Jono McCleery – Pagodes


London-based songwriter Jono McCleery starts his third album with an acoustic guitar, but what follows isn’t expected. Pagodes, with its meandering piano solos and occasional electronic flourishes, is like an experiment with genres. One moment, McCleery masters the classic singer-songwriter structure —the musician with his guitar— and in the next he adds twisting, uneven electronic melodies alongside jazz beats to create a song that couldn’t fit into any one category.

The album could be good background music for, say, a cloudy fall day spent indoors and writing (not unlike what I’m currently doing). But listening more closely, McCleery’s music stops short. Despite the intrigue that comes with genre­–bending, Pagodes isn’t an album listeners can’t live without. It offers good moments—like the trumpet playing alongside a heavier beat in “Halfway.”

McCleery’s lyrics are intriguing, but the ideas within his songs lack originality. In the song “Age of Self,” an acoustic guitar accompanies political lyrics questioning societal dynamics. The track begins with, “You say the working class is dead; we’re all consumers now/You say that we have moved ahead; we’re all just people now/There’s people doing frightfully well; there’s others on the shelf/Nevermind the second kind; is this the age of self?” It’s like a mellower, more politically-wrought version of John Mayer’s “Waiting on the World to Change.” Although McCleery’s thoughts are appreciated, as he points to real class problems in modern society, his lyrics breathe with an air of cliché.

But McCleery’s songwriting is stronger in other songs. In “Pardon Me,” his voice sounds warm and sincere as he croons about an opportunity he can see clearly, yet it’s slipping through his fingers. “I’ve been peering through the gates/Wondering what I’m missing,” he sings along with a piano. “Staying lean beneath the mist/Laying low to catch it.” An electronic guitar rings out, bringing more soul to the tune. The guitar adds a rock ‘n’ roll element to a song that had begun jazzier. Accompanying the piano’s melody, it leaves the tune on a strong and bluesy note. And somehow, with all the genres floating in and out, it works.

Overall, the album’s melodies aren’t striking or catchy enough keep its listeners coming back time and again.

Elsewhere, McCleery adds electronic noises and effects, creating an even stronger sense that he’s experimenting with all these genres. In “Since I,” an atmospheric background noise crackles and he combines the old musical tech with a newer sensibility. Unlike many of the songs on the album, “Since I” is full of different electronics. It departs from his the acoustic instruments, although the general tone of the song fits with the rest of the album. McCleery sings of growing with his love (“Since I held onto you/We felt our spirit grow”), but the flow of instrumentals rings out above all else, making them seem like the focus of the song. But while the song is interesting to listen to, it doesn’t make for remarkable electronics.

The following song, “Painted Blue,” is a better way of mixing electronics with McCleery’s more folksy sound. The background music—which is almost certainly a chopped up version of Claude Debussy’s famous “Clair de Lune,” may sound jagged. It’s performed with string instruments, and a steady cello that comes in during the chorus adds depth to the song. But in the end, I’m left wanting to listen to Debussy’s original masterpiece without the impediment of vocals or electronics; some things are better left alone. While what he’s done is interesting, it’s not something I’d choose to listen to.

Although Jono McCleery makes some strides with Pagodes, it’s compelling mix of musical inspirations won’t be enough to keep listeners hooked. For now, McCleery will amuse an audience who likes the singer–songwriter aesthetic, but his music isn’t going much further than that.

Jono McCleery – Pagodes tracklist:

  1. This Idea of Us
  2. Age of Self
  3. Since I
  4. Painted Blue
  5. Ballade
  6. Clarity
  7. Halfway
  8. Bet She Does
  9. Fire in My Hands
  10. Desperate Measure
  11. Pardon Me
  12. So Long
Album-art-for-Fading-Frontier-by-Deerhunter Deerhunter – Fading Frontier


Dream pop and shoegaze music have infiltrated indie music recently. With veteran bands like Slowdive and My Bloody Valentine reuniting, along with the success of more recent bands like Beach House and No Joy, the dream isn’t over. The psychedelic band Deerhunter from Atlanta, GA is back with Fading Frontier, an effortlessly chill return to their genre. Free from any hiccups between tracks, Fading Frontier glimpses into singer and songwriter Bradford Cox’s kaleidoscope-like musical mind.

