Getting into the holiday spirit, I'm happy (well, partially--as the one writing all of this I'm also frankly sort of exhausted) to let y'all know that, paying tribute to entering the last month of the year, November and December's joint Round-Up comprises a whopping 12 artists! That's right, six today and six tomorrow. So strap on and plug in your best pair of earphones, because have we got some muzik to dizcover...
Let it be known DIY roots musician Dege Legg (better known as Brother Dege) is the real deal: while folk style and music has come into vogue as of late, he's already spent two decades wandering the grime-stained alleys of the Deep South before it was cool. His third release, How To Kill A Horse, makes an immediate impact with its rip-roaring sonic force and ragtag tapestry of instruments--yet the most important ingredient to its success is Dege himself, who pours all he's witnessed volunteering at homeless shelters, traipsing through trailer parks, and working a traveling circus' worth of jobs into his one-of-a-kind voice, twangy, razor-sharp, and bleeding with emotion (as suggested by the presence of a song titled "Crazy Motherfucker," he doesn't hold much back). Profanity and grit aside, there is a sense of spiritual reconciliation on How To Kill A Horse. The stories all have a spiritual bent to them, as if there are demons lurking beneath every reverb-soaked riff, as if the Dobro is barely strung and the drums are cracking at the seams, ready to fall apart. Even so, there is dignity in Dege's voice, a refusal of defeat woven into each steely melody; How To Kill A Horse makes triumph of its darkness. Stream and download the title track below:
Somewhere between Carly Rae Jepsen and Icona Pop there's IIRIS; she may have the voice of a fairy, but her teeth are sharp. Her latest EP, Chinaberry Girl, is sparkly, snarky and sumptuous, a showcase for a bona fide pop star ready to break out. Opener "Tigerhead" sets a cutesy tone, integrating delicate baroque touches into a tried-and-true blend of synth squiggles and bouncy beats, but things take a heavy turn in the bridge, when the instrumentation gets headier and IIRIS drops the googly eyes for a surprisingly feral snarl. Later tracks illuminate other facets: on the dark "Sapphire" she drops effortless rap verses in between beatboxing and crystalline singing; later on the title track she mellows out over a softer instrumental palette, harmonizing with herself to poignant effect. It may only be four tracks, but Chinaberry Girl makes an indelible impression, both for its unique vision and for the artist talented enough to illustrate it with wit and poise. Stream the EP below:
Toronto-based musician Ben McKenzie took some time off from his career before coming back with Stand Down Son, and fittingly it's a soul-scorching rock revival. Opener "1994" kicks things off with a stomping drum beat, McKenzie's ragged-but-emotional vocals, and a flurry of instrumental players darting in and out of its bare-bones framework--the song's intense sonic power gets a good buzz going, while its intricate, harmonious arrangements reveal new layers with every listen. McKenzie continues to hit home runs, packing earnest personal reflections and convictions into stadium-size rock tunes: "Take Her Away" and the title track are both straightforward but winning, with choruses that'll play in your head for days. His identity never gets lost in the mix, though. Even on a crowdpleaser like "Home," his way with words and ear for colorful arrangements shines: the guitars keep the vibe charmingly messy, while the intrusion of horns later in the song gives it just the kick it needs to soar at the end. McKenzie may strive to follow troubadours like Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty, but with Stand Down Son he's carved out an identity all his own. Stream the EP below:
New Zealand electronic artist ESHER makes an auspicious start with his self-titled debut. The EP's strengths lie in its spooky-warm vibe and surprisingly emotional melodies. "Reasons I Left You" stirs something in the soul: the playful way the song builds isn't unlike a Enemies cut, with disparate scraps of guitar plucks, piano runs and marching band snares colliding in unexpected, powerful combinations. The rest of the EP doesn't disappoint: whether the breakneck tribal rhythms of "Redhook" or the morose synth-pop of "DMT," the arrangements here are inventive, well-crafted and well-developed. I hope to see bigger, better conquests in ESHER's future: the production values here may not be top-notch, but the creativity and potential on display certainly are. Stream and download the EP for free below:
On "Revolution Time," the lead single from NYC rockers Love Crushed Velvet's new EP Delusions, the band draws parallels between a disheartening status quo and the spirit of uprising, and the rest of the EP touches on many of our world's ills, but for the most part it just rocks out, and that's a good thing. The band bridges the sound of rock both old and new; it excels at crafting simple but powerful compositions, but it also experiments with electronics and an expanded instrumental palette, and the EP manages to be both cohesive and eclectic at the same time. Whether you're looking for a hearty, dark glam jam (the title track) or a psychedelic pop tune with a bit of indie-rock flavor ("Lover, Leave The Lights On"), there's nothing Love Crushed Velvet don't knock out of the park. Perhaps that's a revolution in its own way: if you're on the losing end of a battle for the world's conscience, you might as well kick up a hell of a fun time. Check out lead single "Revolution Time" below:
Finally, improv jazz pianist Samuel Ascher-Weiss, better known as Shnabubula, and Gabe Terracciano have collaborated on Americana Dawn: Civilized Folk, an album of music arranged from the soundtrack of the upcoming RPG of the same name. I've made my love of Ascher-Weiss no secret in the past: he had two albums on my end-of-the-year list last year, and he's dabbled in everything from ambient to chiptune over his career, proving himself one of the most talented and versatile under-the-radar artists in the world. Here his playing is as delicate, dextrous, and lush as ever, standing in stark contrast against Terracciano's gusty (but equally gorgeous) performance on the violin. Befitting an album written for an RPG, the music here is epic; these fine musicians do more with their two instruments than many orchestras can muster. If "Overture" weren't so bold it would be perfect accompaniment for a fast-paced chase scene, while "Snow Angels" has a playful bent to its sound, Terracciano swooping over the gentle foundation Shnabubula lays down. Sit down, hit play, and let these adventurers take you on a ride into the past. Stream and download the entire album for free below: