Hide Your Castles in the Water
New reviews of Yasmin Martin, Lucy Liyou, Byron Westbrook, Atsuko Hatano, Sonny Rollins, and more...
It’s the first Bandcamp Friday of the year and while I’m not going to publish a long list of new offerings and gems that people are releasing today, if you check my Twitter, I’ll be rambling a bit (always!) and dropping some links there throughout the day. Also, everything in these past few issues are all worth grabbing today if you haven’t already. Additionally, I’m thrilled to announce a new release on The Jewel Garden today - a split between my project, The North Sea, and hyacinth. You may be familiar with hyacinth’s work as qualchan. (the name he used previously), but I’m excited to offer up the first slice of music from someone other than myself on the label. Also, D. Norsen’s art for this one is absolutely bananas.
Expect some interviews here soon. I’ve got one (for sure) in the works for Foxy Digitalis and a couple other ideas brewing, too. I interviewed Laraaji earlier this week for another publication and it reminded me how much I love doing interviews and connecting with others that way. It didn’t hurt that Laraaji is one of the best humans around. That man is seriously a treasure. I was also lucky enough to attend his deep listening masterclass he did with Stuk this week. Amazing. I’ll update everyone on where the interview is being published soon.
On to the rest here… a lot of great music this week from all over the place. I honestly cannot get enough of this Yasmin Williams album. Incredible work. I’m also hopeful I will finish my Breath of the Wild piece I’ve been working on to publish this week. We’ll see. Until next time, stay safe and as ever, thanks for reading.
Yasmin Williams Urban Driftwood (Spinster)
Sometimes I hear a piece of music that instantly evokes such a vivid, vibrant world of imagination in the first few minutes that I have no choice but to write something about it. Spellbinding as the moment is, it’s hard to do it justice, but for me, there’s still an intense desire to try; to find words and ideas that will, at the very least, recall that first dance with the music. Yasmin Williams’ sublime Urban Driftwood demands that attention. Within about 20 seconds of opener “Sunshowers,” I was hooked. By the end, I could barely catch my breath.
Solo guitar music is often a mixed bag, but when a performance clicks there aren’t many modes of expression that hit me as hard. So much in the solo guitar style, even the good stuff, isn't necessarily innovative or new, but Williams’ sound and style is unlike anything, or anyone, else. She has as much, if not more, in common with the meditative aspects of new age or rhythms of hip hop as she does with the Fahey or Basho schools of Appalachia fingerpicking. Structurally her songs even get into pop zones with verse-chorus-verse sequences not feeling out of place. One of the first videos I saw of her playing was this performance of “Through the Woods” and I was floored:
It isn’t just her lap-style of playing or how she handles the guitar more like a keyboard, but also how she adds rhythms in specific passages with either tap shoes, the body of the guitar, or the kalimba she’s attached to the instrument that elevate her work to a new level. Her technical prowess is beyond description, but her talent as a songwriter is the real magic that she uses to conjure deeply emotional, all consuming worlds with her sound. Within the first few chords of “Juvenescence,” I’m transported to the moment I was boarding a plane, leaving home and everything I’d known to take a massive risk in my life. Balanced between fear and excitement, holding on to the promise of something greater, we find meaning. We find connection. We find hope. Martin has lived that and breathes it like the sweetest air on Urban Driftwood.
Meandering through the album is a timeless journey through important, and at times painful, memories. Williams’ own experience resonates throughout Urban Driftwood and that unique vision adds a deeper sense of place and stronger connections to hold onto. What an incredible experience it is to hear an artist come into their own and be able to sit back and appreciate the work, the vision, and the belief that gets them there. She is challenging the ideas I have around guitar music and what is possible. Yasmin Williams is already a force, but she’s still only scratching the surface of how deep she can ultimately go.
Lucy Liyou Patience (Full Spectrum)
Lucy Liyou makes me cry and that’s a good thing. Their debut album, Welfare, was a kaleidoscopic soundscape jumping between moods and styles with elegance. Practice continues that journey, but in a way that feels more expansive and closer than ever at the same time. So much of what makes their music so affecting is the vulnerability woven throughout. Even though text-to-speech tries to add distance, there’s no way to keep this music at an arm’s length. It will devour you.
Practice is such a soft word. Liyou’s gently whispered confessions on “September 5” are uncomfortable at first but as they play piano, lamenting lost moments and every day moments, it becomes a comforting shawl. Emptiness is replaced by a full cup, holding you close in the darkness. Pacing is everything on “September 5” and as it crawls ahead, it draws you deeper into Liyou’s world. It’s a stunning piece of music that pushes every button I didn’t even know I had.
Practice can also have edges; can also be difficult. Liyou’s use of text-to-speech acts as an accent or exclamation point. Their compositions - whether piano, electronics, or otherwise - in conjunction with hiss-laden every day field recordings are a world unto themselves; the mechanized voice another color in the dense palette. With “How to build an automaton,” Liyou’s sound world is opaque and watery, a viscous slurry of unconscious thought that feels like you’re hallucinating in a sensory-deprivation tank. Grief-stricken and weary for a world that is no longer listening, any tiny speck of light is a beacon to aim for. It’s the thinnest of threads to grab. When the just-slightly-slowed voice calls out “What could break me?” the only thing that seems right is ‘just about anything.’
