Dan Barrett returns to cathartic electronic experiments on Black Wing’s sophomore LP, No Moon

Photo Courtesy of The Flenser

Any musical work helmed by Connecticut musician Dan Barrett is certain to feature well-executed songs that span fathoms of sonic depth. But, exactly how one of those songs will sound depends entirely on which of his musical monikers it is released under.

Having already created several cult rock classics as Giles Corey and half of the duo Have A Nice Life, Barrett seized the downtime that quarantine brought him over the past year to revive his solo electronic project, Black Wing, and release its long-awaited sophomore effort, No Moon.

Barrett started Black Wing halfway through the last decade as a counterpart to his acoustic project Giles Corey, and No Moon marks Barrett’s first new music under the name since its 2015 debut, …Is Doomed.

During its nearly 60-minute runtime, No Moon presents bleak yet lush landscapes teeming with leisurely synth loops, crunchy drums and meditative mantra-like lyrics that complement the music but never overshadow it. Like the best ambient music, the record succeeds in lulling listeners into a vulnerable state right before jarring them out of it with a 180 degree turn.

For instance, the record’s shortest song, “Always Hurt,” sedates the senses with narcotic instrumentals swells and buried vocals only to be unexpectedly struck by the loud, staticky synths of “Vulnerable.” “Vulnerable,” which sounds like it was made with a cheap, blaring synth, presents the only challenging moment on No Moon. But, beneath its cacophony, there exists hints of a calming beauty.

Another worthwhile element of No Moon is its sampling. Drawing from Have A Nice Life, Barrett continues to incorporate spoken samples to beef up the record’s instrumental parts. None are as awesome as “Destinos” or as creepy as “Cropsey,” but tracks here such as “Vulnerable” and “Choir of Assholes / You Think It’ll Make You Happy but It Won’t” feature noteworthy background chatter. “Choir of Assholes,” the faux-triumphant centerpiece of the album, especially relies on an existential soliloquy that adds a kind of meaning to the song’s dense, moody atmosphere.

Throughout the nine songs that make up No Moon, Barrett threads themes of isolation, longing and loneliness: an apt musical impression of the past year. “Bollywood Apologetics,” the album’s opener and lead single, begins with the relatable lyrics, “I got time to myself but I don’t want it,” a perfect distillation for the age of quarantine. The hazy, quantized track sets the contradictory big-but-insular mood of the album.

But, while many of No Moon’s lyrics evoke existential and experiential laments — see “Is This Real, Jesus Christ” — its songs are musically structured and executed in pop, rock and experimental forms. Tracks such as “Ominous 80s,” “Sleep Amneac” and the 13-minute closer, “Twinkling” possess pop undercurrents with each track using bright, distorted textures and upbeat progressions. It’s a surprising change from Barrett’s past work, which skews to darker tones.

Although Dan Barrett is not primarily known for his electronic works, Black Wing’s No Moon is an essential album in understanding its creator’s full scope of expression. Acoustic or remixable, Barrett delivers songs that reel back the anxieties of our time and suggest the remedy of cosmic introspection.

5/5

Chicago experimental jazz creatives Jason Stein & Adam Shead join forces on challenging but rewarding new album, Synaptic Atlas

Courtesy of Ears & Eyes Records

Envelope-pushing bass clarinetist Jason Stein is no stranger in contributing to spellbinding jazz albums. His impactful playing on Chicago trio Threadbare’s debut earlier this year propelled the record to the cutting edge of contemporary jazz.

