, especially because the in-your-face maximalism of the whole thing (and I mean the whole thing: the music, the conceptual framework, the grandeur, the scope, the naked emotionalism of it all) might come across to some as excessively self-important, music made by blowhards who like talking about (their own) capital-I Ideas.  Furthermore, Cynic makes music with a seriousness that, positioned against today’s default stance of ironic detachment, is deeply uncool.**

However, though it’s evident that Cynic is thinking very big thoughts with a very straight face here, their fearless experimentation and commitment to originality never gets in the way of Carbon-Based Anatomy‘s consistently high quality.  This is moving music made by guys who just so happen to mean every damn second of it.  Don’t be fooled by their band name: on Carbon-Based Anatomy, Cynic is refreshingly earnest.

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*I have never ever willingly put on a Dream Theater album (and I am so disdainful of that band that I’m not even gonna look up if you spell it “Theater” or “Theatre”), but I’m absolutely sure that their tiring atrocities plod on for hours on end, for example.  For a less contemptuous comparison, consider your average marathon Hawkwind record.

**This is something that shouldn’t be understated.  My roommate, who had never once complained about my wide-ranging listening habits during the two-plus years we’ve lived together, finally snapped when I was listening to Carbon-Based Anatomy the other day, calling it “emo” and begging me to turn it off.  I didn’t help my case at all when, after she asked me who Cynic was, I described them as “death-metal fusion from Miami.”  Strikes one, two, and three are all contained in that brief phrase.

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John and Philipa Cooper – The Cooperville Times

March 31, 2012

john & philipa cooper the coopersville timesI normally shy away from ultrarare psych nuggets.  The fetishization of a recording’s rarity can and often does obscure any clear-eyed assessment of the music itself, and when discussions about a record revolve around the object and not the music, well, those discussions are more appropriate for Antiques Roadshow than, say, here.

The Cooperville Times, a 1969 record by South African psych-folk duo John and Philipa Cooper, would seem to fit that bill pretty well.  It appears to be the only recording by that group, about which there is precisely nothing substantial online beyond the fact that they shared a surname (husband/wife?  Brother/sister?  Happy coincidence?) and were from Johannesburg, South Africa.  So, yes, discussing the The Coopersville Times would be entirely conducive to crate-digging one-upsmanship (look what I found!) and nothing more, except for the insignificant trifling issue that its first four songs are actually stupendously deliciously excellent.  It’s true: Even when considered on their own merits and not as crate-digging artifacts, these songs are great.

Even better, these four songs are sonically diverse, not just four variations of the same successful theme.  Indeed, they succeed because of John and Philipa Cooper’s organic and subdued approach to psychedelia, which relies on judicious use of unexpected instrumentation throughout these songs.  A distended organ here or a buried guitar solo there contributes volumes on The Cooperville Times.

For example, opener “The Mad Professor” is a fairly standard axe-wailer recast by its explosive intro and unusually funky drum pattern (which is absolutely begging to be sampled by the RZA) into something at once odder and more engaging.  Meanwhile, “Gipsy Spell” is a charming cast-off spiked with surprisingly accomplished and otherworldly Balkan-influenced fiddling, not the sort of detail you’d expect on a record of this provenance.  “Wild Daydream” blends a jaunty clarinet and clusters of what sounds like a trilling harpsichord into a swinging shuffler.

The highest point in The Cooperville Times‘s beginning run is “I’ll Be Much More Than Satisfied,” a beguiling piece layering flute, upright bass, a deliberately picked acoustic guitar line, and a spectacular vocal performance by Philipa, who sings in that clear, piercing, affectless way common to many of her psych-folk contemporaries.  It’s not a very original way to sing, but she absolutely nails it, hitting her notes with a sort of precise coo that renders her soaring vocal range small and approachable.  I’ll happily open myself up to criticism by admitting that I’m actually kind of moved by the lyrical content of “I’ll Be More Than Satisfied,” as saccharine and naive as it is, but Philipa’s stunning delivery could make grocery lists give me chills.*

Taken as a whole, this album is merely very good, not great.  With the exception of the haunting “Singing In My Soul,” a song very similar in mood and construction to “I’ll Be More Than Satisfied,” the remaining material after the first four songs is forgettable.  But those opening songs more than make up for the unremarkable remainder of The Cooperville Times.  Grab it.

