New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: chillout music

Pure Escapism From Cuushe

Isn’t it really weird that there was so much happy, upbeat music released in 2020, the worst year in human history? That’s because it was all made in 2019…or at least before the lockdown. Case in point: Cuushe, AKA Mayuko Hitotsuyanagi and her twinkly, pillowy new album Waken, streaming at Bandcamp. Most of this one could have been made before 9/11, before Facebook, youtube, Myspace or even the Y2K scam. You want escapism, this is your jam.

The opening number comes across as late 90s Missy Elliott in a particularly lighthearted interlude, taking a stab at trip-hop electro from five years earlier. The second track, Magic looks back ten years before then to glossy new wave pop, synthesized strings gusting and shimmering over a techy bounce.

Cuushe’s airy voice sails over blippy dancefloor beats and icy, playfully layered layers of upper-register keyb multitracks in Emergence. Not to Blame is all melting-plastic neosoul, while Nobody sounds like somebody’s sampler went on the blink during the mixing process.

Drip is aptly titled: burying those autotuned vocals behind all the keys was a good idea. Cuushe winds up the album with Beautiful, a slow jam with what sounds like an out-of-tune koto riff popping up here and there, and then Spread, a glistening, rainswept summer evening trip-hop tune.

Elori Saxl Releases a Super Spaceout Album

This observation could be completely off base, but it doesn’t seem that Elori Saxl’s new album of trippy electroacoustic soundscapes, The Blue of Distance – streaming at Bandcamp – was meant to be listened to while sober. Saxl has a good sense of humor and messes with your ears constantly, via tempos and textures and echo effects and just about every other trope in the psychedelic playbook. Whether you call this ambient music, film music, minimalism or indie classical, it’s hard not to get lost in.

Saxl processes both a chamber orchestra and field recordings of wind and water for the tracks here. The opening miniature, Before Blue is all bubble, bubble, no toil, no trouble. A couple of coy, blippy riffs at the end, and it’s over in a minuite 32. The ten-minute Blue begins more turbulently bubbly and ultimately a lot funnier, from a long bong hit to a whippit, sonically speaking. Just when you start wondering what’s wrong with your music player, the distantly ominous synth patches loom in. And then you’re back in the hall of mirrors.

Squiggles and blips and a catchy, playful clarinet hook intertwine in Wave, then a pseudo-ocean, the clarinet and strings gently rock your ears in Wave II. A Terry Riley-ish clarinet riff circles and subtly shifts against a staggered, diversely processed pizzicato violin loop in Memory of Blue, the album’s most epic track: the unexpected piano track pulls you back to earth just when it seems gravity has been left behind for good.

Soft gusts move methodically through Wave III; Saxl winds up the album with the title cut, the driftiest interlude here and an unexpectedly somber way to close an otherwise high-spirited record. Seems like the whole crew here – Finnegan Shanahan on violin, Helen Newby on cello,Erin Lensing on oboe, David Nagy on bassoon and a wind section of Kristina Teuschler and Alec Spiegelman on clarinets, with Sarah Carrier on flute – had plenty of fun with this. 

Warmly Drifting, Epically Atmospheric Instrumentals From Numun

Atmospheric instrumentalists Numun comprises members of cinematic, pastoral noir band Suss as well as New York’s most popular Balinese bell orchestra, Gamelan Dharma Swara.  Multi-instrumentalists Joel Mellin and Bob Holmes’ new album Voyage au Soleil – streaming at Bandcamp – is pretty much what you would expect from those influences: vast, slowly hovering tableaux with the occasional Asian tinge.

The opening track, Tranceport rises from slowly shifting atmospherics and the occsional boom of what could be a gong, to a swaying, gorgeously lush acoustic guitar groove spiced with cumbus lute and airy, tremoloing keys. First Steps starts with wry, robotic keys over a trip-hop beat, percolating organ and menacing reverb guitar, then rises to a darker but equally sweeping crescendo.

With its keening, tinkling synth lines and surreal spoken-word vocals half-buried in the mix, Tranquility Base is a hyperactive stab at a nocturne: the slow acoustic guitar-based sway returns, more loopy this time. The alarm motif that kicks off Mission Loss could have been faded down more mercifully for the listener, as a thicket of short pulses and then the warmly predictable acoustic guitar vmp takes over.

