New Music Friday Vol. 15

Gorgeous folk music from California and Mexico, strong indie-pop pedigree, a dark electro-collage, and not-Yanni.


Joan As Police Woman - Damned Devotion

I've made this observation in one way or another before. The indie artist of 10 years ago has generally evolved from favoring chamber music inspired combinations of strings and horns and piano into a full embrace of electronic sounds, often creating minimal backdrops and ambient soundscapes. In that regard, Joan Wasser of Joan as Police Woman appears to be along for the evolutionary shift.

Her previous album, Let it Be You, was also headed in this direction, and while I miss some of those chamber music flourishes, her brand of indie music still stands up within the new context. This time out, her voice sounds a little wearier, but perhaps to good effect.

Wasser has worked with Sheryl Crow, Rufus Wainwright, Scissor Sisters, Antony and the Johnsons, Joseph Arthur, and many, many more. Other musicians loved her long before she dialed in her own project, and she clearly deserves the love.

Natalia Lafourcade - Musas, Vol. 2

How's your Mexican indie pop knowledge? Mine's not so good. Neither is my Spanish, but that doesn't stop me from listening to Latin American music occasionally. One of the few things I know for certain is that I love Natalia Lafourcade. She is a Mexican artist who I discovered upon the release of her second solo album Hu Hu Hu, and I absolutely loved it.

Her third album, Mujer Divina, saw her dip her toe in the water of the "Great Mexican Songbook," if you will (I just made that up, so maybe you won't), by adapting songs from the celebrated early- to mid-20th Century Mexican songwriter, Agustín Lara.

Whereas that album took a decidedly modern approach to its collection of old tunes, her fifth album, Musas, stripped away any contemporary pretense, and Lafourcade collected an album's worth of traditional Mexican songs and kept it steeped in their tradition. She even wrote a few brilliant songs in the same style, and all of this music is beautifully and appropriately reverent.

This latest release is the second volume of these traditional tunes. As with the first one, the production is crisp and focuses on the songwriting and Lafourcade's crystal clear, expressive voice. I admittedly don't have a lot of experience with traditional Mexican music, but I feel confident that these are beautiful recordings that any lover of traditional folkloric music can be proud of.

*Additional bonus tidbit of useless info related to Lafourcade's Musas album can be found at the end of today's post.

Son Lux - Brighter Wounds

Son Lux makes wild, heavily looped, genre-bending kind of music. A trio of drums, guitar, and a front-man who composes, sings, and mans the keyboard and laptop, their music can be dark and stirring or bright and uplifting.

Front-man Ryan Lott creates a very unique electronic collage through his compositions and production. I fell in love with their album Laterns in 2013, and I got to see them live in support of that record. I think the kind of music they make pushes boundaries and uses technology in unique and marvelous ways. 

According to the folks at NPR, this record is a bit darker than their previous releases, reflecting on loss and uncertainty. I haven't digested the whole thing yet, but I'm excited about taking the ride.

Alela Diane - Cusp

I'm a sucker for a folksy singer-songwriter. I first heard Alela Diane on her beautiful 2009 sophomore effort, To Be Still. I've casually kept tabs of her subsequent releases, and most of her music is classic, acoustic, California folk music. This is music in the same vein as The Staves and First Aid Kit, both of whom I have written about in earlier posts. if you enjoy a confident alt-folk kind of a voice with a subtle twang, Diane deserves a moment of your time.

GoGo Penguin - A Humdrum Star

I guess I'm still trying to figure out how to write about certain things. I'm not sure what to say about an artist or group I have generally enjoyed in the past, but whose latest project might not necessarily live up to those expectations. I mean, someone might still enjoy the new output as much as I enjoyed the earlier efforts, so I don't want to immediately discount it, I guess.

(How's that for an intro?) And so it goes with GoGo Penguin. I have mostly enjoyed their particular modern approach to jazz. It's not the only modern approach, but I've enjoyed its chill characteristics. The drummer plays intricate, high-intensity drum beats that draw from EDM influences, the bass holds it down with some inventive grooves, and the pianist is a mostly atmospheric jazz improviser.

Well, the atmospheric piano was dialed up an extra notch (or down, depending on your perspective). Any instrumental recording with a piano that has this much reverb on it and is so heavily loaded with ostinato patterns would have been immediately classified as New Age in the ‘90s. Where did New Age go? Did you know that Yanni is still making records?

To be clear, this isn't Yanni. That sounds worse than I mean it. If you like your background music with a jazz bent, you might like this.

*Lafourcade's previous album, Musas, contains a song by Agustín Lara called "Te Vi Pasar." Any jazz or standards nut will recognize the melody immediately as Hoagy Carmichael's "The Nearness of You." Naturally, when I heard it, I assumed it was a Spanish translation. Nope. Different song, different composer.

My skepticism got the better of me. Unfortunately, it's very easy for me to assume that some successful white dude stole some other moderately successful Mexican composer's song. So I did a little surface digging on the internet, and it actually seems more likely that the story went the other way around. Apparently, Lara often "found inspiration" in other people's music. I don't know how true any of that is, but I thought it was a funny observation.

Good artists copy, great artists steal. I might have stolen that from somewhere.

Brian HinmanComment