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*Though I must admit that there’s something about over-the-top homages to undying love, however divorced from reality they may be, that gets me.  The most moving song in this tradition is the Byrds’s rendition of “John Riley,” which routinely wells me up.

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The New Mummies – K-l-a-n-g-!

February 13, 2012

K-l-a-n-g-!new mummies klang, a new record by Austin-based, Rochester transplants the New Mummies, is sequenced like a nocturnal diver’s upward drift through black water towards air, beginning in murk and ending in (relative) clarity.  The album begins with three noisy drones—”Bridges Out,” “The Servants Call,” and “Delayed Response”—that progress from deeply abstracted tracks that approach musique concrete into a humid, delay-drenched menace reminiscent of Zelienople’s more diffused moments.  There’s more activity in these drones than you’d expect, given that genre signifier.  Rather than constructing pieces built around glacial progression, the New Mummies opt for more rapid crescendos.  Sounds identifiable and otherwise—disembodied chants, burbling tones, guitar arpeggios released on slow, careening trajectories—churn through the mix.

Elsewhere, as on “Caught in the Underfield,” songs (more or less) coalesce out of a swampy haze, during which the New Mummies channel No Wave-primitivism through a particularly bleak form of outsider folk to create a sort of desolate dark pop.  These songs, with the exception of the anthemic closer “Campaign for Wellness,” feel lucid only in relation to the trio of drones that open K-l-a-n-g-!.  Indeed, the New Mummies take every opportunity to tear these songs apart, plunging them in cascading reverb, ripping out the low end, tightly wrapping vocals in rapidly decaying delay, and subjecting them to the microphone-on-the-other-side-of-the-room lo-fi recording methods of early Magik Markers.  The result is a series of particularly emotionally direct songs made moreso by their obvious fragility, their precarious cobbling-together.

Given multiple, divergent threads of influence, it would be easy for the New Mummies to try to do to much here.  But  like Sparklehorse’s classic Good Morning Spider*, K-l-a-n-g-!‘s willfully de(con)structive production methods serve as a crucial binding agent, providing the common thread that runs through these quietly unsettling drones and dirges.

Enjoy it on their Bandcamp.

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* Which, despite sounding absolutely nothing like K-l-a-n-g-!, is a surprisingly handy signifier for it, being an album similar in fractured lonesomeness and fractured construction.

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Storm Shelter

January 9, 2012

storm shelter ep austin band

Leave it to me to find a new gem, spawned from my hometown, by reading a Poland-based psychedelic blog.*  The release in question is Austin-based quartet Storm Shelter’s self-titled EP.

On her website, Storm Shelter drummer Michelle Devereux labels her group an “apocalypse inspired chick band.”  The “chick band” part is true enough: Four women grace the release’s cover—but the apocalypse-inspiration part is no feint either.  This EP is entirely unapologetic in its worship of low tom beats and basic blues-scale guitar ambling, the perfect soundtrack to a post-urban witch’s coven.

Storm Shelter plods menacingly through these three tracks, purposeful tempos doing absolutely nothing to disguise this release’s shamanistic aggression.  Drumming is more spirited than precise, and unnecessary nonsense like “chord progressions” are unceremoniously shunted aside.  What we’re left with is some seriously bare-bones Road Warrior incantations, airs and dirges for post-civilizational shindigs and sacrifices.  Yes, Storm Shelter is positively elemental in its construction, and there is an undeniably elemental joy in listening to these perfectly primitive stoner pop jams.  You try listening to the swampy, grimy churn of “Stoneatopia”† without getting all fist-pumpy.  You shall fail.

