Karate Body Records – July 22, 2016
They say trends are cyclical. Nowadays, bits of the 80s aesthetic have returned in music and other pop culture, and Billy Nelson is channeling that mood in a way that could only be done by someone who experienced the decade firsthand. Water Sports is a cool, cohesive collection of six songs painted with buzzing synthesizers, laid-back drum machines, distantly roaring guitars, and Billy’s echoey vocals falling just behind the beat. The first two tracks on the album were released over the last year as singles – you can find more extensive write-ups on “We Could Be Friends” and “Lord, You’ve Got the Nerve” in older posts. “Feels Like an Arab Spring” is filled with shuffling drums, shimmering synths and arpeggiating piano that consume the song before giving way to a quiet ending. For me, the standout track on Water Sports is “Still Life with Cormorant,” a dark, densely layered song which finds Billy’s voice imitated by rattling guitars as he describes an encounter between a bottom dweller and a bird circling overhead like an apparition. Things get even hazier on “Let’s Live Through This Feeling,” which is arguably the catchiest song of the bunch. The line “because it was too dark, was too dark to see, I couldn’t make out objects standing in front of me” is almost self-descriptive of this song and much of this album – the music is strange, moody, impressionistic, with lyrics that leave a lot of interpretation up to the listener. The final track, “A Hidden Beach,” sheds the synthesizers in favor of layers of shimmering guitars, closing the album with a beautiful chorus of “I’m still in love with you.” As a whole, Water Sports listens like an abstract, introspective series of snapshots as Billy Nelson finds his way through the emotions and experiences of adult life.
Tracks I Liked: We Could Be Friends, Lord You’ve Got the Nerve!, Feels Like an Arab Spring, Still Life with Cormorant!!!, Let’s Live Through this Feeling!!, A Hidden Beach
Ben Southworth – September 5, 2016 – Kenwick Place
Atmospheric Synth Pop
Karate Body Records – January 21st, 2016
As a nice snow day surprise, Louisville’s Billy Nelson released his most recent single, following the release of “We Could Be Friends” last August. Much like the previous track, “Lord, You’ve Got the Nerve” is textured largely by atmospheric synths, pulsing drum beats, and Billy’s recognizable voice. And also similarly, the song feels somewhat frustrated. Where “We Could Be Friends” repeated “I could see us as friends,” here we’ve got lyrics like “you say you only want a friend, do I have to go through this again” – in fact, the former track sounds awfully good when played directly after this most recent one. The track’s art is vaguely reminiscent of the cover of Michael Jackson’s Thriller, mixed perhaps with the mood of Neon Indian’s most recent album, Vega Int’l Night School – the art suits the track very well. Things are hazy here, from the distantly roaring guitars, to the effected vocals, to the smoky synthesizers that swell loudly into the midpoint of the song. Though only two tracks have been released from it thus far, the upcoming Billy Nelson album (whatever it may be called) seems to be hinting strongly at its disposition – word is we can look forward to a full album from Billy later this year.
Ben Southworth – January 24th, 2016 – Kenwick Place
Karate Body Records – August 18th, 2015
Billy Nelson is the solo project of Whistle Peak’s frontman, Billy Petot, and as someone who has enjoyed that band’s music in the past, this track has a pretty familiar sound. Much like the music from their album, Put to Flight, the stuff here sounds strange at first listen, but it doesn’t feel quite as lighthearted as the stuff I’ve heard before. Instead, this track has a little more melancholic tinge to it, almost like Billy is singing to someone and trying to get them to stay, or win them back. The second half of the song has a line to it that caught my ear at first listen, one that struck me as humorous at first – “It’s fine if Megan wants to be a lesbian, … I wish I was one as well,” but there’s something almost sad about it when you’re listening to the song on repeat. I don’t know, I’ve been watching relationships fall apart on Mad Men quite a bit lately, so maybe I’m just letting my perception of the song be colored by the show’s constant depiction of lost love. But then again, there’s a lot of minor tonality to the chords in this track and the rest of the song goes on repeating the lines, “I can see us as friends,” and then “we don’t have to make a child” – there’s just something pretty emotional about this song, even if it feels lighthearted on the surface. Anyway, Billy Nelson is supposed to be putting out his full length debut in 2016, so maybe a little context will help to decipher the song.
Ben Southworth – October 3rd, 2015 – Mount Horeb
Genre: Ambient Electronica/ Quasi-Trance
The label “ambient electronica” is a strange one – one that can really mean a lot of things. I guess, to me, it means the sort of music that is made with electronic components, but doesn’t necessarily make you want to dance. And though this EP didn’t have me on my feet, it definitely had my head bobbing along subconsciously. Chimarra’s first EP, Edge Effects, is a 23-minute collection, made up of glitchy drum beats, samples panned to either side of the head, a slew of different synth sounds, and the mellow tone of a euphonium. At first listen, the album is a lot what you’d expect from an ambient electronic artist – the drum beats, especially, remind me of the fizzy rhythms that made up much of Sufjan Steven’s Age of Adz. There are two major things, though, that give this music a different feeling than most other music in this genre: the feeling of a narrative and followable line of song development, and the euphonium. Taking a look at Chimarra’s Facebook page, he lists “the power and beauty of the natural world” as the inspiration for his music – when taking this into account, it makes it a little easier to understand the feeling of calm narration that much of the music has. The choice to include the sounds of a brass instrument – thrown in selectively on euphonium, rather than a sampled sound on a keyboard – is definitely interesting, and it gives the music some really nice dissonance and color. The album definitely rides the line into trance music – it’s pretty meditative and it conveys its ties to the tranquility of nature very well.
Tracks I Liked: Cave Patterns!!!, North of the Light!, Timestream!!
– Ben Southworth – Lexington, Kentucky – May 21, 2013
Genre: Ambient Electronica
In less than two months, Analog Soundtrack has released two albums – the first, Decycler, and the second, 12. This album is comprised of only of looped instrumental tracks – layers of synths, drum machines, samples, and noise. Over the course of the six songs, you’re taken from uptempo tracks with scattered drums all the way to songs that ride the line of trance music, each taking its time to build onto the next section. With that in mind, the pacing of the album is noteworthy – each song allows the current section to play out just long enough before changing the texture. Whether tracks are added or removed, they are manipulated in a way that keeps an identity for each song but doesn’t let it settle into something that sounds repetitive. What can be said about each individual song, can also be said for the entire album – it has a certain sound to it as a collection of songs, and though each song plays to the same relaxed ambiance, they accomplish it in different ways. From the distorted synths and heavy drums in intro of the first song to the contemplative setting of the third track, tinged subtly with noise and samples, the album has a lot on its mind. Though I’m not sure what exactly it’s thinking about, it finds itself constantly exploring themes in a way that would fit well with an aural description of the sound that memories make. If you happen to have a late night radio set like I once did, anything here would fit in just right.
Tracks I Liked: We’re All Falling to Pieces!, Blame!!, Cloud3!!!, It’s Beautiful!
– Ben Southworth