Likewise, it’s hard to pinpoint the main theme of Fading Frontier, but maybe this is irrelevant to Cox’s stream-of-consciousness writing process. Many of the songs can come off as both erratic and soothing. For instance, “Take Care” starts with a simple melody, but then turns into chaos by the end of the track when drums, guitars, synths, and bass crash into each other and cathartically blooming into a psychedelic and free-form soundscape. And this is emblematic of Cox’s ability to meld seemingly disjointed ideas and birthing a song whose sounds feel like they were meant for each other.

Though Cox’s writing can come off as amorphous, it doesn’t mean he writes frivolously. In “Living My Life,” the band chants the title throughout it, as if Cox wrote it as a mantra to himself. As uplifting as the phrase “I’m living my life” sounds, Cox touches on the darkest parts of his thoughts, especially when he sings, “Will you tell me when you find out/To recover the lost years/I’ve spend all of my time out here/Chasing the fading frontier.” Identifying disappointment within oneself is incredibly hard to admit, and yet Cox articulated it to a T.

Cox wrote Fading Frontier out of the depression that followed a nearly fatal car accident in December 2014. Cox said he, “felt no interest in anything else.” He clearly alludes to this experience in “Breaker,” especially when he sings, “Jack-knifed on the side-street crossing/I’m still alive and that’s something.” That last line is quite hopeful, but when the song begins, we’re allowed to peak into the darkness that initially consumed Cox when he sings, “Breaking the waves again, and though I tried/The ocean is strong, I cannot stem the tide.”

Fading Frontier is fit for sprawling yourself on the floor of your bedroom and thinking about everything. In fact, perhaps just as writing this record was for Cox, the album forces you to meditate on life.

It is not fit for background noise while you work your day job; it will compel you to think about yourself, why work may suck, and it may put you through a reassessment.

Fading Frontier is a fascinating glimpse into Cox’s mind and a clear picture of expert musicianship. It’s always an invigorating experience when an album, such as Fading Frontier, grabs your attention and makes you stop and think. Your face is coerced out of the blob of technology in front of you, and you remember that there are still some great things out there crafted with heart and soul.

Deerhunter – Fading Frontier tracklist:

  1. “All the Same”
  2. “Living My Life”
  3. “Breaker”
  4. “Duplex Planet”
  5. “Take Care”
  6. “Leather and Wood”
  7. “Snakeskin”
  8. “Ad Astra”
  9. “Carrion”
Album-art-for-Trashtopia-by-Soddy-Daisy Soddy Daisy – Trashtopia


Soddy Daisy’s Facebook description wrote that their genres include space, whiskey, Mexican jumping beans, and “partytimes.” If this makes no sense to you either, that’s good, because it shouldn’t. Soddy Daisy’s whole aesthetic, from their self-proclaimed descriptions to their debut LP Trashtopia’s album cover of garbage and booze, is a bundle of randomness. But they execute unpredictability well. They offer energetic garage rock songs by a group of musicians who love to play music, and take themselves seriously, but not too seriously.

Musical throwbacks fill Trashtopia, like a few surf-rock riffs and doo-wop gems, which are usually topped off with sassy vocals from Maureen Neer. But Soddy Daisy is never one thing. In “Go!” they take a page from the ’77 punk scene, with fast paced guitars and a catchy hook where all the band members sing along. The purposeful lo-fi recording quality overshadows Neer’s striking, throaty vocal quality. Luckily, the rest of Trashtopia doesn’t pan out that way.

“When the High Subsides” sounds strongly reminiscent of an early Stooges song. A heavy, foreboding guitar progression matches the simple but booming drumbeat to create something special. Bass player Joey Eichler sings as ominously as the music itself, “Four in the morning and I’m shaking at the end of the world, girl/All dressed up and no place else to go.” Juxtaposed to how Trashtopia kicked off, “When the High Subsides” sounds like it came from a completely different band.

Although Soddy Daisy can get moody or dark for a moment, they’re at their best in Trashtopia when they fall into their sweet, sweet surf rock pocket. Their peers Shannon and the Clams are doing a similar thing with their music, but Soddy Daisy throws in a bit more aggression and modernity. Trashtopia’s doo-wop songs don’t sound like they came straight out of the ‘50s and ‘60s.

Soddy Daisy brought the ‘50s and ‘60s to 2015 with force.

