Some Remarkable Releases

Halfway through the year is as fitting an occasion as any for compiling an assortment of several remarkable pieces of music offered to the public more or less recently, most of them having been released over the course of the last months, in the shape of albums, EPs, sets, or single tracks uploaded on Soundcloud. Today, with now nary a cloud to be seen in the sky, I should like to offer a medley of these sounds, which I’ve assembled into a summa æstatis in order to circle through the varieties of shade and sunlight there are in summertime – including its stillnesses and sadnesses. Thus the sounds of all that, to my ears at least, rustle vicariously throughout the music to be presented in the following survey, which is arranged for the reader or listener’s convenience into this one quite extensive playlist.

In this season, too, many are the semi-⁠shelters music might build over our heads.

To begin with, an EP presented to the public a week ago, in its entirety. Thanks to the 1432 R label in Washington, D.C., an up-⁠and-coming participant in the electronic music scene in Addis Ababa, Mikael Seifu, has been able to make his debut outside his own country, with four tracks issued under the title Yarada Lij, presented on the label’s Soundcloud page. According to Chris Kelly in an article about Seifu on the Wiyiyit website, the Amharic phrase means something like charlatan, although it comes over into English only roughly – but the music is borne along by a genuine craft, and with the several subtleties of its composition and instrumentarium, especially in the evocative second track on the EP, “Drkness Iz,” it does leap across.

Next in the line-⁠up is a new work by Michael David Krueger, who was featured here once before. This is a piece for brass, in writing for which the composer appears to be especially skilled, and in it he deploys the instruments over against one another – whether their musical counter-⁠positioning bodies forth a prelude to a skirmish, or else an ἀγών, it is not so easy to decide. In any event, his piece bears an uncommon title: “Fanfare of Rage.”

In the remix of Beyoncé’s “Partition” just put together and published by the Haus of Glitch, the moniker of Jeremy Henry in Dallas, the third of today’s offerings, an elated motif from the music of the late baroque era introduces itself amongst the sonic expressions of her afterdark alter ego, “Yoncé.” She, the voice of a new ribald subgenre one could call either dirty soul or else an electronic development of R & B that keeps pace with our hypercynical present – which sees fit to recycle the surname Lewinsky as a colloquial verb – this Yoncé moves that motif so, that in this remix it speeds itself up into an allegrissimo in order to overtake her, casting away in the heat of the chase whatever compunctions it had going in, and perhaps even surprising itself in the process. Thus emboldened do these few bars of the older music, led on by that woman’s blues, undress! Although there is, fortunately for our eyes’ sake, nothing to see here, the sound of the scene, as we’re given to overhear it, is entertaining, at least, and in re-⁠creating it for us Henry has outdone himself.

Chapeau! What after all can’t wit do with music!

Shifting gears now, on the Soundcloud page of Die Antwoord – which however is not the South African band’s but rather that of a musician residing somewhere in “Zefville” who’s mixed up a few of its numbers – there is a biting pastiche of a tune in which the surly charm of this spoken language is made palpable despite itself. Not so strangely, the number is entitled “Broken.”

Alas, the next item in today’s compilation I am unable to embed here, but at least it can be given a place in the playlist as a whole. It may be listened – or, much more likely, danced to there; it’s the work of the Ukrainian singer Margo Gontar, whose work has been featured here once before, in collaboration with a producer located somewhere in Great Britain, DJ Saint Louis, and to this dark piece of techno they’ve given an instructive title, “Just Move (Forward).”

Not only does Mikael Seifu create music by himself, but in addition he also collaborates with other musicians in Ethiopia, and the fruit of one such recent collaboration, with the electronic musician Endeguena Mulu, under the moniker Gold & Wax (or, for the search engines, ሰም እና ወርቅ, in the Amharic alphabet), is a self-⁠titled set of two tracks recently uploaded on their Soundcloud page. While the set serves as a provisional announcement of this collaboration’s existence – the first of the pieces, identified outright as a preview, doesn’t appear to end but instead is evidently abruptly terminated – the effort, studded urbanely by jazz, techno, reggae sounds mixing it up upon a strong basis of the local musics, suggests that whatever the duo issues next will make the wait worthwhile.