That’s all I got.  I’m mighty proud to live in the same town as these supremely talented ladies, and I earnestly hope to be able to catch them live one day soon.  Until then, I’ll be smearing soot on my face, gorging on grilled flesh, and jamming out to the deliciously tribal Storm Shelter EP, which you can stream on the band’s site.  It’s getting gross over here, people.  Come revel with me.

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*That just ain’t right, gawdammit!

†Surely the national anthem for the baddest land around.

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The Chaw – EP

September 16, 2011

the chaw epA quick hit for the the Chaw, a Concord, CA-based psych band responsible for a delicious little morsel that came my way earlier this week.  Their new EP is dark and you know what I’m gonna be frank here it’s honestly some pretty bonerrific music, plenty well-suited to trysting and heavy make-outs.  It’s true.  What’s more, listening to the Chaw has made me re-realize how much damn fun that uniquely sexy dark strain of late-aughts psychedelia is,* and how I need to listen to approximately 900% more of it stat.  This stuff is made for charged hip-shaking and is practically begging to be paired with a really badass party populated by people cooler than me.

So: The music is fun.  Highlights include “The Road,” which is deliberate and menacing and nocturnal and is bound to get someone pregnant one of these days, and “Horizon,” a magesterial, surf-tinged ballad characterized by all sorts of tasty crescendo and catharsis.  The EP sounds absolutely great, too.  Everything is appropriate huge and hazy and smudged.  Guitars brightly chime and blearily soar, leaving brilliantly arcing psychedelic chemtrails in their wake.  The vocals have an affected, brash confidence about them, situated in that commanding, sexualized space occupied by Elvis, Nick Cave, and Chris Isaak.  It’s well-suited to this kind of dissipated, sultry psych.

In the spirit of forthrightness begun by my use of the adjective “bonerrific,” I’m gonna say that the Chaw sounds pretty cocky on this EP, and I’m usually—usually—more the introspective type.  But you know what?  They have every right to sound that way.  Because that cockiness, that swagger, makes this EP a goddamn blast.  I can imagine it kicking all kinds of ass live.  (Yo, Black Angels, put these fools in Austin Psych Fest pronto!)  Here’s the Chaw’s Bandcamp and website.  Get some.  No, really, get some.

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*I’m talking about the Black Angels, Black Mountain, the Warlocks, Sleepy Sun, et al.

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Sister Waize – The Realignment Series

sister waize the realignment seriesI first heard about the transformative sonic immersions of Sister Waize on Dr. Schluss’ Garage of Psychedelic Obscurities.  Dr Schluss operates a truly phenomenal blog.*  It’s the Loaded to my Squeeze, and it’s where Sister Waize’s The Realignment Series garnered an exceedingly rare 5 out of 5 on the Trip-O-Meter (a finely calibrated and sensitive instrument, that).  That score right there was enough to appeal to me so I listened to what I could find on Grooveshark, which was My Army of Stars Will Get Me There.  It was exactly what I was hoping for, a crisp trip through synth arpeggiations recalling the more clear-eyed side of komische practitioners like Emeralds and Jonas Reinhardt.  It was undeniably up my alley.

So when David Mekler, the aural architect behind Sister Waize, contacted me with possibly the most heartfelt review request I’ve ever received, I seized the opportunity, feeling, I’m not ashamed to admit, the faintest hiccup of fanboy excitement.  After all, here was someone whose art I admire, and, it must be said, who I’ve heard of reaching out.  It was a warm feeling.

So I downloaded The Realignment Series and gave it a listen and, well, it is safe to say that I was not anticipating what I found on at all.  Based on my limited experience with Sister Waize, I was expecting chugging, Teutonic synth explorations.  I was not expecting a drone record, and I certainly wasn’t expecting a monolithically huge slab of canyon-deep drones like this.

