nūmūn by Johanna Warren

Johanna Warren - nūmūn

You walk between colossal trees within a vast forest. Streams of light cut through leafy canopies and brighten your path. You’ve heard legends about this place, about ghosts inhabiting it and telling their stories of the past, both soaring tales of passion and crushing laments of sorrow, to those that will listen; and you will listen. You are alone, but you feel the weight of many eyes upon you. A breeze floats through the trees, carrying melodic sound . . .

Handling the beauty contained on this record is quite a task. nūmūn is the second full-length release from Johanna Warren, a stunningly adept songwriter with the voice of a seraph. When not crafting masterful folk gems, Warren also embraces a second profession as an energy healer, and the influence of that trade is permeated throughout all of these songs. This is music that entrances the mind and cleanses the soul.

The melodies that Warren conceives of by weaving her looping guitar and angelic voice are elaborate, sublime, and most of all, catchy. She may only repeat a single motif once or twice during the course of a labyrinthine song, but one finds oneself humming those few notes at the end of each track regardless of the experimental complexity surrounding those precious tones. Worshippers of Joni Mitchell, this one’s for you.

Though the lyrical content encompasses the profound, often painful questions concerning death, the pristine instrumentation is teeming with life. Subtle percussion, woodwinds, and harmonic voices cradle the artist as she processes inner turmoil and the fragility of life. It’s certainly not painless, but it is gorgeous, and it’s one of my favorite albums of the year. If you’re seeking intricate, timeless folk music, this album is for you.

– stasi (@stasisphere)

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nūmūn by Johanna Warren

Slowness by Outfit

Outfit - Slowness

You’re an audience member in a grand hall. You can’t spot a ceiling in the endless blackness above you, and behind you the rows of heads extend into eternity. Onstage sit multiple pianos of the multi-sensory variety, meaning that the melodies and chords played upon them cast fantastic sights, sounds, and smells into the crowd. The type of experiences depend on the mood of the performed music. The lights go down, and you’re engulfed in a sea of applause.

’15 has been a landmark year for breaking genre barriers. Slowness is the second full-length release from Outfit, a Liverpool band that cares not about coloring inside the lines with the categorization of their sound, frequently leaping between experimental pop, classical post-rock, buoyant house, and a slew of others. These talented artists know how to write hooks, and they’re experts at extravagantly dressing those hooks.

The best descriptor for this album may be the obliquely beautiful yet disquieting cover art. The instrumentation is polished and aqueous at times, dark and ominous at others, but Andrew Hunt’s vulnerable voice (somewhat resembling Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor) and ear-worm melodies always carry a torch through each song. This is gorgeous, progressive, deconstructed pop music with a focus on synthetic experimentation.

This band does a whole lot of things right, but their heaviest trump card may be their utilization of piano. The melodious sound of the classical piano provides a foundation for each one of these pieces to build upon. Towers of otherworldly synths, melting guitars, and driving percussion are the result, and they are marvels to behold. If you’re seeking experimental pop music with a progressive mindset, this album is for you.

– stasi (@stasisphere)

Slowness by Outfit

The Bump by The Maguires

The Maguires - The Bump

Welcome to Starcade, the galaxy’s largest and most beloved haven for the gaming-obsessed! You’ve been anonymously gifted a hefty sum of tokens, in a raffle which you do not remember entering. Curious. No matter! Worry is the last thing that crosses your mind when you gaze upon the boundless cabinets and cockpits, and you feel you could live out the rest of your days here. A shiver takes you, but you quickly shake it off and dive into your first game . . .

Get ready for the most fun kind of dance music. The Bump is David Reihm’s debut album as The Maguires, and boy is it a treat. The talented producer/multi-instrumentalist previously fronted experimental pop group The Glass Canoe. This release is chock full of that unique mentality and technique, but delivered in a much more streamlined, aerodynamic format prepped and primed for enthusiasts of the dance floor.

Fans of video game music are another population that will absolutely love this record, and I mean that in the best possible way. Each of these diverse tracks invoke distinct landscapes centered in fantastical, 16-bit worlds. These could be soundtracks to incredible Donkey Kong and Mega-Man games that were never released, and the fact that they also function superbly as house anthems puts this album in a class all its own.

I haven’t even mentioned that Reihm himself performs all the vocals on this thing. It’s astonishing how he contorts his voice into a multitude of different timbres and styles, each complementing and elevating the driving grooves. At it’s core, this record is for those with vivid imaginations, and those that require something special with their dance tunes. If you’re seeking grooving, otherworldly electronic music, this album is for you.

– stasi (@stasisphere)

The Bump by The Maguires

Morning/Evening by Four Tet

Four Tet - Morning/Evening

You’re floating miles above the planet Earth, in a state of complete omniscience. The movement of time does not concern you; you see the occurrence of everything, laid out like parchment. On one side of you the world basks in warm light, while the other shivers in total darkness. Complete silence surrounds you, and you realize you are terribly alone. You raise your head, and you view the endless everything. You close your eyes, and music fills your ears.

It’s about time this guy came out with something new. Morning/Evening is the newest full-length release from Kieran Hebden, also known as Four Tet. The highly-skilled producer is one of the most innovative and respected artists in the electronic music scene (he collaborated with Burial; THE Burial), and for good reason. Hebden has never once ceased to experiment with and evolve his sound across his myriad of releases.

This Four Tet record is unlike any other not merely because the tones and rhythms are new and mystical, but also because Hebden opts for a uniquely-expansive album format: two tracks entitled “Morning” and “Evening,” each roughly twenty minutes in length. This uncommon configuration is perfect for the mission of the artist, which is to compact and convey aural images of the world as it awakens, and drifts to sleep.