The eponymous debut EP of a four-⁠member rock band which moved from the Ukraine to Berlin two years ago, Four Phonica, is the next item in today’s line-⁠up. These five tracks (whose various titles may imply that the musicians have devoted some thought to nihilism as a question, and also know their Nietzsche) show what the vocalist and percussionist Daria Chepel, the drummer Valery Derevyansky, the vocalist and guitarist Mark Gritsenko, and the bassist and synthmaster Alexander Petrovsky are capable of while in the studio, while on the band’s Youtube channel a number of their videos evince a substantial on-⁠screen talent. It’s no wonder, then, that the four are already practiced at live performance, and understand how to occupy the room with an electric mood which can get as thick or as light as they need or want it to be.

This EP is offered on Four Phonica’s Bandcamp as well as its Soundcloud page.

Moving through a quite different sphere of sound, although at points brandishing a noticeable edge of its own, is the album recently released by the Danish ensemble MTQ, otherwise known as the Modern Tango Quintet, Yo nunca he estado en Buenos Aires. As may be gathered even by those who likewise have never visited that city, this record would not have come about at all in the absence of tango music and its charismatic fecundatory power, its capacity to spur other musics on to new vigour and to sudden or even violent bursts of creativity; the contemporary classical genre in particular may surge again with greater strength and at the same time manifest a rather sharper feeling for delicacy, by engaging with this Argentine speciality: so do the eleven tracks on the quintet’s record comprise at least as many exemplifications of what the fertilisation can deliver.

The album has been brought out on the Gateway label, and is also available for listening on the Soundcloud page of Andreas Borregaard, whom I featured here earlier this year, in connection with another, smaller ensemble, and whose skills on the accordion are well-⁠paired in this one with those of his four fellow musicians, the contrabassist Jesper Egelund, the pianist Anne Holm-⁠Nielsen, the violinist Clara Richter-⁠Bæk, and the guitarist Mikkel Sørensen.

While he too is no stranger to collaboration, much more of a solo artist is the electronic musician Jan Hendrich in San Francisco (although perhaps from time to time this Englishman is to be found back in London), whose work was likewise presented here once before. Over the course of the last several years, alongside his work in the trio Ionophore, he’s been building up a body of music under the moniker Qepe, and it was in this capacity that he released a debut album some months ago on the very young Lone Pursuits label, one which he’s entitled Self Assembly. In this project, to be sure, he’s had some help from his bandmates, Leila Abdul-⁠Rauf having assisted with the vocal and trumpet parts, Ryan Honaker with violin and synthesisers, while the label’s founder Ashley Webb has tendered his finesse on the consoles in the studio. And yet, as the resulting music, as Hendrich says, was fully meant to gestate slowly, during all this it has remained identifiably his own quite personal work, and as a result Self Assembly continues to be inward-⁠turned, imbuing itself from start to finish with the sounds of ideas and of thoughts: spare, cerebral, and full of mood.

Not easy to track down is a musical enterprise by the name of People-⁠Eaters, which just released a debut album, Disincarnate, on the Aetheric label. This label is nearly as difficult to locate, although evidently it’s based in the United Kingdom, but as for the mysterious musician or musicians, home is said to be somewhere in Fiji, although there’s reason to wonder whether this in fact is so – even if the music itself is provided with titles in what seems like a Polynesian language. Their reference to that part of the Pacific, however, may be meant to underscore the interest in cannibalism and cannibals which appears to animate the whole project (it represents, let us hope, only a matter of intellectual fascination): for throughout this anthropophagic album there constantly recur what strike the ear as the sonic transcriptions of those practices, while in one track the latter are spoken of explicitly in a gruesome voice-⁠over, contributed by Joshua Levesque, and therewith are the listeners enveloped in – or rather, swallowed up by the darkness of its sound. Divested of a part of their inner sense of safety, too, at the very least.

Although every care has been taken to remove bones, some may remain. Hence the fastidious and squeamish may wish to abstain from this item in today’s line-⁠up, but those of stronger constitution will be rewarded if they take a chance and brave the encounter with it, if only because, strangely enough, there’s something potentially instructive in this sonic art: it could acquaint the ear with the awe-⁠full tones of the first threnodies as they probably must have sounded once, long ago, and may some day soon sound again. (Each of the tracks on Disincarnate, as the liner-⁠notes state, originated as a threnody to their maker’s late father.)

