August 28th, 2015 – auralgami SOUNDS
It isn’t easy to describe the sort of music that Cher Von makes. It was recorded without previous concepts, but it doesn’t sound that way – in fact the music here might even seem more thoughtful and aware of itself because of this sort of ‘realizing-the-music-as-it-comes’ approach to things. It’s the sort of approach that makes many musicians nervous to even think about, and the fact that it is done here in such a pleasant way seems like a testament to Cher Von’s musicianship and inventiveness.
Kuhh Duuh is a rich collection of six semi-improvised songs – each making extensive use of the voice, loop and effect pedals, and found percussion. The tracks here are very atmospheric, feeling thick and hazy while maintaining a distinctly directed groove. It’s not a kind of heavy, driving, four-on-the-floor kind of groove, though – it’s more like that built in background groove that you feel when you’re driving by streetlights at a steady speed on a quiet night. The music refrains from being domineering, but rather allowed me to walk to class on this wet Autumn morning without excess thought as I let it go by. It was almost meditative.
Tracks like “Anywhere (Kilik 2)” and “Nimm-Mumm (Wood. Chant)” pull in some extra instrumentation – guitar and bass – and have more melancholic, even distressed feels to them. The fifth track, “Loop: Goh-Kuhht,” is an incredible amount of fun, and one that most anyone should enjoy – as the name implies, it builds layers and layers of loops (mostly voice, with some effects) and can easily put the listener in a trance. Another great release from auralgami SOUNDS this year, Kuhh Duuh is a thoroughly enjoyable listen – it stays fresh across several listens, as you find more and more surprises buried in its textures. The music is able to be simultaneously calming, entrancing, exciting, and playful – it’s something I would most certainly recommend.
Tracks I Liked (though I would more recommend listening to this all as an album): Anywhere (Kilik 2)!!, Nimm-Mumm (Wood. Chant)!, Loop: Goh-Kuhht!!!
Ben Southworth – October 27th and 28th, 2015 – Park Avenue and Kenwick Place
auralgamiSOUNDS – January 16th, 2015
The Wrists are a band from Louisville, Kentucky who excel at coming up with catchy, lo-fi tunes. It’s not quite like Pavement, not quite like Wax Fang, and not quite like Jovontaes – the band comes in somewhere between all three, adds its own touch, and they end up being really great to listen to.
They’re able to incorporate nice grooves into the first track, “Untitled,” which then flows straight into the second track. “Tombs” is a little less groove oriented, a little more somber, a few more parts mellow, and totally one of the stronger tracks on the album – the chord progressions and lead guitar playing add some nice emotion to the song. “Went West” has the pop sensibility of a Stephen Malkmus song plus a ton of fuzz, and “The Drip” is appropriately titled for a quick-driving, slimy track such as itself. “Meteor” is my favorite song here – it plays duets between the vocals and lead guitar while the rest of the texture is filled out with all sorts of noise, and remains an extremely catchy track. The album ends with a pair of tracks that fit together, “Into” and “The Cloud” – the former sets them up with harmonious arpeggiation and spacey moans on a reverby guitar before the latter comes in with sounds that approach post-rock grandiosity.
The album is one of my favorites that I’ve gotten to hear in a while. It walks the line between fuzzy garage rock and indie pop, and comes through as a really satisfying listen.
Tracks I Liked: Tombs, Went West, Meteor, The Cloud
Ben Southworth – March 31st, 2015 – Maxwell and Hagerman
When folks ask me about my favorite albums of the year, I find myself delivering the disclaimer “I didn’t listen to much music made outside of Kentucky this year.” This is thanks to my job of overseeing WRFL’s Kentucky Music Playbox until August, but lucky for me 2013 has been an excellent year to be a musician in the Bluegrass. Some musicians had been storing up music for years, waiting for things to come together before releasing their albums. Others sprung their music upon the world without even a moment’s notice, but pleasantly surprised us with such a sudden gift of song. Regardless, the quality of music in 2013 has been incredible, and I consider myself lucky to have been an agent of support for the work that so many people have done so creatively.
I’m not always one to listen to rap or hip-hop, but after meeting Devine Carama and Sheisty Khrist through WRFL’s Trivial Thursdays and hearing the stories of their music, I was excited to give this album a listen. Rather than boasting exaggerated claims of materialism – money, drugs, fast cars, and the like – Devine spends the length of the album fighting for positivity. He urges for a shift in the attitudes of others in the genre, asking them not to continue misleading America’s youth, but challenges them to empower them through their music – something that No Child Left Behind is able to accomplish with ease. It’s not just something he preaches on the album – his Twitter feed is one of my favorites to follow, despite his knack for spewing out the occasional ten-tweet spiel, he’s unfaltering in his positivity.