For a debut album, Soddy Daisy already has a solid grasp as to what they want to sound like. Though unpredictable, Trashtopia never feels disjointed; it’s a linear album filled with strong, well-written songs and accomplished musicianship. Soddy Daisy can name their albums whatever they want, but no matter how ridiculous a title may be, it’ll never hide the fact that they’re actually really great at what they do.

Soddy Daisy – Trashtopia tracklist:

  1. “Elephant Hand Pt. 1”
  2. “Go!”
  3. “Better Run”
  4. “I’m Exactly The Same As Everyone Else”
  5. “Crucible”
  6. “WEAK Radio”
  7. “When The High Subsides”
  8. “Water Cooler”
  9. “Why Are We Always”
  10. “Dead Come Summer”
  11. “Ache On My Sleeve”
  12. “Elephant Hand Pt. 2”
Album-art-for-Terra-Eyes-by-Le-Tour Le Tour – Terra Eyes


Le Tour is a very dedicated band. While vocalist and guitarist Patrick Campbell lived in Detroit, he commuted to the band’s headquarters in Chicago to record Terra Eyes during a thankless and particularly brutal winter. If the stress and exhaustion that poured into the songs on Terra Eyes isn’t obvious, well, you must not be paying close enough attention. Le Tour is a punk band with psychedelic tendencies, and Terra Eyes is a perfect representation of that combination. Terra Eyes dips into two very different genres that exhibit the same hard work ethic, but it doesn’t lean too heavily either side of the spectrum, which is what makes the band so original.

Le Tour often juxtaposes racing guitars and drums against chilled-out jam sessions. Le Tour knows exactly what sound they want to produce and focuses on it intently. Every song has a strong vocal melody, as if the band set this as a rule. Le Tour consistently balances lucid compositions and tight, compact choruses.

Besides writing solid, energetic garage songs, they absolutely know their shit.

They also know how to work contrast into their songs, like a sweet guitar progression plastered against Campbell’s crying voice. Like in the song “Freak” where Campbell screams the chorus with his entire being. In “Athena,” Campbell barks the chorus while the backup singers chant “ohhs” and “ahhs” to make the two elements contradict each other even more, but in a very good way.

Then a straight-up punk song like “Milosh” pops up on the record, sounding reminiscent of the enthusiasm of Black Flag and the drumming of Bill Stevens in the Descendents. “Working Man” is another good example of their punk roots. An erratic guitar makes its way up and down the frets as Campbell’s playful vocals reach their falsetto limit. It’s these moments when Le Tour doesn’t take itself too seriously, but actually takes itself very seriously.

It’s also worth noting Terra Eyes was recorded almost entirely live, each song with little or no overdub. That should give you a clue as to how much talent the band possesses.

Le Tour doesn’t care about what’s going on in music these days. The band makes the music they want, and it’s quite hard to argue with that stance.

Le Tour – Terra Eyes tracklist:

  1. “Friend”
  2. “Working Man”
  3. “Athena”
  4. “Tall, Tall Mountain”
  5. “Freak”
  6. “Full of Surprises”
  7. “Watching the Surface”
  8. “Beat Up”
  9. “Milosh”
  10. “Who Knew?”
Album-art-for-Devinyl-Splits-No.-3-by-Kevin-Devine-Tigers-Jaw Kevin Devine/Tigers Jaw – Devinyl Splits No. 3


The indie rock veteran Kevin Devine has been keeping himself busy with plenty of projects this year, including his Devinyl Splits series where he collaborates with other indie musicians for a two-song EP. In the third and most recent installment, Devinyl Splits No. 3, Devine and the band Tigers Jaw from Scranton, PA cover two very popular and beloved Cure songs. Devinyl Splits No. 3 seems to be a fun project for Devine and his friends. But if Devine had chosen a different approach to this third Devinyl Splits EP, it could have made this passionate project stand out more.

Reimagining a Cure song is a hard feat to tackle. Every Robert Smith-penned song is marked with his signature brand of despair and love-filled sentiments, and often times there’s a fine line between getting a cover version just right or swerving out of control.

Instead, the Tiger Jaws keep it straightforward by beginning the record with “In Between Days” from the 1985 album The Head on the Door. It’s complete with rhythmic acoustic guitar and the memorable keyboard riff that injects the chorus with energy. There’s nothing inherently wrong Tigers Jaw’s take. It’s fine, pleasant even.

But what seems to be missing is the passion that Cure singer Robert Smith puts into his vocal performance.