Expanse is the one track that begins with guitars and then drifts into an echoey vortex with dubwise bass anchoring starry keys: it’s the album’s most interesting and psychedelic number. The final cut is the title track, which with the cumbus could be an Asian-tinged outtake of an interlude from Pink Floyd’s Animals. Cue this up and set the controls for the heart of the…

Lively Ambience From Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti and Anna Thorvaldsdottir

Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti is a violist on a mission to build the repertoire for her instrument. One of the most captivating, immersive albums she’s released to date is her recording of Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s electroacoustic triptych Sola, streaming at Bandcamp.

For many listeners and critics, Thorvaldsdottir epitomizes the vast, windswept Icelandic compositional sensibility of recent decades. This mini-suite is on the livelier side of that zeitgeist. The first movement begins with slow modulations, dopplers and flickers of wind in the rafters of some abandoned barn on the tundra – or at least its sonic equivalent. However, Lanzilotti gets many chances to add austere color and the occasional moment of levity via steady, emphatic phrases and the occasional coy glissando.

There are places where it’s hard to figure out which is which, Lanzilotti’s nuanced, delicate harmonics, or Thorvaldsdottir’s own keening electronics, which are processed samples recorded earlier on the viola. The brooding, droning, fleeting second movement seems to be all Lanzilotti – at least until the puckish ending. The conclusion is more lush, similarly moody and enigmatically microtonal, again with the occasional playful flourish. Even in the badlands, life is sprouting in the ruts.

As a bonus, the album includes a podcast of sorts with both performers discussing all sorts of fascinating nuts-and-bolts details, from composing to performing. Listening to Thorvaldsdottir enthusing about traveling to premieres and leading master classes will break your heart: based in the UK, her career as a working composer has been crushed by the Boris Johnson regime.

Andrée Burelli Builds Elegant Ambience with Classical Tinges

Keyboardist Andrée Burelli writes drifting, hypnotic ambient music with pensive, sometimes distinctly dark neoromantic themes. Her album De Sidera- streaming at Bandcamp – is a good choice for meditation, multitasking to a pleasant backdrop, or drifting away in a cloud of bluish smoke on a rainy weekend afternoon.

As she sees it, the first track, Mediterraneo, is a sad place, portrayed by loopy, stark piano awash in echo and spiced with frequent splashes up against the shore. Those, in turn, eventually waft through the echo patch, a recurrent device here.

In the title piece, Burelli positions a distant, spare bassline amid washes of sound, raising the energy with her wordless, melismatically Balkan-tinged vocals.

Ultimi Raggi has what sounds like mutedly flaring guitar amid the swirl and the occasional shooting star falling to earth. In Pezzi Sopra La Tua Pelle is a sunny, slowly uwinding, Eno-ish tune, followed by the cheery miniature Aquilone Perduto, an evocation of birdsong.

Burelli’s airy vocals raise Cum Sidera out of desolation and suspense, then she brings back the spare, elegant piano in Natura Domina. She winds up the record with Cuore Di Piume, a sort of baroque chorale study in wave motion, and the windswept, pensive Leggeri Come Cenere.

Still, Spacious, Meditative Sounds From Shida Shahabi

The title of keyboardist and ambient composer Shida Shahabi’s Lake On Fire triptych – streaming at Bandcamp – is a misnomer. Her new ep is calm, centering music. For a quick, ten-minute meditative interlude, this fits the bill just fine.

Slow waves and gently rising guitar-like figures permeate the prologue. The main theme rises like a plane on takeoff and then morphs into a gentle, distantly baroque-tinged organ prelude. The final movement follows a series of minimalist, spacious sustained chords. The ep also includes a stately piano version of the main theme including a creaky percussion track, as if the levers inside the instrument were close-miked.

Christine Ott Releases the First Ever Solo Album Performed on the Rarest of Instruments

Christine Ott’s album Chimères (pour ondes Martenot) – streaming at Bandcamp – is the first record in history ever written for and performed solo on that rare machine. French inventor Maurice Martenot patented what was arguably the first-ever analog synthesizer in the early 1920s. Long since eclipsed in popular memory by the theremin, the ondes Martenot is easier to control, and as a result can generate more resonant, pitch-perfect, and less quavery sounds because a player’s fingers move across a ribbon on an electronic keyboard, rather than being activated by motion against a force field. Yet the ondes Martenot – also known as the ondea – can also replicate the sound of a theremin to the point where the two instruments are indistinguishable.

Ott is one of very few musicians alive to have mastered the ondes Martenot, and has been sought out by acts ranging from Tindersticks to Yann Tiersen. Her new album transcends the exotic, or any possible kitschy associations: this is catchy, enveloping, fascinatingly ambient music.

