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  • Nathan Yoder

Summer 2023 Music Roundup

Regular readers of this site might have noticed that DC's last monthly album roundup was at way back the end of May. Well here I am at summer's close with one BIG highlights post. I've been adding on to this thing for the past few weeks, and since school is almost back in session, I think it's finally time to share some of my favorite summer releases, beginning in mid-June and running through mid-August.

Selections are listed chronologically, not ranked or anything like that. Oh, and feel free to click and bookmark a few Bandcamp links if any of these descriptions or audio snippets pique your interest. I believe that the next Bandcamp Friday is September first.

Thanks for following, and happy listening!

Balmorhea - Pendant World (Deutsche Grammophon) - Balmorhea's 2021 release, The Wind, was my third favorite album of that year, so Pendant World was pretty high on my most-anticipated-albums-of-2023 list. And the Texan duo (who often play with additional members) absolutely delivered once again. Like The Wind, Pendant World is an offering of cinematic instrumental pieces, some brooding and others delicate. It's a varied landscape, the players guiding us through narrow valleys and up to wide vistas.

(No Bandcamp link for Balmorhea I guess)

Blue Lake - Sun Arcs (Tonal Union) - No other album in this roundup sounds more summery than Blue Lake's Sun Arcs. It shimmers bright. It glows warm. It's a walk through the woods or a picnic in the park. Jason Dungan uses all sorts of instruments (guitar, cello, zither, organ, clarinet, chimes - you name it!) to build and then carry lightweight drones which seem to float like clouds on a perfect day.

Blanket Swimming - Sensing (Élan Vital) - I've long been a fan of Nicholas Maloney's various projects, and Sensing might be my favorite. To be completely honest, looooong drone constructions don't hold my attention (maybe my brain simply isn't wired for them), and I need just a little variation or texture from time-to-time to keep me interested. Sensing is perfect for me. Here, Maloney combines Chihei Hatakeyama-style guitar washes with field recordings from his weekly bike rides. The sketches are short and absolutely wonderful.

Hayden Pedigo - The Happiest Times I Ever Ignored (Mexican Summer) - I was super into Letting Go a couple summers back, and here comes the fingerpicking, politicking, catwalking Amarillo all-star with another set of sublime guitarworks. For all you Fahey nuts (or primitive guitar-adjacent fans), you'll love this one. Pedigo's playing is impressively technical, sure, but the album's slower moments, weighed with emotion, are perhaps the best parts.

Hideyuki Hashimoto - Under (Moderna Records) - I've written about Hideyuki Hashimoto a bunch of times on this site, and honestly, there's not a whole lot more to say. Under sounds pretty much like the Japanese composer's other offerings, so if you're into stripped-down, minimalist piano pieces, this one's for you. I mean the entire EP runs less than 15 minutes, so you might as well check it out.

Joanna Sternberg - I've Got Me (Fat Possum Records) - Whoowee did I like this one! I hadn't heard of Joanna Sternberg prior to this summer, and this album wasn't on my radar at all until I caught the review on Pitchfork. Hey, I guess that site is still good for something! On I've Got Me, Sternberg channels some vintage singer-songwriter vibes into earwormable pop songs and tender ballads which are just perfect. I'm always impressed when an artist can carve out their own unique style in a well-trodden genre, and Sternberg's done it here.

Ylia - Ame Agaru (Balmat) - I'm currently infatuated with the relatively-new, left-field-electronica, Barcelona-based label Balmat. Be sure to follow 'em if you haven't already. Their most recent offering is by Susana Hernández, aka Ylia, and it's an ambient work which blends both organic and synthetic sounds. Borne out of the artist's grief, Ame Aragu (which translates to "the rain lifts") feels like the still after a storm, and along with Patricia Wolf's See-Through, is a high water mark for the label.

Hey, I mostly highlight full albums in these posts, but I gotta shout-out a single song here. Saloli's Yona (on kranky) is a wonderful release (like everything she does, right?), but the title track is JUST THE BEST! For some context, Yona (the album) "is intended to evoke a day in the life of a bear in a canyon in the Smoky Mountains, with each track channeling a different emotion or experience in its daily explorations." And when you listen to Yona (the song), can't you just imagine that bear waddling, sniffing, munching, and peering up at the blue sky overhead? Give it a try!

And you know what, this isn't chronological or anything, but now that I've brought up single standout songs, I'd also like to shout out bonny dune's Crooked Creek off their album Let There Be Music, which they released back in June. What a stomper, and so singalong-able too! This tracks has gotten heavy play in the Yoder household recently, so check out the tune below.