Because I’ll say it: I have never heard drones this deep.  To listen to The Realignment Series is to be thrust entirely into roiling gray continental cloud-banks of sound.  The music is directionless in the best possible way, suggesting scale and mass and intelligence and otherness and unfamiliarity on a Lovecraftian scale.  It begs for that subset of adjectives and verbs we typically use for drone, ones that suggest an immersion, a transformation, a transportation from Here to There.  And it sounds absolutely huge.

Everything about The Realignment Series takes time.  No track is below 15 minutes in length, and most take around a minute for discernable sound to become detectable, a brilliant tactic that all but forces you to pay intensely close attention to these roiling gray continental cloud-banks of sound.  Yes, my friends, I’m afraid this is one of those albums that demands the ol’ quality headphones treatment, as Sister Waize is almost obsessively detail-oriented, and a great amount of The Realignment Series‘s finer points will be lost if decent stereophonic speakers aren’t pressed up against your ears.  This is true with most drone, but is particularly accurate here.

The closest thing I can compare the staggering size and engrossing scope of The Realignment Series to is Gas’s classic 2000 album Pop, which approaches similar depths of sensory-overwhelming mass, albeit by employing a much more humid, organic palette.  The Realignment Series, by contrast, leans on sounds altogether more alien, ominous, and sterile.  And with that frigid, unrelenting template, Sister Waize has crafted a starkly inexorable experience.  It’s uncompromising, challenging, and undeniably rewarding.**  It’s not at all what I was expecting, and that is fine by me.

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*Something you probably already know.  If you’re reading this blog, there’s about a one-in-one chance that you’ve read his.

**Mekler maintains a blog where you can download Sister Waize releases.  (He terms My Army of Stars Will Get Me There “progressive romantic bitpop.”  Brilliant!)  You can also read “instructions” for listening to his “folding drone,” as he terms it.  One prescription suggests to begin by listening to one or two songs at a time on The Realignment Series before building up to the whole thing.  I’d never disagree with a set of instructions straight from the artist himself, but I have to say that blocking off three hours of your time and losing yourself in the entire thing all at once sounds like an absolutely transformative way to spend a weeknight alone.

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Percewood’s Onagram – Tropical Brainforest

August 31, 2011

So I don’t really get much into songwriting on here, but let’s honor a spectacular song here, one whose merits rest almost entirely on its brilliance as an emotive and expressive vehicle.  I’m referring to “Tropical Brainforest” by German-American roots-prog group Percewood’s Onagram.  Nobody’s heard of this band (173 listeners according to last.fm), and I sure as shit wouldn’t have myself, if it wasn’t for the ProgNotFrog blog,* which I unwittingly stumbled across and which unwittingly turned me on to one of my favorite songs of all time:

Hyperbolic, sure, but also true.  About the only less-than-perfect thing about this song is its admittedly rather embarrassing name, which would lead you to think it’s a slice of low-budget psychedelic wankery way too overcooked for the Nuggets box.  This, blessedly, is not the case.  Rather, the criminally unknown Percewood’s Onagram has crafted a heartfelt, melancholically triumphant masterpiece by marrying Beatles-esque phrasing, rootsy instrumentation, and suite-like pop-song construction.  So get over the name and listen to “Tropical Brainforest.”  You’ll become a Percewood’s Onagram evangelist, I swear!  Become that 174th listener!  Impress your friends!  Enrich yourself!

 

*A breathtaking admission from someone who was categorically allergic to anything even tangentially referred to as “prog” just four short years ago.

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Accentor – Moscow, WV

June 25, 2011

accentor moscow wvHere we have Moscow, WV, a new, limpidly frigid, and unusually dynamic drone record by Berkeley-based duo Accentor.  There’s a crystalline grace and hugeness on display here, something that’s better appreciated by airing the music out and letting it get loud.  That’s right: Like most great works of ambient drone, Moscow, WV demands throaty speakers.  I found myself progressively turning the volume up while listening to it, the better to get enveloped by its intergalactic austerity.  It shifts tectonically between the quieter moments of drift on Michael Stearns’s Planetary Unfolding, Auburn Lull’s Alone I Admire, and William Fowler Collins’s Perdition Hill Radio.  To understate things a smidge, that’s pretty good company.