Co-producers Paul Régimbeau and Frédéric D. Oberland mix Ott’s live-in-the-studio performance through a series of effects for extra orchestral grandeur. In the opening track, Comma, tremoloing waves beneath keening, quavering highs give way to a calmly enveloping balance from the lower registers. The second track, Darkstar, rises to a catchy, motorik theme anchored by buzzing lows, Ott finally hitting a theremin-like crescendo way up the scale.

She builds a hauntingly nuanced theme, sliding upward into the melancholy riffs of Todeslied and then adding piercing accents. Much of this uneasy, undulating, increasingly turbulent piece is a sort of electronic analogue to Michael Hersch’s macabre work for strings.

Echo effects flutter and dance throughout Mariposas, then slowly shift to echoey drainpipe sonics and deep-space dopplers in Sirius. Then Ott completely flips the script with Pulsar and its droll, woozy lows.

Eclipse is the most ominously ambient and lowest-register track here: it seems patched through a choir effect and then oceans of loops for extra terror, up to a surprise ending. Ott closes the album with Burning, a broodingly catchy Twin Peaks theme that decays to fragmented shots from every corner of the sonic picture. Let’s hope this album reaches enough of an audience to draw other fearless artists to Martenot’s strange invention.

Literate New Soul and Erudite Organ Jazz Cross-Pollination at the Delancey

Fun and interesting show this past Thursday night at the Delancey with tantalizingly brief sets from soul singer/bandleader Amana Melome and paradigm-shifting jazz organist Brian Charette and his Mighty Grinders trio with Will Bernard on guitar and Eric Kalb on drums. Melome has Ellington band royalty in her veins – her bassist grandfather Jimmy Woode was a member of the Ellington orchestra and played with many other golden age jazz names as well. The Stockholm-based chanteuse maintained a low-key vibe, drawing the crowd in with her simmering, jazz-inflected downtempo and soul grooves. Backed by an electric pianist who varied his textures from song to song plus a tersely swinging acoustic rhythm section, Melome aired out a mix of tunes from her latest ep Lock and Key. Like her music, her misty mezzo-soprano vocals build a mood and explore its intricacies and secret corners rather than wailing or pleading. Her most intriguing and original number was Icarus, which recast the myth as a tribute to thrill-seeking rather than cautionary tale. Other than emo and grunge, neosoul may be the unsexiest style of music on the planet, but Melome keeps it real and could elevate a lot of people along with her.

Charette is an intrepid player, as influenced by classical music and dub as he is by the icons of jazz organ. And he can be awfully funny – he’s the kind of guy who will get a crowd grinning and shaking their heads and asking each other, did he just play that? Uh huh, he did. As usual, he couldn’t resist throwing in a handful of droll quotes when least expected – and he’ll play anywhere. The Delancey is a rock club, but Charette was clearly amped to take the gig. He opened with the shapeshifting Yue Fei, from his Square One album and then followed with the LOL faux-operatic bombast of the tongue-in-cheek Not a Purist: welcome, my friends, to the show that never ends, step inside, step inside, he seemed to be telling the crowd.

Then he flipped the script with Hungarian Brown, a trickily rhythmic, haunting Romany melody fueled by Bernard’s searing slide work: who knew he had that up his sleeve. Charette and the band wound up the night with an expansively funky take of Jimmy Smith’s 8 Counts for Rita, leaving no doubt that was where James Brown – who got his start as an organist – found his first inspiration.

Charette’s next gig is at 8 PM this Friday, March 27 at Jules Bistro on St. Mark’s Place with Matt Chertkoff on guitar and Jordan Young on drums, his last New York show before heading off to the Czech Republic where he’ll be touring next month as part of powerhouse saxophonist Mike DiRubbo‘s trio.

Bora Yoon Brings Her Magically Enveloping Sonics to the Prototype Festival

Bora Yoon‘s music is ethereal yet deeply resonant. The Korean-American composer-performer’s first love was choral music, but her work also encompasses ambient soundscapes and tinges of pan-Asian folk themes. She has a penchant for site-specific works and a track record for artful manipulation of sonically diverse spaces: McCarren Pool, the Park Avenue Armory and city rooftops among them. While her signature sound is rapt and otherworldly, she spices that with a quirky, charming sense of humor. She’ll be airing out pieces from her latest album Sunken Cathedral – streaming at Spotify – throughout a four-night stand from Jan 14 through 17 at 7:30 PM (with a 10 PM show on Jan 15 and a 2 PM show on the 17th in addition) at LaMama, 74A E 4th St. at the ground floor theatre there as part of this year’s Prototype Festival. Tix are $25.