His quivering, yet cutting voice is what makes for a Cure song. Although Tigers Jaw singer Ben Walsh has a good voice, it simply cannot compete with Smith’s in the context of “In Between Days.” What Walsh lacks is the emotion Smith had originally put into the song; it could have been easily balanced out with a different, more interesting arrangement.

Kevin Devine strips down the classic 1989 song “Lovesong” with a slower, mellower approach, most notably by a clean acoustic guitar and lethargic drumming. Devine’s voice complements this take nicely, but it feels too laid-back. The original is quick and lively, which reflects the anxiety that surrounds Smith’s notion of love. “Lovesong” is about being endless love, and we don’t quite get that feeling from Devine. But perhaps we’re just too accustomed to the original.

Much like “In Between Days,” this song has been covered time and time again, and from acts from just about every genre, so it’s easy to glaze over yet another version of it. Devine might have been better off picking a lesser known Cure song to send off Devinyl Splits No. 3 on a high note.

Kevin Devin/Tigers Jaw – Devinyl Splits No. 3 tracklist:

  1. Tigers Jaw – In Between Days (The Cure Cover)
  2. Kevin Devine – Lovesong (The Cure Cover)
Album-art-for-Won-by-Fresh-Snow Fresh Snow – Won


From beginning to end, Fresh Snow’s album Won ranges from beautifully crafted arrangements to straight-up noise, a title the band wears proudly. Won is filled with moments of delicately constructed instrumental ballads and, conversely, hectic flashes of deliberate panic and disarray.

Fresh Snow is, above all things, an instrumental band. Relying on musicianship instead of vocal melodies or lyrics can become a challenge to any musician. Fresh Snow does not have this issue. The band’s droning keyboards, funky bass lines, and whatever else it can throw into the mix is always on fire. Twinges of amazing musicianship are always present within Won, but a heavy layer of distortion unfortunately buries it. Regardless, Fresh Snow has its shit together—and they don’t even have a singer to depend on as the showrunner.

Won is like a modern take on the jazz aesthetic: it’s hectic and allows each instrument to have its own moment. Each musician take turns showing off, especially in the album’s first track “King Twink Rides Again,” which sounds like a constant battle among instruments. After hitting the seven-minute mark, a ferocious horn section roars the song to a conclusion. It gets incrementally louder, and at the very end, the instruments breathe a sigh of relief after a rigorous race.

Most of the album is noise. Think about tuning a radio to fuzzy static.

Fresh Snow takes a rest from outplaying one another with “Proper Burial,” one of two songs on Won featuring vocalists. Carmen Elle, from the bands DIANA and Army Girls, lends delicate vocals to the song. In spite of buzzing keyboards and a driving bass line that actually lends itself nicely to Elle’s performance. The contrast of soft, feathery vocals and a funky bass part won’t throw off the listener. These are simply two elements of the song that just happen to work together harmoniously.

“Don’t Fuck a Gift Horse In The Mouth,” the alarmingly titled final song on Won, features Fucked Up vocalist Damian Abraham. Abraham’s vocals can barely be heard against Fresh Snow’s instruments, which fuzz out as straight-up noise.

Fresh Snow as a concept may be too difficult or dense for someone who is used to vocally-driven music. With songs well over ten minutes that feature more than enough disorienting auditory facets, it’ll take the most of one’s patience. Won is not an album to just throw on as background noise after a long, tiring day of work. It must be intently listened to, and it requires the listener to actively acknowledge its presence. In Won, Fresh Snow screams, “Listen to me!” It’s quite hard not to.

Fresh Snow – Won tracklist:

  1. “King Twink Rides Again”
  2. “Proper Burial”
  3. “Blood In The Sun”
  4. “Delft”
  5. “Don’t Fuck A Gift Horse In The Mouth”
Album-art-for-Depression-Cherry-by-Beach-House Beach House – Depression Cherry


From beginning to end, Beach House’s new album Depression Cherry proves to be a powerful beast that encapsulates the band’s laid back, introspective ambiance. Beach House gives the listener another set of beautiful melodies that feature breathtaking, resonant sounds only possible from the minds and souls of singer/keyboardist Victoria Legrand and multi-instrumentalist Alex Scally. Together, Legrand and Scally have composed some of the most unique songs fans of dream-pop will have the pleasure of listening to. With Depression Cherry, Beach House adds another impressive cultivated achievement to its catalogue.