The album as provided on the label’s Bandcamp page is complete, whereas the version offered on People-⁠Eater’s own Soundcloud page has been modified: two of the tracks are presented there in the form of excerpts. Meanwhile, on its Youtube channel, there are a few videos made for these numbers, but they don’t really extend the experience very far, as this music itself has what it needs to stand alone, and then some.

Next in order is a short sequence of single tracks. The first of these is by the singer and specialist in Indian music Avital Raz. Born in Jerusalem and having made a name for herself both in Israel and in India, where at first she studied and then worked as a full-⁠fledged participant in the independent music scene, Raz has since relocated to Manchester; in that city she is active as a teacher and as a performer. Most recently, on her Soundcloud page she’s uploaded a song entitled “Self Calming and Sorcery” – or better, a chant, suffused with the subtle sound of voices that mean to ensorcel and soothe, and do. Thus her track can sensitise the listener to the existence of one possible nexus of music and medicine.

The second of them is a new demo track on the Soundcloud page of the up-⁠and-⁠coming artist and aspirant musician Jack Stanton, whom I wrote a bit about a couple of years ago and who’s since moved on from Oxford to London. “Dreamboat” is its title, and his brand of synthesiser pop, clever lyrics, and a Depeche Mode-⁠like style of delivery is as beguiling as ever.

Featured here once before is a noted composer and percussionist in New York, specialising in the kulintang, Susie Ibarra; the track recently uploaded on her Soundcloud page, “Of the Invisible,” is a rhythmical excursion through the zone situated between minimal, Filipino, and Cajun music, to name just those three kinds that are most immediately acoustically perceptible. All these streams flow together remarkably well, without however obviating the surprise of such a conjunction, nor our realisation that Ibarra’s piece of music does not revolve upon itself endlessly but actually is fairly linear in its progressions. By the end it leaves us quite elsewhere than the spot from which we all had set out.

Now I shall feature two separate works by a young composer still pursuing his education at the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa, Antoni Schonken, who writes for several instruments individually and for full orchestration, and has a special interest in choral music. Something of the breadth of these interests may be heard already in the first, an early piece for piano and recorder, “Dreams and Dances” (the third movement is especially strong), while in the second, the recent “Six Short Dances for Flute, Cello and Piano,” it’s evident how much more choreographic his musical imagination has become in the interval, how much more attuned it’s gotten to space and its requirements. And also how much more pronounced is its wit!

(The technical level of these two recordings may well leave something to be desired, as Schonken himself admits, in particular as regards the volume, but this doesn’t matter so much now, as it’s early days yet for this promising young composer.)

A tripartite set of “Music for Dance” by Lennart Siebers, a composer and pianist in Arnhem whose work I featured here around a year ago, was posted on his Soundcloud page some months back. Here too the volume has been held low, while the dances which this music is written for would be noticeably spare, presumably, very much self-⁠restricted in their palette of movement – kinetically achromatic, so to speak, but intently carried out – danza povera, perhaps, emerging forth from a spirit of earnestness and willing to work with little.

Today’s penultimate piece is a work for violin by the Singaporean composer Chen Zhangyi, whom I’ve likewise written about before, “Scherzo Nervoso,” and it is indeed tense or on edge. He has loaded its premier by Shi Xiaoxuan – it was the winner of a national competition in his homeland – onto his Soundcloud page.

Last but not least, I should like to end with an entire mixtape, far longer than anything else I’ve included. It is the most recent compilation by that unique Amsterdam DJ Von Rosenthal de la Vegaz, who draws his materials almost exclusively from the corpus of classical music, and he has entitled it “Till Death Do Us Pärt” – yes, he too is known for his wit. As presented on his Soundcloud page, American minimal music is well represented in it, but he makes room for Albinoni and Mahler as well, and of course Arvo Pärt, too, and doesn’t neglect to add some venturesome technical touches. It’s ravishing in all the right places. Bravo!

Postscript. Mikael Seifu writes to inform me that Chris Kelly’s article first appeared on the website of the magazine Fact.