New Music Friday Vol. 2


No disrespect to Shania Twain, David Crosby, or Miley Cyrus... I'll be focusing my attention on other releases this weekend.


Loney Dear - Loney Dear

As a singer, myself, I am extremely hesitant to criticize someone's singing voice. I have a little easier time discussing how someone uses the voice they have, but the quality of voice a person was born with seems a little too personal to tread on. That said, I have no trouble acknowledging that there are some voices I prefer over others. Some voices serve their music well but take a moment to grow accustomed to. Swedish artist Nils-Emil Svanängen, who goes by Loney Dear, fits into this category for me.

Sweden is a magical land of lingonberries, cinnamon buns, free education, and transcendent pop music. Loney Dear successfully continues that tradition (in pop music. I don't know anything about his cinnamon buns). On this new self-titled album, there's an orchestral use of synth (minus the disco) that is probably somehow in the blood of any Swedish pop artists born in the age of ABBA. But what do I know?

Sweeping orchestral textures aside, what I've heard sounds earnest and plaintive (in that Bon Iver sort of way) and sometimes (maybe) a little disturbed. I'm interested to see if these are all just little chamber pop snippets or if there's a voyage and destination in play.

Ibeyi - Ash

Ibeyi is a duo of twin sisters. They are daughters of a well-known Cuban conguero (Miguel "Angá" Diaz played with the Buena Vista Social Club), born in Cuba and raised in France. 

Debut albums are often loose and raw and are given enough time to create space and fully formulate years of ideas. Ibeyi's self-titled debut from 2015 was no exception. It's a unique mix of Afro-Cuban and Euro-Soul sounds with songs clearly inspired by their family and heritage.

The three tracks I've heard from their new album, Ash, feel like they still incorporate elements of heritage, but they seem to want a foot in the door of the club, replacing sparse soul synths with heavier dance club sounds (and more than a bit of the ubiquitous auto-tune). As seems often the case with artists who discover a brush with widespread appeal, this sophomore album feels a little slicker, a little cleaner, and crafted with a bit more of the goal of being "Popular" music.

That said, it still sounds good, and I can't wait to hear the gems that they're not advancing as singles.

Kamasi Washington - Harmony of Difference

Kamasi Washington has an impressive career. He's played with jazz giants Gerald Wilson, McCoy Tyner, and George Duke, as well as soul singer Raphael Saadiq and Snoop Dogg. His work on Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly directly contributed to what truly captured my interest about that album. (Coincidentally, he also happens to be on the Ibeyi album listed above.)

In 2015, Washington released his aptly-titled album, The Epic; it was immense in all ways.

  • Triple album
  • 17 tracks. Many of them clocking in around 12 minutes or more.
  • Nearly 3 hours long
  • 2 drummers. 2 bass players. strings. chorus... you get the idea.

It's Washington's album, and the man hardly plays until five and a half minutes into the first track, a point at which most artists are halfway into their second song. He knows this is going to be a long journey, and it is. It's an engrossing, if not altogether easy journey to sit through. The arrangements are as full as the album is long, with many grand climaxes punctuated by Washington's sometimes-screaming tone that brings to mind the monster avant-garde saxophonists of more than half-a-century ago. There are simple, beautiful moments in which to breathe, and some fun, funky moments, but this is not exactly multi-tasking music. 

But that's all backstory. Harmony of Difference is a much-shorter single work of six movements composed and performed earlier this year for the Biennial at New York's Whitney Museum of Art. According to Rolling Stone, at an event that otherwise so clearly illustrated the political and social divides our country is currently experiencing, "Washington's work eloquently proposes coexistence and collaboration," with the movements titled Desire, Humility, Knowledge, Perspective, Integrity, and Truth.

I've only heard "Truth," the final movement of the piece, which, unfortunately, is the end of the story without the context of experiencing the beginning and middle. Its arrangement and character seem to fit nicely alongside much of his work from The Epic, and I'm looking forward to hearing the entire piece as a whole.

At the Whitney, there was accompanying video to the piece. Washington mentions in the Rolling Stone article that he was hoping there'd be a way to bring the piece to people's homes. I don't know if he plans on making available the video ingredient for the entire album, but "Truth" is on YouTube. I assume this is the video portion that accompanied the piece at the Whitney.