Depression Cherry is a much louder album with the same identifiable Beach House tendencies, like its trademarked soundscapes that can overpower an entire room. The stunning loudness Beach House manages to produce out of just keyboards and synths is never an abrasive feeling; it’s authoritative, but genuinely sweet, and often dream-like. The haunting “PPP” is a generous six minutes long, but, because of its ability to allow the listener to escape into an otherworldly dimension, it never feels excessive. The songs have become, if it was at all possible, more dreamy than the band’s previous works. Beach House has continued to grow, both lyrically and musically, in each album it produces. Depression Cherry is Beach House’s attempt to explore the way in which one manages to navigate through every moment in life.

Depression Cherry has been stripped down of natural music elements, specifically the lack of live drums, and this may be why the album is so much dreamier.

Beach House relies on pre-programmed drumbeats, which are very similar to patterns the band has used in the past, specifically in their 2010 album Teen Dream with mellowed-out songs like “Walk in the Park.”In fact, most of, if not all of, Depression Cherry is full of electronic instruments, not that Beach House has ever been known for whipping out an acoustic guitar. Droning keys and synths are defining elements of Beach House, and Depression Cherry is yet another way in which it has dominated and perfected its craft.

One of the fundamental components of a Beach House song is a Legrand’s angelic yet gruff vocal performance. Much like Depression Cherry’s compelling composition, Legrand’s voice boasts through every note, each more powerful than the next. But her vocals seem to float softly, which contrast the record’s dynamic arrangement. When she explores her lower register, especially in the album’s first single “Sparks,” the song effortlessly follows in her footsteps.

While we get much of the same things that Beach House is loved for, like Legrand’s compassionate vocals and unparalleled sound, the band hasn’t given up on challenging itself. By stripping away the familiar and comfortable in Depression Cherry, Beach House has given its listeners a refreshing take on its odd and peculiar way of looking at the world.

Beach House – Depression Cherry tracklist:

  1. “Levitation”
  2. “Sparks”
  3. “Space Song”
  4. “Beyond Love”
  5. “10:37”
  6. “PPP”
  7. “Wildflower”
  8. “Bluebird”
  9. “Days of Candy”
Album-art-for-Music-For-Dogs-by-Gardens-&-Villa Gardens & Villa – Music For Dogs


It’s rare when musicians can financially support themselves solely on their art. And Gardens & Villa’s songwriting duo, consisting of singer/guitarist Chris Lynch and keyboardist Adam Rasmussen, gave up most everything except for music. Their noble efforts are explored throughout their new album of eclectic pop songs, Music For Dogs. The album not only offers catchy chords and rhythms, but also layerings of previously unexplored sounds and textures.

In fact, Music For Dogs visits different soundscapes that at times seem dated, like coming from a 1980s electro-pop band. From the intro track alone, listeners may wonder where this album will lead them, especially if they hadn’t heard Gardens & Villa’s music before.

When the synth slowly descends from high to low tones, it sounds like they’re bringing us to another planet.

Thankfully, Music For Dogs does not completely rely on artificial effects, and one of the album’s strongest songs, “Fixations,” shows this. The song is driven by a laid-back, simple drumbeat and Lynch’s crisp and distinct vocals. It touches on Lynch and Rasmussen’s struggle to stay relevant, particularly when Lynch sings, “Trying to keep my inner flame alive/So many people keeping me from going under/But it feels like the perfect time.” Sure, creating art is hard, but when surrounded by supportive individuals maybe it isn’t so bad.

Although Gardens & Villa excel in its pop appeal, such as in “Fixations” and “Alone in the Night,” their more experimental and unconventional tunes songs like “Maximize Results” seem to resemble Devo tunes from Bizarro World. The synths race at an unidentifiably quick rate per minute, and the energy of the song strays away from the simplicity of their catchier songs.

Going further into the new wave abyss, Gardens & Villa’s song “Jubilee” sounds reminiscent of the Pet Shop Boys. Particularly in the song “West End Boys,” which is complete with spoken word-like verses and all different shades of synth effects. “Jubilee” is a little off putting, but their songs show Music For Dogs is nonetheless full of surprises.