That’s how I always end up with Lucy Liyou’s music: broken down, teary eyed, and deliriously appreciative. They put so much of themselves into their work that you can’t help but let yourself go and give space to all the darkest recesses of your mind. Practice is about forming those habits by giving in to things you try to avoid and holding them for a minute or two before sending them back to the ether. Embracing those moments will get you farther in the end and Practice is a journey through that dark quarter and, hopefully, back into someplace lighter.
Byron Westbrook Distortion Hue (Hands In The Dark)
Visceral to the point of being transcendent, Byron Westbrook’s Hue, his latest for Hands in the Dark, is massive. Thick, atmospheric drones boil over and eventually scatter into the wind, finding intricate paths and subdued zones beneath the expansive ether. Cathartic as it may be, there’s an inward nature to Hue that is intimate yet striking.
Prevailing throughout is the tension of our current moment; rife with anxiety filtered through blistering synthesizer tones and explorations. Westbrook flits between moods, but beneath it all is this sense of something foreboding just around the bend. “Tunnel Visioning” takes sparse rhythms apart and folds in a paranoid bass sequence to turn up the apprehension to its breaking point. Paired with “Ricochet Waves” and it’s flying arpeggios, a dichotomy emerges. Horror underlies everything, though. Even these hopeful, sunkissed passages can’t overcome the darkness awaiting on the back side. “Ricochet Waves” devolves into grey echoes.
There’s a controlled chaos to tracks like “Electric Blued” and “Still Ringing Red” that adds heat to the atmosphere. Each second further feels closer to going over the edge. Complex layers of sound intertwine, building an aural mass that exquisitely massages your skull. Westbrook is a wizard, conjuring deafening spirits that serve as constant reminders of the bodies left in society’s wake this past year. It’s a difficult listen at times, but as the light seeps into the sanguine tones of closer “Yellow Horizon Line,” you realize it was all worth it.
Solid Waste City of the Cosmos (Distant Bloom)
Inside the silver goop, time stands still as Solid Waste’s sounds flow like a viscous river of spectral delight. This former trio of St. Louisans ride a wave of aural drifts and synthesized dreams into a lost future. City of the Cosmos creates a new world through weightless, heady drones. It connects on an astral level, aims directly for the third eye and simply moves through the made up histories of the imagined city weaving new connections between all the inhabitants. This music exists beyond itself.
Skyward melodies break out of the arpeggiated murk of “Designing Waterfalls,” fleeing from the lab where nature is constrained but dreams of living free. It’s such an evocative title. An earnestness saturates the lead, filtering out all the negative energy as a new dawn emerges. The title track shimmers like sun rays bouncing off towering futuristic skyscrapers creating dancing prisms of light through the streets. Hypnotic and enticing, Solid Waste continue building a world I want to live in.
It’s a shame I wasn’t aware of this group until years after they disbanded, but am thankful that City of the Cosmos is finally seeing the light of day. Liquid music like this hits me in all the right spots. As the longform “Deep Forest Portal” (another fantastic song title!) crawls through the lush green undergrowth, I feel surrounded and held close by the warm, rich tones. Solid Waste was onto something and if they don’t ever revisit these zones, at least we can visit for a little while longer.
Atsuko Hatano Fossilized Dreams (Self-Released)
I honestly don’t remember how I stumbled onto Atsuko Hatano’s beautiful, melancholic compositions last summer, but I’ve been hooked since. Her latest album, Fossilized Dreams, follows in familiar footsteps with timeless drones built around violin and effects, slowly rising and falling like a body taking its final breaths. Both “Bear’s Den” and the first half of “Brass Shoes'' act as a compass pointing north, knowing the only way to find the beauty she seeks is through the dark and cold. Pouring out the other side of “Brass Shoes,” Hatano’s voice emerges as a beacon pointing to the promised land. Beautifully sculpted like a glass-blown flame, her stretched-out string melodies put you right to sleep in a soft, warm embrace.
City of Dawn Avenoir (Ingrown)
I also released an album called Avenoir recently so I was already biased toward City of Dawn’s album of the same name because, well… it’s a great word. On City of Dawn’s Avenoir, a hazy spirit permeates the entire affair. Cool, airy drones overlay field recordings, all swimming in an echoing, gauzy pool. This is morning music. Wistful lamentations hover on the enchanting “Solivgant,” a gentle song hanging over an endless abyss. It sings with sadness, hoping each breath is not the last as it unfolds a glacial pace. “Euphoria” is the flipside, the sound I imagine when bright rays of sun pierce through overcast skies for the first time in days. It promises something better on a bed of beaming synths. City of Dawn create worlds I want to inhabit and explore and Avenoir is a lovely introduction to their work.
Sonny Rollins Rollins in Holland: The 1967 Studio & Live Recordings (Resonance)
Sonny Rollins has one of the greatest jazz nicknames of all time. When you hear ‘Saxophone Colossus,’ you picture a towering, imposing figure that will own any room he walks into or any stage he graces with his presence. In that, it’s spot-on. On this officially sanctioned (Rollins himself signed off on it) collects three unreleased sessions from Holland in 1967 and the wide array of offerings here will light up any room. While the studio recordings are tight and cool, the live recordings are where the serious grooves live. Solid as the backup band is, they are simply laying the groundwork for Rollins to wail and he absolutely lets it rip. I might not call this essential, but it’s a damn cool document and worth it for anyone who digs Rollins’ flames.