NEW MUSIC / LISTS

Fresh Picks: Five August Albums to Hear

August’s edition of Fresh Picks expands my usual three recommended albums of the month to five. Phil Elverum returns as The Microphones on his new avant-folk release, No Joy stretch their boundaries with an eclectic new record, and Georgia Anne Muldrow as Jyoti solidifies her place in jazz history and Black history. Also featuring are Australia-via-South Sudan refugee Gordon Koang and the DJ/producer Haruka fusing club-ready electronic hits on her debut EP as Haruka Salt. Enjoy!

The Microphones, “Microphones in 2020"

Phil Elverum of Mount Eerie has revived his moniker of The Microphones to release Microphones in 2020. It is The Microphones’ first record since 2003’s prophetically titled, Mount Eerie. Elverum has been performing as Mount Eerie for over a decade and Microphones in 2020 is a similarly self-referential project. From the title, to the composition, to the lyricism, and album art that pictures Elverum’s clear but liquid mirror image, this latest release is a sublime reflection of both fact and form.

Microphones in 2020 consists of one single 44:44 minute track described as “one long song recorded nowhere.” The “album” is more a memoir in LP. “Microphones in 2020” is a paragon of avant-folk where Elverum employs minimalist repetitive drone of a strumming acoustic guitar coupled with monotonous spoken word vocals and a short focused melodic motif. With a structure that is both ambitious yet simultaneously sparse, the lyrics speak similarly to a concurrent broadness and narrowness, travelling through stream of consciousness to decipher meaning and/in meaninglessness.

As a retrospective biography the lyrics read as an index page chronicling Elverum’s extensive career, with many lines on this album/track directly citing past projects. Beginning with and repeating a thesis about “the true state of all things” this search for certainty is coupled with ephemeral metaphors of ripples and waterfalls. Self-awareness litters the text, from youthful oscillation between “One moment thinking I’m wise / And in the next one I writhe” to the parallel vacillation that “I am older now and I no longer feel the same way / That I did even five seconds ago / Watch me thrash around.” Constant questioning and contradiction are fed through phrases like “re-remind myself” and “Full of debris and flowers, never not falling.” The rumination on the then and now through painting double negatives rests on one single certainty, that “I will never stop singing this song / It goes on forever / I started when I was a kid and I still want to hold it lightly.” The symbolism of sun, moon, waves and wind trickle throughout the transmutable history, and renders the process of songwriting itself as the single constant.

Now acknowledging the life lived through a prism of art, Elverum seems to have had divinatory powers some two decades ago when naming The Microphones. Originally a tribute to this rudimentary piece of technology “Because I loved recording and the equipment seemed to be living / And it sang to me like static interference,” the act of observation is now inherent to Elverum’s existence. How fitting that The Microphones now be reincarnated to record this lived experience through the practice of songwriting.

Just as the album/track begins with references to both The Microphones and Mount Eerie (Lost Wisdom Pt. 2) songs, the piece ends with a reference again to Mount Eerie (Now Only) and The Microphones (The Glow Pt. 2). The Möbius strip of lyricism within this album adjoins to an entire portfolio, “Anyway, every song I’ve ever sung is about the same thing: Standing on the ground looking around, basically / And if there have to be words, they could just be: “Now only” and “There’s no end.” Microphones in 2020 documents a portrait of the artist and culminates in an extremely deft retrospective around the meta-narrative on music and meaning.

Released 7 August 2020, P.W. Elverum & Sun

Rating: 9.5/10

No Joy, “Motherhood”

On No Joy’s first LP in 5 years, Motherhood, Jasamine White-Gluz sets off on the now solo project that sees her departing from shoegaze roots and lithely exploring new territories. It’s perhaps unsurprising that one of the most exciting modern shoegaze acts have departed the genre tag that most shoegazers shirk. From a greater emphasis on the pop in dream-pop, to nu-metal, electronica and even funk, what firmly remains is commitment to the maximalism of shoegaze and to unrestricted experimentation with sound. It’s just that now the murky emulsion of sound has been distilled into these distinct influences.

With something of a rebirth, No Joy explore the familial and matriarchal on Motherhood. Quite literally“Dream Rats” features the death-metal vocals of Arch Enemy front woman Alissa White-Gluz, the sister of Jasamine White-Gluz. The two sisters sing of wombs and tombs in equally disparate vocals layering the sweetly melodic and darkly gruff. On “Primal Curse” White-Glutz seemingly lashes out at the boundaries of womanhood, “If you are smart enough / and no one noticed you / if you were sweet enough / Lining undone / Hit her with the primal curse.” “Happy Bleeding” features fuzzy vocals over a shuffling beat and lyrical fecundity “Golden sunrise / Spirit wife / Happy bleeding / Thighs on fire / Are we moms or are we daughters.” White-Glutz has referenced an influence of the album being that of aging and of “fertility or family or death or birth,” threads which all tie in to the multiplicity of motherhood and femininity. It is with a liberated and diverse idea of the growing woman that leads to this genre-bending and joyfully chaotic album.