About those shifts: Like Auburn Lull’s aforementioned, turn-of-the-century masterpiece, Moscow, WV is often filled with brilliant light and airy space.  “Winter in Moscow,” for example, basks in a frigid glare, a harshly bright cathedral of ice where frozen synths* trace the clean lines of a forbiddingly beautiful architecture with stark clarity.  At other points, however, things take a significantly darker turn, as on the queasy, foreboding “Tomlinson Run,” which pulsates with blackened aggression.

Sometimes, the hugeness of atmosphere, so evident on “Winter in Moscow,” approaches the oppressive, as on “High School Sweetheart’s Baby.”   At points like these, the coldness and dryness of sound becomes vacuum-like and hermetic.  Elsewhere, drones painstakingly swell from barely-there wisps of aural spacedust into temporally and spatially immersive primordial stews reminiscent of the late, great Celer, like on “Winter in Moscow II.”  There’s a forboding maximalism to these minimal drones, and a stargazing feel of neck-craning wonder as well.

Moscow, WV is the first installment of a year-long series of monthly album releases.  Apparently, one of the upcoming records is, in the words of Jacob, an Accentor member, “an album of Appalachian noise-folk recorded using only a Nintendo DS.”  Yes, please!  You can stream Moscow, WV for free at Accentor’s Bandcamp, or you can download it for whatever you wish to pay.   Think about the latter option, because Accentor is donating all proceeds made from Moscow, WV for the next month to the American Red Cross to help victims of the Midwestern tornado tragedy.**   Accentor: Doing beautiful things with beautiful music.

*Or what sounds like synths to these poor, untrained ears, as Accentor apparently made this record using primarily electric viola and vocoder.  Good luck teasing apart and categorizing these icy, wefted tendrils of sound.

**This being relayed to me one week ago from today, so more like three weeks.

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Shuttle 358 – Understanding Wildlife

May 28, 2011

shuttle 358 understanding wildlifeNow, I understand that Shuttle 358 isn’t drone music by any traditionally prescribed definitions of the term, but bear with me here.  If we’re going to agree that drone music uses a minimal palette (even if that palette is sometimes subsequently applied in maximal ways), Shuttle 358’s Understanding Wildlife, producer Dan Abrams’s 2002 album, ably fits that bill.  And while there’s less of an emphasis on sustaining tones, Shuttle 358 certainly exemplifies the powers of repetition and mood exploration that most drone exhibits.

Shuttle 358, and Understanding Wildlife in particular, comes from that moment around the turn of the century where electronic genres like clicks & cuts/glitch and microhouse made music from an ever-shrinking library of sonic possibilities.  This music was less about breadth and more about depth—depth of sound and of orthodoxy.  Orthodoxy, in the form of paring down and stripping away whenever possible, is important here: Clicks & cuts,* like several other highly specialized subgenres, was always more about experimentation than visceral connection.  I mean “experimentation” the literal sense of testing, too, not just its typical musical meaning (which is, I think, supposed to mean “strange”).  Sometimes these tests would yield engaging work, as is the case with Vladislav Delay’s fascinating output.  By and large, though, clicks & cuts was music to be thought about more than it was to be felt.**

So out of that knotty paragraph, we’ve yielded this: Clicks is cold music, and Shuttle 358 is clicks-oriented.  Instead of sounding dry, distant, and clinical, however, Understanding Wildlife sounds intimate, warm, and vital.