Another Trivial Thursday’s find, Ford Theatre Reunion’s Famous Monsters was an excellent part of my 2013 Independence Day. Spanning twelve tracks, the album is a tour of the band’s strange and goofy sounds, but showcases some serious songwriting chops. Famous Monsters is centered around the theme of (not surprisingly,) monsters, and each track is about a different monster – some are even are presented as songs sung from the point of view of the monster. Perhaps not the album with the most serious subject matter of the year, but one that is unfailingly creative and fun to listen to.
As far as uniqueness goes, there aren’t many albums that I’ve heard this year that do better than MrWimmer’s Once More Unto the Breach. For years, Alex Wimmer, the singular force behind MrWimmer has been accessing the soundcard on his little, yellow Gameboy Color to orchestrate soundscapes of “bleeps and bloops.” Pairing the music from these pre-written tracks with little more than his guitar and voice, MrWimmer sets out on his first full-length album with the story of a girl and her dreams that take her away from the sadness of her reality. Importantly, Once More Unto the Breach is able to stand on its own two feet as a great album – it keeps from using chiptuning as a gimmick, but rather as a tool that fits the music perfectly.
Not many albums in 2013 were as surprising as Mercurial Rites – not as much due to the content of the music on the album, but because of how unexpected it was to be released at all. After remaining pretty quiet as a group since 2008 (though the members of the group have ended up finding plenty of things to keep themselves busy,) Hair Police dropped this album with hardly any notice at the beginning of February. It is overflowing with cacophony and grit – inhuman vocals, screeching feedback, droning electronics, and a healthy dose of static and distortion – but for all the discomfort that it holds, it has a surprisingly “acoustic” sound to it. Mercurial Rites is easily the most challenging listen on this list for the casual, non-acclimated listener, but it turns out to be the one I find most dense and meditative.
I was surprised to see how much press and attention this album received when it first released, but I really shouldn’t have been. Jim James is easily one of the best known musicians from Kentucky, and probably made more appearances on the late-night circuit than anyone else from our state in 2013 (shy of Jennifer Lawrence, perhaps.) Regions of Light and Sound of God is James’ first solo album of original music, and while it shares a lot of sound with My Morning Jacket, it is unmistakably a solo expedition. The music, for all its electronics and reverb, becomes difficult to place – it sounds equally likely to have come from the future as it does to have come from the past. When all of this is taken together, it creates an album that paints a picture of Jim James, and of nobody else.
Lexington’s own Graham Tucker is to credit for the music of fleece, and while Present Pleasures is one of the least assuming albums of 2013, it’s one of the best. The album is full of forty-six minutes of music, but the thirteen songs don’t claim to be about much of anything – the music is just good. As far as ambient electronica goes, fleece has managed to do a lot of work on this album to let his ideas play out well. Though some of the tracks break the five minute mark, they keep from getting stale by slowly adding complexity in texture and motion. The entire album plays quite a bit like a live deejay set, as songs morph into each other and create a listening experience that is relaxing and on par with more famous folks like Ryan Hemsworth.
There aren’t many musicians in Lexington that I found so immediately interesting as Idiot Glee, and I found myself alongside many Lexington residents eagerly awaiting the release of this EP. Though James Friley stands at the core of this record, he is joined by some of the best, most talented musicians and artists around town throughout. The songs on the album are not only some of the better songs he’s put out, they’re some of Idiot Glee’s nicest sounding songs in terms of fidelity and production. “Pipes” is a dizzying track that asserts Friley’s maturity, but there might not be a better song out of Lexington this year than “Little Berlin.” The EP’s final track is heavy, swooning with depth and reverb, and accompanied by a breathtaking guitar/saxophone duel from Trevor Tremaine and Matt Duncan.
As a classically trained trombonist, I don’t find myself listening to music for its lyrics too often, but the opposite has always been the case with Lexington’s Englishman. Unsafe & Sound is somewhere between an EP and an LP, but the seven songs that comprise its twenty-six minutes are nothing but quality songwriting. Andrew English and his accompaniment perform songs that have a distinctly nostalgic, “Kentucky” flavor to them – English explains that the album is one that explores the “feeling that the ways in which we participate in the human experience are changing too rapidly to process.” Though there are some definite departures from the sound of Englishman’s self-titled debut, the music is lush, and the lyrics remain clever and sincere.
2. Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy – Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy
I wish I could say I knew more about Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, but the truth is that I happened to walk into CD Central a few hours after he had dropped copies of this record off in person. Armed only with the knowledge that a lot of people really liked his music, I picked up a copy on vinyl and took it home to listen. The album is an incredibly intimate, sparse, and sincere ten-song work that features only Will Oldham and his acoustic guitar, and I immediately knew I had made a good purchase. I don’t think my record player has ever played a record as much as it has played this one, and for good reason – if you’re looking for a good way to get into Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy’s music, this one has effectively introduced me to his work in a big way.
