Sorry, guys. I’ve just got a lot of going on in my life right now dividing my attention and I really don’t have the ability to update this blog as much as I like (not something I’ve ever been really great with, to be honest). Hopefully, I’ll be able to get back to it soon, but I can’t make any guarantees. Thanks for reading.
Is it weird that the first word that comes to my mind as a descriptor of Mock Sun vocalist Jami Kali’s first solo album, “Holy Drone” (released and performed under the name Kali Ma and the Garland of Arms), is “erotic”?
Don’t take that the wrong way; this isn’t porno funk music, and it’s not cheeseball “Playboy After Dark” jazz, either. It’s not raunchy or aggressively sexual or anything. In fact, I’d argue it’s not even actively sexual. But it is sensual. It’s slithery and ethereal, yet beat-driven and hip-shakingly danceable.
Tracks like “Via Dolorosa,” “Last Rites” and “Happily Without the Muses” evoke long treks through lush faraway jungles. They weave back and forth, in and out of Eastern instrumentation, slithery melodies and tribal rhythms. Steamy and exotic, you can practically feel the sweat clinging to your skin as a haze of heat makes the landscape shimmer before you.
“Dream Drop,” “Olive Astronaut” and “Cut to Fit” infuse things with a more electronic, trip-hop style. The former track’s drugged, laidback demeanor obscures a ceaseless forward momentum that pulls you into its consciousness-skewering smoke-world where serpentine shapes uncoil out of blinking pink-and-blue clouds and then twist, wither and vanish again just as quickly.
I’ve never “chased the dragon,” but I can’t imagine using opium could be much different from listening to “Holy Drone.”
Meanwhile, the latter two tracks are all aggressive, radioactive darkness, exuding an air of cool menace. “Cut to Fit,” thumps and writhes devilishly like a cyborg succubus, while “Olive Astronaut” is like an alligator with glittery black eyes pretending to be a log so as to lure you in.
It’s deceptively akin to “Excess Obsess,” wherein the carnivalesque jauntiness comes with a side of sly con-artistry, as if it’s trying to trick you into coming into some shady sideshow tent so it can dazzle you with sword-swallowers and snake-charmers while it picks your pocket clean.
“Clot” has a slightly similarly feel, part circus monkey-grinder, part broken ballerina music-box, but more melancholic.
Where “Blue Jeans” (a Lan Del Rey cover) and “Null” paint in shades of moody minimalism, creating a vacuum void wherein Kali’s songcraft can ring out and echo infinitely, “Core Rapport” mixes layered, ascending vocals with fragile xylophone tones to create an alien galaxy, storms of feverish chaos swirling around a chilly core of super-gravity. “Corvus Corax” occupies that same alternate universe, but crash-lands its needle-nose spaceship onto some dusky, pastoral forest-planet, taking time to explore the rustic wilderness with folky glee.
All throughout, Kali’s beatnik, bohemian wordplay and ghostly one-of-a-kind vocals (often vacillating between a breathy whisper and a hypnotizing/hypnotized croon, both guaranteed to give you goosebumps) tie together the snaking threads of sound and atmosphere, like a Greek oracle breathing in psychotropic fumes, then distilling her hallucinations into prophetic hymns and enigmatic omens.
I’m sorry. Is my prose a little bit too purple? It’s hard not to gush. Anyone familiar with my tastes (and this blog) shouldn’t be surprised. I got similarly misty-eyed and over-excited over every single one of Mock Sun’s albums, as well as the solo album from Kali’s Mock Sun conspirator Mark Wohl. It’s not just mindless adoration, though (well, okay, maybe a little ::swoon::)
There’s a reason why all those Mock Sun albums grab hold of me so strongly, and it’s the same reason “Holy Drone” grabs me, despite its stylistic differences from Mock Sun’s material. There is sincerity here, as well as a genuine desire to grow and experiment in the outer fringes of “genre.” It’s a mesmerizing thing to behold.
All in all, Kali Ma and the Garland of Arms is, to me, a near-perfect embodiment of the spirit of Art-with-a-capital-A. A little bit hippie and a little bit punk. A little bit Janis Joplin, a little bit Patti Smith. Hard to describe, but, in the end, challenging, electrifying and utterly impeccable.
Choice cuts: “Dream Drop,” “Blue Jeans,” “Cut to Fit,” “Core Rapport”
I don’t drink. But, if I did, I’d want to listen to the new Condition Oakland album, “Catholic Presidents,” while doing so. Each of its 11 tracks is a braying hymn of drunken discontent, equal parts coal-town melancholy, familial affection and working-class frustration.
Below, Tyler Troutman, vocalist/guitarist/mandolin-player for the Ashland-based folk-punks, tells me a little about the inspiration behind those, and also answers the age-old question: boxers or briefs?
Those familiar with A Social State and A Fire with Friends, two of the bands sharing members with Scranton’s Esta Coda, will find a lot of love on this group’s debut EP, “Kindness.” Delivering five tracks of gripping, uplifting alt-rock, “Kindness” forgoes the artiness of A Fire with Friends and the aggressiveness of A Social State in favor of polished pop-hooks and a solid-but-lightweight sound that soars, and invites you to come along for the flight.
The opening title track establishes the status quo without a moment’s hesitation. Melody-driven songcraft animates crisp ‘n’ clean, airy vocals, guitars that charm as well as chug, and authoritative, driving drumbeats. It’s a little bit Jimmy Eat World, a little bit Coldplay.
From the straight-ahead indie-emo of “Skeptic” to the atmospheric push-and-pull of “Henny Penny” to the deceptively sunny acoustic-and-keys combo of “All You Got” to the anthemic dynamism of album-closer “Fireworks” (appropriately band member Dan Rosler’s favorite track, as it’s certainly a standout), there’s not a single track on “Kindness” that isn’t ready for radio play, or for getting an entire arena crowd swaying ‘n’ singing along.
Interestingly, the bright, refreshing sound is almost in direct contrast with the darker shade of the lyrics here. A few selections:
From the title track, …
“This unity is bullshit / It only applies when you’re the one who benefits / I’m at war with my decisions / And worsening.”
From “Skeptic,” …
“I’m tired of feeding your addiction / This one’s mine / And I picture you standing in the kitchen / Blade to skin.”
From “All You Got,” …
“She’s running too fast / In the right place at the wrong time / I’m afraid this won’t last / I know we both have made an effort once or twice / If I could speak from my mind / I would be telling her why but scared to hear her reply.”
Far from being just a juxtaposition of gloomy thoughts with glittery packaging, though, the at-first apparent contradiction between theme and style in Esta Coda’s music ultimately reveals itself a mature, multidimensional treatment of the subject matters. It treats these ideas in a non-idealized (whether that be the optimist or pessimist ideal) fashion, as real-world emotional concerns with strongly felt emotional effects.
Though the lyrical narratives never truly resolve themselves, they don’t simply stew in the shadows either. Instead, by song’s end, they showcase a noticeable tonal shift that indicates the negativities of life and love are unavoidable realities, but that our narrator nevertheless, for better or worse, doesn’t stop trying, doesn’t stop hoping for something better.
“I read the prophets on the city wall / And hear more poets crammed inside our fire halls,” proclaim the final words of the album‘s title track, rich with imagery culled from Esta Coda’s local, NEPA roots. “So keep your ears on the radio / ‘Cause you never know.”
Choice cuts: “Henny Penny,” “All You Got,” “Fireworks”