It’s immediately telling that the first song on Understanding Wildlife, the finely gorgeous “Finch,” begins with what sounds like a synthesized harp voice.  It’s a rich, warm, golden tone at odds with the eviscerated sine waves you might typically expect from an album like this.  Indeed, though Shuttle 358 certainly incorporates elements of clicks & cuts, they’re not the central focus of the album.  Instead, they become a foundation upon which a subtly shifting set of soothing, low-profile tones are built.  It’s a simple formula, repeated time and again, but the collective effect is the evocation of supreme peace, a temporal suspension, an immersion into dark, warm waters.

Understanding Wildlife turns restraint, normally a distancing attribute, into an intimate one.  The effect is at once very quiet and very close.  You want to lean into this album, to envelop yourself in its unassuming world of small and unexpected beauty.

*The name comes from a series of compilations curated and released by the German record label Mille Plateaux.  Clicks & cuts takes the disorienting abstraction of glitch to its minimal extreme, all sterilized high pings, metallic scrapes, and subaquatic bass detonations.

**Apologies if I offend anyone who really bawls out to those Mille Plateaux comps.  I’d love to hear your perspective on mine.  I just don’t really get a deep upswell of emotion when I listen to Farben or early Pole (which is admittedly extremely rarely, if ever), and I suspect that that’s not the point.

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Peaking Lights – 936

May 26, 2011

peaking lights 936I’ve really really really really really been digging 936, the new Peaking Lights album.  To describe an album as a “stew” is such a shitty music crit cliche but I’m fighting a strong urge to employ it to describe this record.  Because, really, that’s what 936 is, a steaming, humid pot of stick-to-your-ribs ingredients simmered long and slow until everything blends together into something appetizing, inviting, and of a piece.  And yeah, it’s fucking delicious and it tastes better the next day.  What about it?

About those ingredients: There’s dubby production (and I mean dubby as in, echoing guitar stabs, rivers of deep, burbling bass, and cavernous expanses of dark, sultry space, not dubby as in “reverb”), muffled and clattering percussion like a robotic drumkit breaking down, perfectly artless female coos, spiraling and arcing sound effects without origin, and trebly wefting keyboards.  On 936, Peaking Lights combine carefully measured, varying quantities of each of these and make some seriously circular and ever-deepening musical hypnosis.  This album is one of the more engrossing, replayable things I’ve heard come out in quite a while.

Though 936 is Peaking Lights’s best foray into immersive psychedelic wormhole-construction, it’s not their first.  Their previous album, 2009’s Imaginary Falcons, was a nearly great record that fell just short in a couple areas.  For one, the rich, syrupy low-end that keeps nearly every song on 936 anchored in the sublime is nowhere to be found, and it’s sorely missed.  Instead of riding supple, sweltering grooves, songs (tracks?) on Imaginary Falcons float in a helium’d aether.  They’re incredibly, almost disorientingly trippy.  And as much as I’m into disorientingly trippy, the bass backbone on 936 is welcome.  The results range from the simply addictive (as on “All the Sun that Shines” to the positively time-warping (which the transformative “Birds of Paradise Dub Version” most certainly is).

Peaking Lights has also shown an increased interest in actual legitimate songwriting on 936.  Though it’s obvious that the duo is still totally in love with getting lost in the aural possibilities available to them, it’s no longer enough for them to suture a handful of otherworldly sonic elements together and let it ride for a few minutes (not that that approach is necessarily bad).  No, now melodies (or at least grooves) are of preeminent importance, with assorted intergalactic and subterranean sounds providing (welcome) filligree.  That means we get songs (songs!) like the gorgeously sweet and totally unexpected “Key Sparrow,” an adorably lilting melody that is at once soaring and small-screen, bleary and sparkling.

I’ll be honest: “Key Sparrow” is, really, the whole reason why I wanted to write this thing.  It’s new love and dreaming and nostalgia and warmth and flitting surges of hope and sadness wrapped into a perfect four-minute package.  I don’t think I’ve been as desperately in love with a song all year.  It’s beautiful and small and it secrets away an infinitude of fine-grained emotions in it.

Love it:

 

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