And now, unfinished with releasing music in 2020, Stein partners with Chicago journeyman drummer, Adam Shead, to create a new harmonious and chaotic collaboration titled Synaptic Atlas. The eight-track, 43-minute experimental romp is full of background chatter, exclamations and sounds of objects crashing to the ground, giving the impression that the playing of the duo is so powerful that it knocks over everything in its radius. Continue reading Chicago experimental jazz creatives Jason Stein & Adam Shead join forces on challenging but rewarding new album, Synaptic Atlas

Brothertiger frames 80s era synth ballads through post-chillwave ambience on fifth album, Paradise Lost

Courtesy of Satanic Panic Recordings

Paradise Lost, the fifth album by John Jagos as Brothertiger, owes inspiration to both the over-the-top drums and synths of 80s pop music and the sweeping soundscapes of late aughts chillwave. Continue reading Brothertiger frames 80s era synth ballads through post-chillwave ambience on fifth album, Paradise Lost

Whitney reimagines singer-songwriter rarities and popular sing alongs alike on new covers LP, Candid

Photo Courtesy of Secretly Canadian

The one-of-a-kind combination of indie rock and soul that defines Whitney is largely, if not entirely, the result of its two core members, drummer/singer Julien Ehrlich and guitarist Max Kakacek. Following the demise of their former band, Smith Westerns, the Chicago-based musical architects released two excellent albums under their new name and eclipsed their past successes.

Now, for the songwriting duo’s third LP titled Candid, Ehrlich and Kakacek transfer their spotlight toward the band’s touring musicians while reinterpreting ten cherished songs from square one. What initially started last January as an attempt to capture the energy of Whitney’s live performances by recording two or three covers eventually ended up as a full-fledged project, featuring unearthed folk songs from the 70s to modern offerings fewer than ten years old.

Candid establishes the record’s expansive full band sound with Kelela’s tender 2013 track, “Bank Head.” Whitney converts the dreamy R&B number into a sparse soul ballad that strips away its hi hat cymbals and electronic beat in favor of rich piano chords and pulsing physical drums.

Ehrlich’s high-register singing voice, however, perfectly complements the original, though his smooth, soaring vocals shine even more on tracks such as Moondog’s innocent, folksy ballad “High on a Rocky Ledge” and the buoyant melodies SWV’s classic heater, “Rain,” which also touts a luscious bass line fashioned after the original’s Jaco sample.

Although Ehrlich’s singing and Kakacek’s catchy guitar riffs populated most of Whitney’s first two albums, Candid more often yields to an ensemble dynamic with appropriately-placed solo flourishes. Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield makes a remarkable appearance on the second verse of the Appalachian standard, “Take Me Home, Country Road,” giving the rollicking cover a campfire sing along feel, with her gorgeous delivery of the lyrics “painted on the sky” stealing the show.

Whitney also utilizes Will Miller’s sweet, drawn out trumpet playing on songs such as the joyful and declarative cover of Damien Jurado’s “A.M. A.M.” — fans of Wild Wild Country might recognize the original — and especially on the album highlight, “Hammond Song” by The Roches.

Although the original version of “Hammond Song” is full of rich vocal harmonies, Ehrlich’s impassioned singing matches the intensity of several voices alone and Miller’s mid-song trumpet solo provides the ideal melodic release. To an extent, Ehrlich’s vocal inflections on “Hammond Song” sound like he’s posing the questions the song asks inward, which emphasizes the original’s introspective nature. And much like the original, Whitney’s cover is infinitely replayable.

There are a few places throughout Candid’s 33 minute runtime, however, that fail to creatively reinvent its source material. The cover of “Strange Overtones,” written by David Byrne and Brian Eno, never feels too far away from a Talking Heads song. Likewise, while the band might personally enjoy the slide guitar-punctuated instrumental “Something Happen” and the encouraging Labi Siffre tune “Crying, Living, Laughing, Lying,” but they lack the communal energy and experimentation found elsewhere on the record. None of these are bad covers, but to a certain extent, they feel shoehorned into the tracklist with little relation to more thoughtful covers.

At Candid’s best, Whitney uses its full roster to prove that great songwriting transcends genres and, as Kakacek demonstrates with his guitar on the closer, Blaze Foley’s “Rainbows and Ridges,” that it’s possible to speak volumes without singing a single word. But ultimately, Whitney’s third album pays tribute to a handful of beloved songs that also help to decipher the band’s fine-tuned blend of styles.

4/5

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