Knowing Yoon’s music for what it is, it’s hard to tell how much of the album is looped and processed and how much of it is organic, though to Yoon’s credit, it seems to be almost completely the latter: her electronic touches are deft and subtle. She opens it with her own arrangement of a Hildegard von Bingen antiphon, her crystalline voice rising over subtly shifting organ drones and dizzyingly hypnotic counterrythms. And then, out of nowhere, birdsong! It sets the stage for pretty much everything else to come.

Clamoring churchbells give way to ethereally ringing singing bowls and stately long-tone vocalese throughout Father Time, the second track. She follows that with the somber, achingly crescendoing piano ballad Finite Infinity. She radically reinvents the renaissance standard In Paradisum as an echoey tone poem, moving up from a tense more-or-less solo intro with a dog barking in the background, to a duet of sorts with four-piece choir New York Polyphony. After that, there’s a pricelessly funny, hynotically dancing vocalese-and-percussion piece featuring Yoon’s irrepressible mom via voicemail.

More churchbells, waterside sounds and windy ambience mingle with Yoon’s vocals, taking the medieval plainchant of O Pastor Animarum into the here and now. She does much the same with Speratus, interpolating a lively loop by chamber ensemble Sympho. Then she shifts gears with the increasingly agitated Little Box of Horrors, a spoken-word-and-loops piece.

Weights & Balances adds noir cabaret-tinged piano beneath Yoon’s New York angst-fueled existentialist contemplation of posterity and self-doubt: “Fate is what happens to you when you do absolutely nothing,” she asserts, seemingly as much a message to herself as to the world. The closest thing to traditional renaissance polyphony here is Semaphore Conductus, the choir’s precise sonics peppered with blippy percussive bits a la Radiohead.

In New American Theatre, Sekou Sundiata narrates his understatedly corrosive portrait of our post-9/11 New York surveillance state over sarcastically dreamy loops. The album winds up with the very subtly mutating, mesmerizingly circular Doppler Dreams. It’ll be interesting to see how much sonic magic Yoon can coax out of the dry black-box theatre space at LaMama: this may call for more of the onstage theatrics that she typically incorporates into her show.

A Darkly Entrancing New Album and a Shea Stadium Show from Opal Onyx

Opal Onyx sound like Portishead with a much better singer and more organic, imaginative, atmospheric production values. Frontwoman/guitarist Sarah Nowicki varies her approach depending on the song: her voice can be acerbic and biting, or misty and dreamy, or bloodcurdlingly direct. Matthew Robinson adds texture and terse tunefulness on cello, lapsteel and keys, while Heidi Sabertooth’s electronics enhance the otherwordly ambience. Rich Digregorio plays drums and Cedar Appfell joins on bass on the more propulsive numbers. While some of the tracks on their new album Delta Sands – streaming at Bandcamp – sway along on a trip-hop groove, others are more nebulous and minimalistic. It’s pretty dark music, and much of it you can get seriously lost in. They’re playing Shea Stadium in Bushwick on Dec 9 at 10ish, door charge TBA.

The opening diptych, Black & Crimson could easily pass for a song from the Portishead Roseland album, Nowicki’s eerie chromatics rising high over a staggered, loopy backdrop; then it hits a straight-ahead trip-hop sway. Personal is a big anthem:  the band takes elegantly fingerpicked electric and acoustic guitar tracks and loops them while swirling textures filter through the mix behind them, Noveller style. Likewise, Evaun makes stadium rock out of a darkly bluesy vamp – but keeps a tense, cinematic pulse going, quiet drums way back in the mix with the atmospherics.

Iron Age begins with a minimalist insistence, like Randi Russo as produced by Daniel Lanois, maybe – the music calms, but the menace persists as the echoing vortex grows thicker. Both Fruit of Her Loins and The Devil blend bluesy minimalism and eerie, chromatically-charged cinematics, Nowicki’s impassioned vocals sailing over the murk behind them.

Desperate also evokes orchestrated Portishead, but with cumulo-nimbus Pink Floyd sonics. Arrows Wing begins as folk noir before the rippling keys and atmospheric washes take it even further into the shadows. The album winds up with the stark Bright Red Canyons – just Nowicki’s acoustic guitar and vocals – and then the woundedly echoing title track. Fans of artsy acts as diverse as St. Vincent and My Brightest Diamond will love this.