Soft Times was Lexington’s most hotly anticipated album of 2013, and it delivered on the excitement that people had for it. Spanning twelve short pop songs, the album is perhaps the best representative of the town it came from – with artwork from Robert Beatty (like numbers three, four, (and maybe seven?) on this list,) performances from some of the towns most talented musicians, and a unique pressing on a record label started in Lexington. Matt Duncan has always shown a knack for meticulously crafted, perfect pop songs, and somehow manages to get it right on each song on the album. Like many others on this list, Soft Times gives a great, personal look into the life of the artist that produced it, but somehow manages to capture the spirit of an entire time in Lexington, Kentucky.
What album was your favorite?
Ben Southworth – December 26th, 2013 – Mt. Horeb Pike
Genre: Dreamy Folk-Pop
When I started programming shows at WRFL – my first regular spot was a much-fought-over 3-6 AM slot on Saturday mornings – one of the records I found myself playing the most was Englishman’s self-titled LP. Early in 2013, knowing that he had an EP on the way, it’s safe to say that I’ve been waiting on Unsafe & Sound with a healthy dose of anticipation since the last time it was cold in Lexington. Finally in November, it was a sudden release, but I find myself more than happy to have waited until now.
Sonically, Unsafe & Sound is a bit of a departure from the band’s last release, but they’ve certainly departed in the correct direction. Although Englishman’s music has always had a bit of added texture from various found sounds and electronics, this album expands the flavor – songs like “More than Insects” and “Fiercest Warrior” are swimming in it. The lead off track, “Fill a Silo,” has a certain “Kentucky” feel to it, perhaps due to its opening lyrics: “Mountains and minerals take years to unravel, the people who love them don’t often travel. They don’t get flu shots, don’t have TVs, live by the weather and the honeybees” – it’s the best first track to an album I’ve heard in a long time.
All seven songs on this EP are solid tracks, making it pretty difficult to say which is the best – on my first listen through, I was at a loss on which to choose. The pacing, ordering, and substance of the album and each song it contains truly makes this one of the most solid collection of songs that has been released since I started paying attention to Lexington music a couple years ago. “At 25” and “We’re the Monsters” are both big-sounding songs that I could listen to on repeat, and (as mentioned before,) “Fill a Silo” is masterfully written. “We’re the Monsters,” though, is wonderfully strange and at the same time, it’s everything a pop song should be – between verses of stark dissonance, are chorus sections that ring with the voices of what sounds like a full choir. It’s my favorite at the moment, but the simple beauty of the tune that follows it – “Dear Life,” a track that features mostly Andrew English with additional instruments padded softly below – is perfectly placed as the album’s closer.
An album that explores the “feeling that the ways in which we participate in the human experience are changing too rapidly to process,” the album will leave you feeling the need to slow down. Perhaps it embodies a sense of intentionality, but certainly a sense of self-awareness in thinking and digesting the experiences that life offers. Though it bears the label of an “EP,” Unsafe & Sound is a work that contains more than enough substance to feel like a majorly strong release.
Tracks I Liked: Fill A Silo!!!, Kids and Bipolars!, More than Insects!!, Fiercest Warriors!, At 25!!, We’re the Monsters!!!, Dear Life!!
You can also hear the music live at Cosmic Charlie’s this Friday, November 22nd. Find out more here.
Ben Southworth – Tuesday, November 19th, 2013 – Maxwell & Hagermann
Genre: Southern Indie-Rock
I was late to get to one of Kentucky’s better known bands – I saw several reviews of the debut self-titled LP, nearly all of them touted it with much acclaim, but I’ve still not heard it. So, maybe jumping into this second album without hearing the first was a bad idea. Or maybe not… because it is pretty good. The album is largely made up of songs that hit all the right points – they’re catchy, they’re light, and they move from one another with an energy that would make the album sound great, even if it wasn’t. And so, without knowing what their first album sounded like, this energy is what sticks out to me. It’s confidence, it sounds like summer, and it sounds like the members of Houndmouth are having a genuinely great time playing music together. Myers and Toupin’s voices blend together well – she does an excellent job of outlining the upper melody, while he takes the low – both with the unmistakable twang-and-bit-of-grit that you find in Kentucky and the rest of The South. The South, it so happens, is where they’ll be spending much of their summer: with their tour stopping at festivals like Forecastle and Bonnaroo, their energy ought to translate well to the large, open crowds. They remind me a lot of a band they’ve opened for in the past, Alabama Shakes, both of which have been heralded as revivalists of the southernrootsbluesrock movement in the last few years. Maybe it’s the southern boy coming out in me, but From the Hills Below the City is one of my favorite albums to come out of the area for quite a while – it’s fun.
Tracks I Liked – On the Road!, Come on, Illinois!!!, Penitentiary!!, Casino (Bad Things)!!, Krampus!, Long As You’re At Home!, Houston Train!, Halfway to Hardinsburg!!, Palmyra!
Ben Southworth – June 10th, 2013