On March 6, 2012, Minneapolis trio Now, Now released its breakthrough record Threads. And five months later on August 6, 2012, the Curiosity rover landed on Mars. Launched in November 2011, Curiosity was in transit—traveling the vast expanse of space between Earth and Mars—while Cacie Dalager, Bradley Hale and Jess Abbott finished and sent their own creation out into the world. Both of them landed successfully and have gone on to have much longer and fruitful careers than those who planned them had expected. Now six years later, Now, Now has released their next LP, Saved, and Curiosity continues to explore the red planet, searching for signs of life.
I like to ponder the strange series of connections that lead us to the places we visit, the books we read, or the music we listen to. Because so often, the meaning of these things comes not from their content alone, but from the people who traveled with us, gifted them to us, or made us a mixtape. I usually think about that person whenever I hear the track they first shared with me, when we have a connection based closely on a band, or went to a live show together. So when I discover a band I really like on my own, as the opener for another act or plucked from the vast stream online, I tend to think about myself like a good friend: an act of loving myself more through loving the music.
Half a year ago, I had never heard, or heard of, the band Half Waif. But Nandi Rose Plunkett and her collaborators from Brooklyn were touring with Julien Baker, who I had fallen in love with in late 2015 (introduced by an ex-boyfriend). They were coming to Boulder, Colorado in December 2017 and I thought about going, but I was too busy in the middle of graduate school finals. Plus, I thought, I like Phoebe Bridgers (found on my own) better and I'd rather see Overcoats (introduced by a good college friend) in Denver that week. But I did look up Half Waif on Soundcloud, and found myself listening to the best thing since Emily Haines and the Soft Skeleton's 2006 album Knives Don't Have Your Back (introduced by a high school friend). I was blown away by "Tactilian" and became mesmerized by "Overthrown" off her 2016 album, Probable Depths. I listened on repeat in my bedroom, in the morning, the afternoon, before bed. There was something about Plunkett's musical musings that got under my skin, into my mind, and weighed on my heart.
So when I found out she was releasing a new album this spring and coming to Denver, I knew I would be there.
Read my latest for Bearded Gentlemen Music on rapper and singer Dessa's live show in Denver.
In the summer of 2017, Welsh musician Owain Gwilym experimented with making sound art based on scientific data. And not just any data, but 100 years worth of data from four melting Norwegian glaciers. The results of his work will be officially released in the form of an independently produced EP titled Terminal Flow, on March 30, 2018. To celebrate Piano Day, today, March 29, 2018--the 88th day of the year--I reached out to Gwilym to learn more about the release.
Gwilym's goal is to explore how music can be used to communicate the implications of climate change, as art has a way of encouraging emotional responses that science alone does not. Terminal Flow is a fantastic example of putting into sound the retreat of large sheets of ice in faraway places that most people will never see, but that will eventually impact all of us. While the minimal and fragmented compositions are shaped by a process of data sonification and performed by an algorithm, the personal touch is felt in the deliberate timing and unexpected silences between notes. This data was not meant to become melody, yet when listening to "Hellstugu" it's easy to imagine it was always supposed to be expressed on a keyboard. Gwilym's method for turning ice into sound waves starts simply with a chord choice, which is detailed on his website:
To start with a chord sequence, or in some cases one chord inverted, was chosen to function as a 'sound' identifier for each glacier. This is played for four bars to establish itself as a 'hook' representing a glacier. Data from frontal variation length changes were automated to a Max for Live probability plugin, with one year of time in glacier readings being equal to half a bar of time in music. As data indicates glaciers have retreated, the probability parameters lower. This decreases the probability of notes sounding, resulting in chord sequences that represent the glaciers being pulled apart as data indicates their retreat. Consequently, the texture of the pieces and their fragmentation, show the extent to which the glaciers have retreated as a result of climate change over the time period.
There are some plans for live performance and further development, but they won't be shared until later this year. In the meantime, take a listen to Terminal Flow and learn more about its creation below.
If I had the choice of being in any city for a week, had to go see good live music every night, and only had $100 to spend, there's no question where I'd end up: the Twin Cities.
The venues are high quality, cover won't break the bank, parking is often free, the local beer on tap is delicious and the people who show up are the best in town. But the real secret behind the music of Minneapolis and St. Paul is that they are simply hotbeds of creativity, with a plethora of bands writing, releasing, and performing new music like there's no tomorrow. These musicians are constantly reinventing themselves, collaborating with each other, supporting each other's work and making some of the best music on the market today. And if I don't keep up with the scene every week, I know I'm going to miss something good.
Not only has prolific producer Chris Bartels recently released another album under his moniker Elskavon, but his band Bora York is writing again and his electronic-forward experimental project Hi-Fi Cali has several new singles coming out this year. Our homegrown Caroline Smith released a new EP this month, Dessa's new album Chime dropped last month, Hot Date dropped new music and my all-time favorite duo Now, Now releases their next album Saved on May 18th.
But four of my favorite releases this spring come from musicians Lynn O'Brien, Andy Cook, Jennie Lawless and the new band Tacky Annie. I caught up with each of them to learn more about how they're doing and what's inspired their latest creations. Take a read and a listen below!