Gardens & Villa’s speciality is dabbling in the avant-garde, so it makes sense that Music For Dogs sounds stylistically all over the place. While jumping from genre to genre isn’t necessarily uncommon, people who don’t like to be caught off guard might not get it. It’s often hard to tell what Gardens & Villa are going for, but do we need to know? No matter what anyone else thinks, Lynch and Rasmussen seemed to keep their inner flames alive with Music For Dogs.

Gardens & Villa – Music For Dogs tracklist:

  1. “Intro”
  2. “Maximize Results”
  3. “Fixations”
  4. “Everybody”
  5. “Paradise”
  6. “Alone In The City”
  7. “General Research”
  8. “Express”
  9. “Happy Times”
  10. “Jubilee”
  11. “I Already Do”
Album-art-for-Double-Down-by-Darwin-Deez Darwin Deez – Double Down


Darwin Deez, a.k.a. Darwin Smith, seethes pop music. Ever since Deez began back in 2009, he’s stuck to what he knows best: melding a killer melody and some impressive instrumentation to go along with it. Deez’s new album Double Down is a lot like his other music, catchy with incredibly sweet melodies and a knack for witty lyrics. For Double Down, Smith reached to his usual influences, most notably Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Outkast’s Andre 3000, although Deez doesn’t sound like a mere imitation. He reached his final goal with the infectious Double Down by creating irresistible pop songs that are all his own.

“Constellations” became Deez’s most popular song when the band started, Double Down manages to hit that same sweet spot when it comes to chord choice and the blissful, fuzzy feeling one gets when listening to a Dawrin Deez song. “Lover” shows just how contagiousness Deez’s songwriting is. As a song about a distant love interest, it’s hard not to sing along even though Deez belts out the lyrics at his rawest.

Deez’ aesthetic is laced with all the feelings anyone could ever have and a false sense of optimism (which may throw off listeners who aren’t into unabashedly earnest and straight-forward lyrics), whereas his contemporaries may mask their true intentions with endless amounts of metaphors. Double Down blasts through with energy and songs that are mostly about all the stages of love—the good and the bad. In “Last Cigarette” Deez compares a former partner to being addicted to smoking cigarettes, singing “One last cigarette before I quit/One last look at it, because we were good at it.” There are no curtains over Smith’s feelings when he writes as Darwin Deez.

Luckily for Deez, he doesn’t take himself too seriously. His ability to be seemingly carefree in his profession isn’t exactly popular in the indie world.

Because of this, Deez is sometimes a little too sentimental with his lyrics. His cheeky and mostly too-on-the-nose lyrics are well intended, and he seems sincere, but they’re overly forward and lean to a dangerously cheesy territory. For example, in “Rated R” Deez wrote about teenage love and sneaking into R-rated movies while underage. Deez sings in the chorus, “You are rated R/I’m fifteen, I’m fifteen/You are rated R/You’re back for me but I’m happy.” Deez attempts to recreate a sweet and slightly rebellious moment between two young people, but the lyrics come off too juvenile, wide-eyed, and bushy-tailed.

This project is Deez’s outlet to let his catchiest pop songs loose without giving a shit. Double Down is yet another one of his masterful acts of just being himself. Whatever anyone says about Deez’s music will merely be dust he can brush off of his shoulder.

Deez is in this music thing for good and he doesn’t show signs of stopping anytime soon.

Darwin Deez – Double Down tracklist:

  1. “Last Cigarette”
  2. “The Mess She Made”
  3. “Lover”
  4. “Time Machine”
  5. “Bag of Tricks”
  6. “Rated R”
  7. “Melange Mining Co.”
  8. “Kill Your Attitude”
  9. “The Other Side”
  10. “Right When It Rains”
  11. “The Missing I Wanna Do”
Willis Earl Beal – Noctunes


Willis Earl Beal’s self-released album Noctunes is a chill, simplified marriage between R&B, raspy blues, and indie folk. Beal achieved indie stardom a few years ago, and after some struggle with his label, he is back. The bluesy, lo-fi soul sound that Beal has is ageless and minimalistic, making Noctunes engaging yet fleeting.

Noctunes is ubiquitous folky R&B in that it pulls together sounds and themes that are familiar, but Beal composes the album with heightened intimacy. The album is melodic, sometimes reminiscent of a lullaby. These melodies all have characteristics, such as instrumentation, vocal style, and raw emotions that are relatable because of how Beal sings them, and how they remind us of other things.

It isn’t sampling or mirroring another style as much as it is Beal tapping into his emotions to evoke ours.

