April was absolutely stacked with new releases. Best music month of the year so far, for sure. Below, read about NINE of my favorite offerings (listed by release date, unranked), and be sure to hit the Bandcamp links to show the artists some love this Friday.
Thanks for reading, and happy listening!
Issei Herr - Distant Intervals (NNA Tapes) - When Adam from Clandestine sent me this album to preview back on February 2nd, I gave it one listen straight through and then immediately responded with an email that read "DAMN! This album is good as shit!" Not my most professional communication, to be sure, but those words and tone pretty well captured how I felt after my first exposure to Issei Herr's music. Distant Intervals (Herr's full-length debut) is described as "an exploration of memory, dreams, and the infinite possibilities within imagined worlds...the music encompasses the liminal spaces between our past, present, and future selves." And indeed, listening to this album does feel like floating between worlds, with Herr's cello - the sonic throughline - acting as our beacon. Check out the music video embedded below for the opening two tracks.
North Americans - Long Cool World (Third Man Records) - On our final day of spring break, my wife and I were looking at a three-hour drive home from the coast, up and down a winding mountain pass through the pouring rain, after spending the previous night drinking many, many bottles of pinot with our friends. It was a classic hangover disaster scenario. So after a high-protein breakfast and a lot of coffee, we got settled in our car and I put on North Americans' discography in the background. After a night of poor decisions, this was finally a good one. Like the songs on their first two albums, North Americans' structures on Long Cool World feature plenty of repetition, which cultivate a sort of meditative zone-out. And yet something feels different on this third offering. Is it Patrick's guitar tones? Barry's atmospheric base? I'm not totally sure, but it's another excellent album from these old DC pals. Actually, before you click that preview track, here's my review of NA's last album, here's the write-up of Barry's solo album I ran a few weeks later, and here's the interview with Patrick I published the following spring.
Wednesday - Rat Saw God (Dead Oceans) - I'm gonna be completely honest here: Wednesday's Rat Saw God was barely on my radar. In fact, I wasn't even planning to listen to it as I wasn't really familiar with the band's previous work. But then I saw their name on the Pickathon 2023 lineup, and yes, I skimmed that glowing Pitchfork review and was like, "I guess I should check this out." And I am SO glad that I did, because it's definitely one of my favorite releases so far this year. The album is so fucking loud, and the songs are so varied and interesting. Bandleader Karly Hartzman sounds like she's doing an Adrianne Lenker impression over Razorblade Suitcase cuts - joking/storytelling/singing/screaming over gnarly distortion and speed shifts. I feel like most folks' entry points will be the accessable Chosen to Deserve or Quarry (both of which are great tracks), but I'm super into the Mortal Kombat-referencing, Bull Believer - an absolutely monstrous build, and can't wait to see that shit live at Pendarvis this summer.
*Okay, I'm gonna decrease the word count for the rest of these, because those first three reviews were a bit much.
Grant Cutler - Garden (Æther Sound) - My god, this is just the PERFECT spring release. Add vibraphone and voice to a keys and sax album, sprinkle some light field recordings on top, and *chef's kiss* you've got it. Grant Cutler's offering feels lush and spongy, like a softly pineneedled forest floor after a rain - a scene us Oregonians know so very well. And then there's the title, Garden. I think that Culter, like many of us who've endured a few frigid months, is ready for the green growing season ahead.
Penelope Trappes - Heavenly Spheres (Nite Hive) - And after that sunny respite, let's dive right back into darkness. Penelope Trappes' version of heaven does not feel like rays of light shining down from above, but instead, a broadcast from a paradise lost. Parts of Trappes' album reminds me of Ruins (piano + ethereal vocals), and other parts would fit in After its own death / Walking in a spiral... (drones + tape clicks + field recordings), and yet this work feels unique in the larger dark ambient realm.
Keith Kenniff - It Shall Appear (self-released) - Let's call back the Kenniff family! I featured Hollie in my February roundup, and here's Keith with an EP of soft guitar melodies recorded straight to his iPhone. I think these nine tracks were written and captured over just a few days, maybe even during a bout with COVID (though I'm not entirely sure how I got that impression, so don't quote me). Whatever the circumstances, these tender constructions, though lo-fi and not nearly as polished as Kenniff's piano recordings, feel Goldmund through-and-through.
And hey, how 'bout a song highlight to mix things up! I really loved listening to Chaz Knapp & Mariel Roberts' Setting Fire to These Dark Times, which was released on April 21st, but the album's third track, Avoiding Sprinklers in Richardson, TX, absolutely floored me. It's just a beautiful loop that builds and builds, much like the best constructions on Ian William Craig's 2022 stunner, Music for Magnesium_173. Anyway, it's just a really good song on an overall solid album.
Lisa/Liza - Breaking and Mending (Orindal Records) - Wrote a bunch about this one last week, so be sure to check out that post here. Breaking and Mending truly is my favorite album by Lisa/Liza, though, so I've definitely gotta include it in this roundup.
Bill Orcutt - Jump On It (Palilalia Records) - Finally, April closed with a beaut. Bill Orcutt is a guitar legend, known for his difficult-to-digest, angular improvisations, but here, he takes a different approach. Jump On It is filled with traditional shorts, Fahey-esque at times. But the album's best moments are when Orcutt strays away from his songbook, scribbling outside the lines with flurries of wild fingerpicking. It's a great launching point for a deeper dive into Orcutt's catalogue.
Whew! That was a lot! Lotta more stellar releases coming up in May, but also be sure to come back later this week for a song premiere and then a label profile.
Thanks for reading, and happy listening.