Sufjan Stevens – “Wallowa Lake Monster”

Since it was released back in 2015, Sufjan Stevens’s emotionally dense, beautifully self-aware, and stunning autobiographical masterpiece Carrie & Lowell has become an unparalleled expression of love and loss. A devious, sly, yet mostly lonely, reverential, and lovely creature, the album reveals itself to the listener in layers, and, if you’re highly susceptible to emotion, or can relate to Stevens’s subject matter in any way, each layer becomes more painful and more beautiful than the last. In fact, it seems like it has always been Stevens’s mission to make anything painful sound beautiful beyond what is humanly capable, and that’s exactly the case with “Wallowa Lake Monster,” the first tease of the upcoming supplemental album filled with outtakes, remixes, and demos from Carrie & Lowell. The track follows the same narrative of love, loss, and regret potent within the album, offering another otherworldly, almost transcendental narrative on the death his mother, as well as their troubled, strained relationship. Both piano and voice are somber and delicate, each trying not to overshadow the other, conveying a sense of mutual respect and admiration in signature Sufjan Stevens fashion. Though the track exists as a continuation of the solemn nature of its larger work, its clear that this is perhaps the most solemn of all, due to Stevens’s absolute acceptance that “no oblation will bring her back,” that he has seemingly understood everything within the span of its seven minutes. His breathy vocals periodically rise into a beautiful falsetto during certain parts of the verse, strained and tired in response, but beautiful all the same, greeted with a cacophony of angelic wails that seem to carry a lovely weight towards the heavens.

The Greatest Gift will be released 11/24 via Asthmatic Kitty.

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photo courtesy of Asthmatic Kitty Records
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Cut Worms – “Song of the Highest Tower”

Cut Worms is the musical project of Chicago-turned-New York artist Max Clarke. His sound both pays homage and reimagines classic genres like the soft, charming Americana and soothing blues of the 50’s and 60’s, his persona existing as a nomadic traveler lost in time. “Song of the Highest Tower,” the soft, folk inspired follow-up to Clarke’s previously released stunner “Like Going Down Sideways,” is the newest teaser for Alien Sunset, his upcoming collection of home-recorded demos. The track sways and swells for nearly seven gorgeous minutes, Clarke’s soft, vast vocals echoing and reverberating freely as if in an empty, cavernous valley, the constant, unyielding vintage instrumentals keeping everything tied to a post. There’s a potent sense of romanticism and heavy-heartedness embedded throughout Cut Worms’ particular narrative, and we can only hope it will be emphasized in the upcoming EP.

Alien Sunset will be released 10/20 via Jagjaguwar.

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photo courtesy of artist

Porches – “Country”

Porches, also known as the musical project of Aaron Maine, has returned with a brand new single, his first since releasing both his gorgeous, evocative sophomore album Pool and the equally moody Water EP – including alternate versions of the tracks in Pool as well as two stand alone tracks – just last year. “Country,” stark contrast to the deep, murky tones and heavy instrumentals heard in Pool, is sparse and minimal, evoking the essence of nostalgia – but here, its tinged with pain and longing, Maine’s voice beautifully strained but somehow filled with tenacious passion. The underlying instrumentals and backing vocals rise to meet him, an ominous, yet intimate hum and purr of the synth matching the narrative in tone. Despite its brevity, its simultaneous simplicity and complexity as well as its accompanying cinematic clip make it incredibly mysterious and a perfect introduction to what seems to be an entirely new phase of Porches – one somehow even more vulnerable than before.

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photo by Jessica Lehrman

Cloud Castle Lake – “Twins”

Three years ago, Dublin trio Cloud Castle Lake released their gorgeous and wonderfully esoteric EP Dandelion. The short, yet tonally dense release had critics describing them as the close relative, even the brainchild of the likes of Radiohead and Sigur Rós, considering the complexity and acerbic unpredictability of their compositions, not to mention the intense, ethereal falsetto of frontman Daniel McAuley and the sophisticated manner in which he controls it from completely ascending into the ether. The album also featured the stunning, experimental track “Sync,” which was our song of the year in 2014 due to its sheer vulnerability, disguised under a rage of brass and orchestral instrumentals. Since then, they’ve added a drummer and started work on their debut album Malingerer, which turns away from the experimental post-rock aesthetic they began with and instead leans more towards the raw complexity of jazz, and, according to the band, “juxtaposes lyrical darkness and despair with an almost euphoric catharsis.” Though that could be said for their entire discography up to this point, “Twins” seems like the true epitome of that statement, with McAuley enduring what seems like every human emotion to an incessant, brawny menagerie of bright, colorful jazz instrumentals provided by Rory O’ Connor (bass), Brendan William Jenkinson (guitar), and Brendan Doherty (drums). Their unique strength lies in their ability to perfectly marry two highly stylistically complex elements to the point that it not only works, but transforms into something else entirely – like a performance art piece that requires every part of your being in order to truly interact with it. Whatever it is they’re attempting to convey, no matter how dark or emotionally purgative, two things are certain – it’s absolutely beautiful, and we need more of it.

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photo courtesy of artist

Tennis – “I Miss That Feeling”

Earlier this year, Tennis released their stunning fourth full-length album Yours Conditionally, a breezy, pastel-tinged recollection of husband-wife duo Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley’s relationship as well as Moore’s own inner thoughts and emotions on being her own person despite being attached to another. “I Miss That Feeling,” the second single from Tennis’s upcoming EP We Can Die Happy, is a beautiful continuation of Moore’s vocal gift – which, here, sounds more beautifully fragile and delicate as ever – as well as Riley’s dreamy, yet expertly focused guitar melodies. Moore’s underlying piano evokes the subtle dexterity and delicacy of Tobias Jesso Jr., emulating that soft, hazy 70’s vibe flawlessly. Riley, in turn, dances around her via his calculated guitar swells – if you’ve ever seen them live, the image of him swaying to her every word as if in a trance definitely comes to mind. With this track, Moore also holds onto her title as the queen of rhyme – where else but in a Tennis song could you half-rhyme “every little thing starts trembling” and “needle of an EKG” and still manage to get away with it?

We Can Die Happy will be released on 11/10.

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photo via noisey

Garbanotas Bosistas – “Last Summer’s Day”

Lithuanian indie quartet Garbanotas Bosistas have released their first new track in two years, following the previously released psychedelic debut album Above Us as well as their sparse, minimal debut EP Venera. The dreamy, experimental “Last Summer’s Day” – the first taste of their upcoming sophomore album – bids a bittersweet farewell to the warm season, with soft, almost warm pastel synth swells and a beautifully nostalgic narrative courtesy of vocalist Šarukas Joneikis. Lyrically, it both romanticizes and fights the feelings of wanting to stay in that warmth, Joneikis lamenting “Lord, I really need to get moving on,” his voice lingering with each word that escapes his lips. The instrumentals, slow and saccharine sweet at the beginning, are perfectly in step with the vocals like a waltz, only to condense and explode in a cacophony of sound, a last hurrah both passionate and reverential in nature.

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photo courtesy of artist

Winston Surfshirt – “Same Same”

Last Friday, Syndey-based six-piece Winston Surfshirt released their debut album Sponge Cake. The album expands further on their unique aesthetic, which can only be described as the energy of  hip-hop married to the mellow vibes of dream pop and chillwave. The bizarre combination of these two genres surprisingly makes for highly textured, complex tracks, sometimes even unpredictable in nature. “Same Same,” one of the standout tracks on the new album, begins with bouncy, phaser-like synth, yet also incorporates elements of funk and jazz, the hazy, breathy vocals acting like the glue that holds everything together. In a moment of reflection, he explains acapella that “you can be my fantasy/ changing places with reality” before solidifying that desire with a potent burst of sound that maintains its fervid, bubbling energy to the very end.

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photo courtesy of niche productions

Dim Sum – “Stay”

At the end of the month, French electronic producer Dim Sum will release his debut EP, titled Right Track. The title track, released this past summer, gave us a little taste of what the album will have in store, including skilled electronic production and tasteful spliced vocal effects, as well as the featured vocals of fellow French artist Nina Lili J. However, what the title track had in moodiness and edge, the newly released teaser “Stay” has in color and exuberance, showing another side of the producer’s versatile skill set. The dense, echoed synth floods speakers right away, followed by the swelled, yet sparse vocal effects – perhaps wanting to pay respects to the ever growing french electronic disco that other artists like Phoenix and Fakear are embracing more and more readily. The last moments of the track are peppered with delicate, almost wind chime-like effects, the increasingly audible claps clinging onto the last few moments of summer before we finally transition into fall.

Right Track will be released on October 27th.

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photo courtesy of artist

ALASKAALASKA – “Familiar Ways”

Last week, London-based experimental art-pop group ALASKAALASKA released their self-titled debut EP, featuring four unique, highly evocative tracks. Instead of flowing in one straight line from beginning to end, they stand on their own, addressing different ideas and emotions.. Our favorite, “Familiar Ways,” starts slow and unassuming, but lays down the foundations for the crescendo of sound at the closing – dissonant, almost punk-like guitar clashes, saxophone blares, and the seamless vocals that manage to stay in line with the off-kilter, yet jaunty instrumentals that surround it on every side.

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photo courtesy of artist

The fin. – “Pale Blue”

Based on their three stunning EPs, Kobe, Japan-based trio The fin. seem to have mastered the delicate art of balancing the genres of synth-pop, chillwave, and dream-pop to the point of creating something multi-faceted, unpredictable, and most importantly, effortlessly gorgeous. Their newest batch of singles from their upcoming fourth EP includes “Pale Blue,” an ambient masterpiece that mimics the lucidity and calm of wading in cool, clear water and walking until its to your shoulders, with frontman Yuto Uchino’s soft, assuring vocals as your guide to the unknown. Psychedelic synth swells and phases in and out of existence, guitars chime in with gauzy riffs, and metallic effects round everything out, leaving you to float happily in the waves of sound, without a care in the world.

Also make sure to check out their most recent single “Heat,” a sparse, yet mesmerizing, surreal track that flawlessly mimics its namesake.

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photo courtesy of artist