The aggressive “Dream Rats” is preluded by the pop-ready and energetic opener, “Birthmark,” and followed by the unexpectedly funky “Nothing Will Hurt” which is a spirited push back to the the sentiment that “Now I’m older / I’m impossibly sad” (and accompanied by a particularly dank music video linked below). The Moby-like ambient electronica of “Four” and the orchestral rock of “Fish” are similarly uplifting and daring. The electronic leaning is perhaps unsurprising after having been already evidenced on EP’s, particularly the No Joy / Sonic Boom collaboration in 2018. Despite the compilation of styles present on No Joy’s newest, it is a surprisingly cohesive work. This is helped in part by the finishing wash of dreamy production and mixing by No Joy’s longstanding collaborator Jorge Elbrecht.

Motherhood gives No Joy vivid currency without sacrificing the open-minded philosophy of shoegaze. With the self-awareness of maturity No Joy is liberated to reinvent themselves. The choice to do so in such a fresh and earnest way which edifies both the matriarchy, femininity and the concept of aging itself is a pleasure to behold.

Released 21 August 2020, Joyful Noise

Rating: 7.5/10

Jyoti & Georgia Anne Muldrow “Mama, You Can Bet!”

Georgia Anne Muldrow is a diversely skilled musician and multi-instrumentalist. For over a decade she’s released a steady stream of studio albums that leap frog genre’s with deftness, from the chunky electronic funk of oLigarchy sUcks! to the modern soul of Seeds. Jyoti is Muldrow’s bona fide jazz iteration and solo project. In Mama, You Can Bet! Muldrow shares her love and intimate understanding Black music and history with generous spirit.

The remarkably broad sonic spectrum that Muldrow explores is displayed again on this record. The beginning of the album sees the richness of muted brass, thick bass and chorale chants in “Bop for Aneho,” to the elevator music vibraphone bells of “Zane, The Scribe,” and then the steady piano ballad “Our Joy (Mercedes).” Muldrow’s masterful depth of skill comes as no surprise, having been born to a family where her parents were both session musicians in Los Angeles. “Jyoti” was in fact a name given to Georgia Anne Muldrow by family friend Alice Coltrane and means “light” in Sanskrit. Her musical blood runs deep. The title track is a direct commemoration of Muldrow’s own mother, and to motherhood conceptually. It is an assertive exaltation to the diverse sacrifices and rewards that this selfless, unconditional love deserves.

The opening track of feminine nurturing with it’s safety and joy sets an embracing tone that prefaces later tracks that address a broader theme of displacement. “Orgone” is a dissonant free-form vocal and piano piece with a message that yearns toward belonging. Beginning with “Maladjusted in this land” Muldrow sings towards a home and freedom lost, a conscience and identity floating to the end of the song: “take me back / How I dream.” The story of Black America continues to be told on “This Walk” which speaks to the experience of violence articulating and silencing simultaneously. The tempo plods along nervously while the lyrical splutter of Putt putt, put a cap on it / Stuff a sock in your mouth, babe” fires shots in onomatopoeia.

The album also pays tribute to Black pioneers and advocates in music. Jyoti salutes jazz legend Charles Mingus via the remixes of “Bemoanable Lady” (“Beemoanable Lady Geemix”) and “Fables of Faubus” (“Fabus Foo Geemix). These “Geemix’s” are modernised spins transforming Mingus’ standards into hard hitting sultry funk with electronic elements infused. Muldrow continues to attribute jazz icons in the song “Ra’s Noise (Thukumbado).” A nod to Robert Mugge’s 1980 film “Sun Ra: A Joyful Noise.” Jyoti invokes the otherworldly futuristic eccentrics of Sun Ra in this scat filled groove featuring the records sole guest, saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin. Celebratory and expansive, these referential tracks draw together an intergenerational community of Black artists, all activists in their own ways, whose proud voices are joined through time by music.

Like the extra-terrestrial aspirations of Sun Ra’s imagined Black communes, at times Jyoti’s light can shine towards escapism like in “Orgone.” Overall the light and shade come in pockets of serene jazz, funk fun and also melancholic blues. With both calmness and urgency Muldrow pushes outwards in embrace. She imagines a hopeful future where African-American identity can be realised, filled with all its rich history, including the history making and telling that Muldrow as Jyoti has herself contributed to with eminence.

Released 28 August 2020, SomeOthaShip Connect / Entertainment ONe

Rating: 8.5/10

Haruka Salt, “HarukaMart — EP”

The veteran New York-via-Japan artist Haruka has premiered her disco/house iteration, Haruka Salt. The HarukaMart EP is a sleek foray through mellow electronica to harder techno, all presented with cool refinement that is a testament to Haruka’s prowess as a producer and DJ.