Beal kept the compositions minimal, such as on “Lust,” which is primarily composed of gentle acoustic guitar strums, humming, and whistling in the background. Beal’s lone voice and lyrics provokes a lonely image. On “Start Over,” simple synths add depth to the background while Beal sings, “I think I want to start over/I think I want to start over with you/I’m still holding on.” The power comes from Beal’s emotive voice, which is the highlight of the album.

When he dips into jazzy territory, it is slinky and meaningful. On “Say The Words,” he sings with a hint of sorrow, pleading for his lover to tell him he is loved. The subtle percussion has a blues/jazz vibe that guides the track. Because they are minimal, Beal’s voice is prominent on the track. Subtle drumming is paired with lo-fi electronic chords, creating an ambience around Beal’s voice that takes a lounge singer-like effect. The cymbals seem strictly jazz, but are toned down by the simplified electric sounds.

While there is a lot of strength to Noctunes, it doesn’t hold attention. The tracks are moving because of the simplicity and feeling, yet they also hold strong movement that keeps someone fully focused. The mono-emotional feel to Noctunes allows the music to sink into the background. While the minimalistic instrumentation is an interesting move, it isn’t dynamic enough; each track hits the same feeling in the same way.

Willis Earl Beal’s Noctunes uses synths and acoustic guitar to hybridize multiple genres are once. Noctunes is genre-less because of its minimalistic qualities, yet the influences are clearly developed R&B, soul, folk, and blues. Beal is not to be put in a box.

Noctunes showcases Beal’s voice more than anything else. It transfixes listeners from the beginning, creating an environment that allows listeners to be mesmerized by his vocals as the somber melodies float into the background. Noctunes is ephemeral and impactful as it plays.

Willis Earl Beal – Noctunes tracklist:

  1. “Under You”
  2. “Flying So Low”
  3. “Like A Box”
  4. “Lust”
  5. “No Solution”
  6. “Stay”
  7. “Say The Words”
  8. “Love Is All Around”
  9. “Able To Wait”
  10. “Survive”
  11. “Start Over”
  12. “12 Midnight”
Jesse Hackett – JUNK


One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. For his debut solo album, Jesse Hackett took that popular phrase to heart, finding inspiration in an old Yamaha PSR-110 that had been thrown away, which he used to create the album. JUNK is partially comprised of the keyboard’s many (and somewhat limited) sounds, creating a disjointed journey that’s sometimes weirdly fun, but can often become jumbled with its myriad electronic oddities against distorted vocals and solid, if rambling, beats.

Hackett previously released an LP under pseudonym Elmore Judd, and is part of Owiny Sigoma Band, which has released two albums and toured internationally. He also played synth on tour with the Gorillaz in 2010. JUNK seems quite a bit different from his previous endeavors—it lacks Owiny Sigoma Band’s Kenyan inspiration, and it’s harder hitting than Elmore Judd’s 2008 album Unborn Again.

The album opens with a springy electronic noise and distorted yelling vocals in “Dump Run”—just a taste of the oddball sensibility to come.

The quick intro leads into a bouncy beat with soft singing, “We’ll take our time/‘Cause there’s not much time.” The vocals become distorted and some percussion is added, along with a warped instrument that could be the PSR-110. It’s a pretty trippy start to the album, and Hackett continuously sings, “There’s not much time,” adding a sort of harried anxiety to the tune.

A sense of anxiety is a recurring theme throughout the album, particularly in the track “Buckle Down Bill,” which features a constant electronic beat so intense that it comes across as agitated and edgy. At one point, a voice laughs in the background; at other times, a voice utters unintelligible words. There’s a definite air of creepiness to it. A deep voice chants, “Buckle down Bill, he’s working so hard.” Near the end, a frazzled guitar comes in with no discernable melody. Although we don’t know who Buckle Down Bill is, the song conjures the image of a person who is trapped in his anxieties, so restless that he can’t stop.

The sense of heightened anxiety in “Buckle Down Bill” makes the song a bit difficult to listen to—it’s all craziness with no joy in the listen itself—although that may be the point Hackett is trying to make with the song. He might be exploring the idea that we shouldn’t be as obsessed with working as we are in America. Or, perhaps he’s encapsulating the feeling of a panic attack and putting forth a song that achieves a similar effect. In that case, he makes a strong point.