Hebden succeeds in this endeavor by way of his forte, progressive dance music. “Morning” begins with subtle, shuffling percussion before droning, picturesque synths and the most sublime sample of a Hindi woman’s voice wake the planet, while “Evening” utilizes hazy ambience and glittering tones to invoke the stars strewn upon a night sky. If you’re seeking cinematic, conceptualized dance music, this album is for you.

– stasi (@stasisphere)

Morning/Evening by Four Tet

City of Quartz by Nick Diamonds

Nick Diamonds - City Of Quartz

You’re touring the most lauded recording studio and in-house songwriting shop in the known universe, the βrill Building. The name is an homage to the original Brill Building from the early American 1900’s on planet Earth, but that’s ancient history to you. You’re here because βrill, as it’s fondly known, is opening its doors to a select few from the public to experience a live show unlike any other. You enter the auditorium and sit near the front. The curtain rises . . .

Prepare yourself for an onslaught of tight songs. City of Quartz is the second full-length from Nick “Diamonds” Thorburn, who previously (although many, including myself, are hoping dearly for new material) made contributions as frontman of The Unicorns. That lovely group’s most celebrated record, Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone?, is one of my favorites, and I’m pleased to say that this album succeeds lofty expectations.

Thorburn’s responsible for all the sounds present in these pieces of music, making him a sort of one-man band from another planet. He experiments with oddball tones and textures like a seasoned pro, but never allows his synthetic surroundings to lead him astray from his jangly-pop tendencies. The contrast between manufactured instrumentation and earthy, grounded songwriting is fresh and surprisingly natural.

During the few times that Thorburn decides to color outside his trademark lines, the results are just as charming; “I’m Nobody,” with its psychedelic fuzz house and samples of Charlie Manson, is the most notable example. Each of these wonderfully-compact songs is an earworm that can only be removed by the song following it. If you’re seeking classic songwriting with unique, synthesized instrumentation, this album is for you.

– stasi (@stasisphere)

City of Quartz by Nick Diamonds

Dilate by Vessels

Vessels - Dilate

You’re a passenger, and it’s your first time aboard a notorious black hole metro. It’s nigh impossible to accept the certainty of your surroundings. Do you believe that this physical construct can safely travel through the tears in our universe? Most have answered with a resounding “no,” but you aren’t most. You’re here because you’re curious, and you aren’t afraid. There are a few other riders around you, but not many. Everything goes dark.

Get ready for a wild, wholly unique ride. Dilate is the third full-length record by the band known as Vessels, and it’s an unforeseen but warmly welcomed sidestep in their catalog. Previously, these talented lads were known for their post-rock penchant, working with the same influencers that produced masterworks by Explosions In The Sky and This Will Destroy You. This vibrant piece of music is in a whole other galaxy from all of that.

In the four years since the band’s previous release, Vessels seem to have developed a keen fascination with the dance floor. Deep, unyielding kick drums blaze trails for many of these tracks, which provide firm heartbeats and give life to these new songs. This isn’t just dance music, though, but fluidly-progressive, superbly-orchestrated explorations into sound. Every tone is meticulously and flawlessly placed in these recordings.

It would be a crime not to mention the noteworthy vocalists on this record. Isolde Freeth-Hale lends her lovely alto as both frontwoman and sampled instrumentation in “As You Are,” and Snow Fox provides a similar balance with her glossy yelp in “On Monos,” both to a brilliant effect. I mourn over the fact that I had not heard about this band before this release, but they’ve succeeded in making a fan out of me. If you’re seeking progressive, instrumentally-profound dance music, this album is for you.

– stasi (@stasisphere)

Dilate by Vessels

Ba Power by Bassekou Kouyaté and Ngoni Ba

Bassekou Kouyate - Ba Power

You sit next to a roaring fire within a secluded West African village. All around you are tribesmen, as well as visitors from all walks of life. The sweltering sun begins to descend behind a broad tree perched on a distant hill, casting tall shadows across the land. Tribe musicians gather behind bizarre instruments on one side of the fire. After a couple moments, they all raise their heads and open their mouths, and wispy spirits of all colors enter the lifted openings. The musicians close their mouths, lower their heads, and begin to play . . .

I’ve never before heard this much shredding without guitars. Ba Power is the latest full-length release from Malian native Bassekou Kouyaté and his band, Ngoni Ba. Ngoni Ba roughly translates to “The Big Ngoni,” a flawless title for what’s presented on this spirited record, given that you know what a ngoni is. A ngoni is a gourd-based lute, but Ngoni Ba don’t utilize just any ngoni. Their instruments have been electronically upgraded.

The band’s rhythm section has probably been enhanced the most since the group’s last album, with the addition of Robert Plant’s tasteful drummer, Dave Smith. Smith’s westernized beats provide a fresh contrast and solid foundation for the frantic yet highly-controlled ngoni soloing found on almost every track. The instrumental proficiency on this album is astoundingly impressive, and it’s loads of fun to listen to.

On top of everything is the powerful, melodious voice of singer Amy Sacko, former wedding singer and Kouyaté’s wife. While she effectively plays the role of ringleader for most of the songs, it’s truly the captivating ngoni performances on this record that bring this wonderful piece of music to a whole other level. Bassekou Kouyaté and Ngoni Ba have truly made something special, something that transcends all languages. If you’re seeking thrilling, polyrhythmic music with adept musicianship, this album is for you.

– stasi (@stasisphere)

Ba Power by Bassekou Kouyaté and Ngoni Ba