Jon Neher & Michael Scott Dawson - I Yield My Time (Whitelabrecs) - Man, I feel like I've written about a million Michael Scott Dawson releases on this site - I guess I just dig everything he does! On I Yield My Time, he teams with long-time collaborator Jon Neher to create a slow-moving, minimalist work which is intended to be a "reflective companion." Neher's piano improvisations act as the base of each track, and then MSD processes these sounds through tape machines and pedals. The resulting music is weightless and serene.

Duncan Park - Traveller's Peace (Aural Canyon) - A delightfully curious collection of sounds recorded straight to tape way down in Durban, South Africa, and then tossed out into the world after getting a bit of treatment up here in Portland. You'll notice that the longer tracks on Traveller's Peace are guitar-based melodies, and these are chopped up by patchwork field recordings and instrumental experimentation. This zoner is unpredictable and beautiful, a little sad and a little silly.

Strange Ranger - Pure Music (Fire Talk) - I've been a Strange Ranger fan since they called themselves "Sioux Falls" and played house shows out here in Portland. Now based in Philly, the group's sound has evolved dramatically across their past few releases, and Pure Music is absolutely their best work to date. Teasing out the sonic threads first heard on their 2021 mixtape No Light in Heaven (a release I loved), Strange Ranger's studio-polished pop hooks have never sounded better. Catch 'em when they come through Portland this September!

Hideyuki Hashimoto - opus - Wait. What? Yep, you're reading this right. Just a few weeks after Hideyuki Hashimoto released his Under EP on Moderna, he gave us his first LP pressed to vinyl. It's a collection of previously-released singles, so nothing new here, but if you're unfamiliar with the pianist's work, it's a good place to jump in.

Rob Winstone - sifting through heaven (mappa) - The folks at mappa released my seventh favorite album of 2022, and Rob Winstone offered up what would be come my third favorite album of the year (check all that out here), so when I learned that the two parties would be teaming up on a new release, I was pretty excited. Like Winstone's previous work, there is plenty of drone and dread on sifting though heaven, but the artist also intentionally elevates melody, and shards of light break through at different points in the album. Hear one of those moments below.

alice does computer music - Shoegaze 5G (JOLT MUSIC) - An artist new to me (thanks for the mailers, Ramp Global!), Alice Gerlach is a cellist who decided to break free of the stuffy traditionalist classical music scene to venture into experimental pop. After cutting her teeth in Chicago's DIY music scene and then honing her production skills in college, her sound is this sort of technicolor sound collage - kaleidoscopic and bright. There's absolutely noise and glitch sprinkled throughout Shoegaze 5G, but Gerlach expertly pulls most tracks back to their central melody.

Flaer - Preludes - This wonderful lil 20-minute album reminds me a lot of Plïnkï Plønkï's Pangur Din, in that it's a collection of pastoral folk miniatures which evoke a sense of melancholic nostalgia. Using piano, cello, acoustic guitar, and a whole lotta environmental field recordings, Flaer (who is a solo multi-instrumentalist) transports listeners to another time and place - a brief respite from our noisy and chaotic now.

Stefan Christoff - In Sofia (Beacon Sound) - Oh cool a piano improv album by Stefan Christoff on Beacon Sound. Wonder if I'll like this one. Yeah, turns out that I love it. Recorded in Bulgaria in 2022 (where the artist has familial connections), the two extended suites build slowly before cascading strikes rain down. It's a beautiful offering, and I just nabbed a cassette at a newly-opened record store/book store space here in Portland.

Alta Vista - Alta Vista (Ruination Record Co.) - As I write this, Portland is experiencing it's hottest day of the summer. I spent the morning watering my wife's school garden in the already baking sun, while listening to this collection of faux-traditional jazz-country tunes. Strange way to describe music, right? Well I felt a little woozy out there, staggering between garden beds, and I'm telling ya, somehow this bizarre album matched the scene. The story is that the band found an old book on the side of the road titled New and Original Favorite Songs of Famous Hill Billies: Songs of Heart and Home, Romance, Pathos, and Comedy, and decided to cover a bunch of the tunes in their own style. It's such a great result, and I highly recommend listening to it outside in the sun, with plenty of water and maybe in the shade.

Vines - Birthday Party - And let's wrap-up this round-up with a shift in tone, to something more autumnal, perhaps. Vines is the musical moniker of Cassie Wieland, and on Birthday Party, the Brooklyn-based composer presents a series of beautifully slow-building, melancholic constructions. Wieland's liberal use of vocoder adds an interesting harmonic touch, too, and sitting with the album feels like watching summer's glow fade away.

Whew! There you have it - 19 summer releases that I loved. DC's next post will be a much shorter fall music preview, so come back for that.

Thanks, as always, for reading, and happy listening!


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