Elsewhere in the album, the sound has some jazz inspiration—a major contrast to those first anxiety-ridden tunes. “Closet Jazz” has a relaxed beat and distinctly funk-toned keys. It sounds like it belongs in a lounge in the 1970s. “Monsieur” has a similarly funky, if far more upbeat, sound. The song is comprised of upbeat percussion and more spirited keys as electronic noises float in and out. Hackett hits his stride in these songs—the instrumentals come together to create a more cohesive sound and will leave listeners wanting more.

With its myriad influences and mix of anxiety-ridden and lounge-inspired tunes, JUNK comes across as the type of experimental effort wherein the artist is still searching for his true sound.

Jesse Hackett – JUNK tracklist:

  1. “The Dump Run”
  2. “Sacred Oblivion”
  3. “Buckle Down Bill”
  4. “I Don’t Wanna Get Old”
  5. “Closet Jazz”
  6. “Lovely Lady”
  7. “Monsieur”
  8. “Genisis P’oribble”
  9. “Wonder”
Album-art-for-Lantern-by-Hudson-Mohawke Hudson Mohawke – Lantern


Hudson Mohawke (aka Ross Birchard) is a wild, melody-obsessed producer whose beats engulf listeners in an environment of his own creation. His sophomore release, Lantern, is organized chaos at its finest; it has a frenetic energy emphasized by textural synths and bass.

Sonically, Hudson Mohawke is maximalist, with overproduced electronic beats that hit hard with little pause. Gritty, multilayered tracks that throb and pulsate as microbeats are layered and melodies are affected with breaks and drops. This oversaturation is at its peak near the end of Lantern on “Portrait of Luci” and “System.” HudMo’s tracks are more neoclassical than anything, with complex arrangements that happen to be manipulations of synths, drum kicks, and occasional vocals, instead of traditional orchestral instrumentation.

Four tracks feature artists, but do so discretely. The vocals don’t distract or outshine the production, but are very intentional. HudMo uses Jhene Aiko and Miguel’s features as tools to construct his perfect compositions.

Hudson Mohawke chose not to feature any rappers on this album, unlike his previous releases. HudMo’s history runs in hip-hop—he had a hand in several rap hits of the recent past, and is a part of Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music. Breaking away from earlier hip-hop affiliations and previous trap endeavors (such as TNGHT with Canadian DJ Lunice), HudMo has tried really hard to not be bound to his previous sound.

“Ryderz” is the one track on Lantern that is an overt nod to old, soul-sampling Kanye. The track features a sped up sample of “Watch Out For The Riders,” by D. J. Rogers, adorned with crashing percussion à la Kanye West.

Throughout Lantern one can tell when HudMo is trolling listeners a bit; he teases expectations, offering “breaks” in the otherwise overwhelming production, satisfying the need for quirkier interruptions in the beat. “Lil Djembe” stands out because it is perfectly off.

It’s weird instrumentation, but with the structure of a banger.

Similarly, “Scud Books” triumphantly bumps, causing a confused euphoria because the trap production is borderline migraine-inducing with screeching embellishments, a blaring horn section and keys that melodically dash around.

Opposite the general over-the-top feel of Lantern, feeling gluttonous at times, the track “Indian Steps (feat. Antony)” is slower—as close to a ballad as HudMo may ever get. The bass pumps with emotional lyrics sung by Antony, “Look at the sky/Now look through my eyes/Swim up from the deep/Dance in a field of weakness/Forever I love you/Like a lamb under the gun/I tried to guard your spirit/You became someone.” While the majority of the track is consistently calmer, the end shifts into deranged noise to close out the track. The chemistry is clear; Hudson Mohawke will, in fact, be producing Antony’s next album, alongside Oneohtrix Point Never.

HudMo seems to be hyperaware of what his tracks evoke. His melody obsession is obvious, but he consciously force certain sounds into pleasing structures.

Hudson Mohawke – Lantern tracklist:

  1. “Lantern”
  2. “Very First Breath (feat. Irfane)”
  3. “Ryderz”
  4. “Warriors (feat. Ruckazoid and Debaeux)”
  5. “Kettles”
  6. “Scud Books”
  7. “Indian Steps (feat. Antony)”
  8. “Lil Djembe”
  9. “Deepspace (feat. Miguel)”
  10. “Shadows”
  11. “Resistance (feat Jhene Aiko)”
  12. “Portrait of Luci”
  13. “System”
  14. “Brand New World”