The EP begins with the leisurely and immediately infectious “Pitch ‘n Itch”. It features the LA-via-Houston hip-hop/rap artist Fat Tony, or Anthony Lawson Obi. The track combines a throbbing minimalist bass with a glittering cityscape of synth and finishes with a bleep influenced outro. Haruka Salt teams up with fellow Brooklyn producer Toribio on the second track “Diamond Castle,” which lends loungy electronic soul to a calypso influence. It’s followed by “Family Mart Riddim’” delivers more bass-heavy and steely tones which transitions to the resolutely feverish techno of “O. G. Gong,” a track produced in collaboration with W.Y. Huang.

The accompanying music video for “O. G. Gong” was directed by Haruka and made in the genre of kaijū, or “giant monster,” a Japanese film style most famously exemplified by the character of Godzilla. The post-war and post-nuclear symbolism of kaijū echoes the gritty industrial and digital futurism of techno. Both the video and the track itself are rendered in gritty fluorescent as a homage to this Japanese style. The music video for “O. G. Gong” has enlisted creative support from both Haruka Salt and W. Y. Huang’s native Japan and Singapore respectively, with animation by Singapore-based Race Krehel of SuperCyberTown and additional artwork by Japan’s Taketo Kobayashi.

The EP also includes two remixes, with an acid house influence on “Diamond Castle” by Bogotá based producer Felipe Gordon, and a glossier ‘90’s take on “Pitch ‘n Itch” by New York’s AceMo. The persistent trend in the credits of this EP is the prolific careers of all artists involved. It’s unsurprising given the versatility of Haruka herself, as a seasoned DJ and producer of over 15 years whose work ranges across the electronic, techno, house spectrum. Fat Tony is a true multi-disciplinarian with punk rock roots, to TV work, to a lengthy career in music that’s taken him from Houston to LA to New York and back and in between. Toribio’s projects show an unconstrained amalgam of Electronic, Contemporary, Latin, Afro, Dance, Disco and more. These career musicians infuse their expertise to this EP.

Haruka Salt’s industry prominence has her teaming with equally diverse and talented producers to deliver this impeccably smooth and listenable debut EP, HarukaMart.

Released 7 August 2020, toucan sounds

Rating: 7/10

Gordon Koang, “Unity”

Gordon Koang’s message of peace and resilience is the striking theme of his latest album Unity. It is Koang’s first album to be released since arriving in Australia in 2013, but the prominent blind musician, known as the ‘Michael Jackson of South Sudan,’ has previously released ten albums. Unity was made possible by independent label Music In Exile, which aims to nurture culturally and linguistically diverse communities.

Koang is part of the Nuer people, an ethnic group of his native South Sudan. Upon arriving in Australia to perform to Nuer communities civil war broke out in South Sudan resulting in renewed ethnic tensions. The subsequent years were an experience of uncertainty and displacement as Koang lived in Melbourne awaiting the Australian government’s confirmation of his grant of asylum. Permanent protection was granted to Koang just weeks following the release of Unity. He resolutely sings of this experience, as reassurance to other refugees, on the patient and lumbering opening track “Asylum Seeker.”

This generous and tolerant spirit of togetherness continues throughout the album. “Stand Up (Clap Your Hands)” is a celebration of coming together through music as is the jovial “Tiel E Nei Nywal Ke Ran (We Don’t Have A Problem With Anyone).” “South Sudan” is a song about leadership and care of people. Gordon Koang honours his country also through use of traditional instrumentation like the thom, with it’s rigid plucked sound threading through the album alongside a plodding lifted beat and the placid vocals of Koang.

Alongside the resilience and joy that Gordon Koang seeks to reflect to the refugee community, Koang’s new home of Melbourne is currently in rigorous COVID-19 mandatory lockdown. Isolation takes many forms but as Gordon Koang espoused in a press release for this album, “If the world unites itself, no one will say ‘I am alone.” Unity brings solace in many ways and the calm of Gordon Koang serves to temper calamity.

Released 14 August 2020, Music in Exile

Rating: 6.5/10

Al-So Fresh:

Kelly Lee Owens, Inner Song (Smalltown Supersound)// Sneaks, Happy Birthday (Merge) // Whitney, Candid (Secretly Canadian)// Dog Day, Present (fundog) // Tkay Maidza, Last Year Was Weird, Vol. 2 (4AD)// Bully, SUGAREGG (Sub Pop) // Kathleen Edwards, Total Freedom (Dualtone)// Angel Olsen, Whole New Mess (Jagjaguwar) // Bright Eyes, Down in the Weeds, Where the World Once Was (Dead Oceans) // Sevdaliza, Shabrang (Twisted Elegance// A. G. Cook, 7G (PC Music) // Black Noi$e, Oblivion (Portage Garage Sounds), // Samia, The Baby (Grand Jury) // Duval Timothy, Help (Carrying Colour) //

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Words by Joy Qin

Meanjin/Brisbane, Australia. Law/History graduate. I love music, culture, critical theory and the feel of a really good hand sanitiser!

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