Music To Your Ears: Wye Oak, Elephant Tree, Wilma Archer, Garganjua, Porches
Every week I will bring you an awesome collection of some the best upcoming alternative music out there that might just tickle your fancy. Kicking off this week with the astoundingly beautiful vocals and searing cinematic soundscapes of Wye Oak. Check out my recommended tuneage to get you through the week.
For over a decade, Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack have collaborated under the moniker Wye Oak, a band known for “forging an audacious creative path” (NPR Music). Their partnership, long imbued with a sense of ambition and restlessness, has transcended genre, growing and shifting over the course of five critically acclaimed full-length records, including last year’s The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs.
The past few years have been an especially fruitful period for the duo outside of Wye Oak—including releases from their solo projects, Wasner’s Flock of Dimes and Stack’s Joyero; touring as members of Bon Iver, Sylvan Esso, and Lambchop; as well as collaborating as producers, composers, and multi-instrumentalists with everyone from Brooklyn Youth Chorus and Metropolis Ensemble to Deerhoof, Helado Negro, and Madeline Kenney. Wasner and Stack have been intrinsically woven into the fabric of the progressive musical landscape of the past decade.
Along the way, the duo have prioritized setting aside time to rediscover why their collaboration has been an integral part of their creative expression for close to 15 years. With Wasner and Stack living in the same city (their adopted home of Durham, NC) for the first time since 2012, they have begun to chart a new path. Suddenly free to re-examine and rework the pre-existing confines of their partnership, they returned to the studio in the summer of 2019. The result is the most generous and daring material of their career. The first look into this new music is the searing single “Fortune,” a bombastic excavation of change and loss, mourning, and resilience. “Fortune” is a high-water mark in an already celebrated catalogue—indicative of the kinetic propulsion with which Wasner and Stack push their art forward.
This song’s central metaphor likens the deepening of a relationship to the feeling of ascending to the top of a very tall place. There’s something to be seen (or learned, or experienced) once you arrive, but for some there is also a fear that increases with every step upwards. You say it’s worth it for the view, but it’s impossible to know if that’s true until you get there to see it with your own eyes.
Check out the breathtakingly stunning “Fortune” here too. If you like Kate Bush and Tori Amos, this is going to break your heart with joy.
After four years of honing their sound on the international live circuit, London based prog rock and doom artisans Elephant Tree are back with their highly anticipated third album Habits. Opening on a hazy note of foreboding dread on “Wake.Repeat (Intro)”, the band explode into life soon after and rarely let up.
Every aspect of Elephant Tree’s previously established sound has been amplified to 11 and fine-tuned to perfection. The heavy, driving, groove holds a more calculated rhythmic swing counterbalanced with leads that hold a soberingly clear gentleness. This is all tied together with vocals that possess a charming hedonism to their timbre, which is sure to win over the lush in all of us.
The union of sonic density and yearning is captured wonderfully, thanks in no small part to the bands production choice of The Church Studios (U2, Nick Cave, The Jesus and Mary Chain and Adele amongst others).
Album highlights “Sails”, “Bird” and “Wasted” contain choruses built for big rooms and song arrangements that Billy Corgan himself would be envious of, where “Fall Chorus” and closer “Broken Nails” allow the aforementioned haze to simmer with crystalline beauty.
If the sound of Kyuss and Smashing Pumpkins partying with Hunter S. Thompson and Cult Of Luna in an arena sounds like a good time, then this is the album for you.
If there’s any justice, 2020 will be the year Elephant Tree bloom out of best kept underground secret into a household name.
A Western Circular is Will Archer’s debut under his new nom-de-plume, following early EPs and an album under the now-retired Slime moniker.
Alongside the announcement, he shares a new track, “Last Sniff”, featuring MF DOOM. The video, directed by Jesse Collett, is available to watch now.
Within A Western Circular lies an exciting and varied crew of guest artists including MF DOOM, Samuel T. Herring (of Future Islands), Sudan Archives, and Laura Groves, who contribute vocals to his rich, dexterous compositions. These collaborations are the by-product of several years of writing and producing—he’s credited on debut albums by Sudan Archives (co-writing lead single “Confessions”) and Nilüfer Yanya (producing seven songs, and co-writing one, “Paralysed”). He’s also worked with Jessie Ware and Celeste.
An album that’s been in the works for the past half-decade, A Western Circular is a bold, reflective piece that directly relates to Archer’s personal experiences of life and death, centered on one particular week where they breathed with equal intensity. The record’s themes of greed, love and loyalty all relate back to that specific time. Inspired by author John Fante, A Western Circular is a spiritual voyage through life’s pushing and pulling, and a poignant reflection on the duality of the human condition: finding beauty in the rough, sadness in the bright.
On the record, Archer has uncovered new depths and forged an invigorating singular sound—supple and multi-layered, honoring his acoustic heritage and influence, while building a sonic universe that commands contemporary references to everything from Frank Zappa to Yasuaki Shimuzu, Robert Wyatt to Arthur Russell.
The Wilma Archer Group will perform live as a specially curated 7-piece band at London’s Chat’s Palace on June 10th; tickets are available at wilmaarcher.com.
GARGANJUA – TOWARD THE SUN
OUT NOW – STREAM THE ALBUM HERE from Holy Roar Records
From the opening monologue’s transition into first track proper, “The New Sun” it’s immediately transparent that UK progressive doom merchants Garganjua are cutting onto another plain entirely with their third album Toward The Sun.
Musing on universal truths and the importance of grounding oneself in the present, the band’s sound flits between polarities of crushing rhythms and cacophony whilst colouring in the dark with their trademark expansive melodicism.
Through sonically exploring what it means to spiritually transcend, the album’s thematically grandiose trilogy of tracks (“Transcending”, “Transcendence” & ‘”To Ascend (Awakening)”) will surely draw parallels to greats such as Pallbearer, Bossk and Elder in its abandonment of compositional and genre confines. Coupled with the feverish dynamism of cuts such as “Mire” and “Light Bearer”, it’s hard to argue against the four piece’s own ascendency being anything short of breathtaking.
Forging their own path through a slow and steady refinement of their sound and unfaltering belief in their artistic vision, Garganjua’s latest offering feels as otherworldly and monolithic as it does rooted in its own humanity and hope.
Featuring contributions from Zsela, and Dev Hynes, and with co-production by Jacob Portrait, Ricky Music expands on the Porches discography (The House; Pool;Slow Dance In The Cosmos) by delivering 11 emotionally open, cracked-glass synthpop songs.
North American tour dates have also been announced, and will be on sale Friday, January 24 at 10 a.m. local. Listed below; tickets available at porchesmusic.com.
About the album, Maine says:
My new album, Ricky Music, was written and recorded between Dec 2017 and the spring of 2019. Mostly in New York at my apartment, but some of it in Chicago, Los Angeles, and various cities while touring around Europe. This record is an account of the beauty, confusion, anger, joy and sadness I experienced during that time. I think I was as lost as I was madly in love. In these songs I hear myself sometimes desperate for clarity, and other times, having enough perspective to laugh at myself in some of my darkest moments. That’s sort of what this album is about, I hope you enjoy it.
With the album announcement comes a new song – “Do U Wanna” – and a video for the song directed by prior Porches collaborator Nick Harwood (videos for “Country” and “Goodbye”).
““Do U Wanna” is a song about looking at yourself and realizing the disparity between how you’d like to act and how you actually act. The fun you vs. the isolated you. I feel like with the refrain I’m almost taunting myself to get up and do something.” – Maine
That’s it for this week. Have you got new music I should be listening to? Let me know your recommendations in the comments and on social media. Thank you for listening.