EELS – ‘Earth To Dora’

Sounds like … dark tales of misery before the light comes in.

Oh the tragedy. How life seems to be full of it sometimes. How quickly one’s sentiment can drop from bliss to misery. How much pain and discomfort we have to endure, yet still we find ourselves getting up in the morning even long after the last shimmer of hope or motivation has vanished. We hold on. We keep going. Strangely enough, sometimes without knowing the reason why the only way is forward. Mark Oliver Everett aka EELS has created the perfect accompanying soundtrack to this particular emotion. In fact, over a span of time that includes thirteen albums to date. Now returning with his latest work Earth To Dora, Everett is shaping a truly fitting soundscape to a wide range of feelings from disappointment, tragedy, but also the occasional optimism once again. Something only he knows how to convey with just the right kind of bittersweet tinge – plunging into dark moments, telling tales of tough times as well as leaving a door open for more lighthearted anecdotes. All swirling around the difficulties of interpersonal relationships we can – sooner or later – sympathize with. Being reminded of our own worries and our longing to get back on the road to happiness even when the world around us looks rather grim. 

Recorded at the EELS’ Los Feliz studio in California just before the pandemic hit, Earth To Dora explores these ups and downs (mainly downs) of those small and big tragedies of life that are not always autobiographical as likes to declare. Stories of grief, heartache and vulnerability that already seem to be a part of his DNA that nourishes every new EELS album. Surprisingly, this time E’s language seems more direct and he often refrains from using metaphorical language or a poetic narrative keeping it simple instead, but not shying away from confrontation. The sad clown gracing the cover artwork resembling the overall sentiment of the album. There may be less humour and sarcasm than usual in these new songs,  two cornerstones in E’s work, but it is an album which despite all the hurt feelings reminds us what is really crucial in our lives underneath all the arguing and tension. There is light. Sometimes, it is just a little hard to find. Keeping searching for it. E surely does. (Annett Bonkowski)

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Mourn – ‘Self Worth’

Sounds like … empowering Riot Grrrl-spirit.

The fourth album of Barcelona based post-punk band Mourn comes along with changes. Changes in the band’s environment that eventually led to changes in the band itself. After having released their critically acclaimed self-titled debut record in 2014 with all of them still being minors, followed by Ha, Ha, He (2016) and Sorpresa Familia (2018), the band made a name for themselves by touring around the globe. And by doing so they got confronted with obstacles and burdens non-male musicians have to deal with in a patriarchal world. These experiences led to frustration and anger but also to the insight, not to evaluate one self’s worth by judgements of others. That’s how Self Worth began to take shape. And that’s also the reason the band had to separate themselves from their former drummer and the negatives vibes, surrounding him. “I think his departure was something that had to happen. We no longer understood each other. And it got to the point where it wasn’t comfortable, either on tour or in rehearsals. So it was a very positive change. “ Carla, one part of Mourn’s main songwriter duo, explained.

Being inseparable since high school, Carla Pérez and Jazz Rodríguez work on the lyrics together, exchanging notebooks and finishing each other’s sentences. The result is matured view on things, embedded in a corresponding matured sound reaching from punk-infected indie rock, gloomy wave sounds and noisy post-punk outbreaks. “I think we weren’t just ourselves before. Now we’ve let go. We’ve finally pushed the things that had to come out – things that we wanted to say and play.” Without hiding behind metaphoric constructs, Carla and Jazz keep the lyrics simple and straight. Displaying a quite devastating picture of a toxic environment the young women are confronted with, but at the same time empowering themselves in calling out inequalities and in finding a way of dealing with it. “I don’t really trust men” is only one of the many insights that resulted of their experiences growing up. Self Worth is an act of anarchy. Loud and without fear of disrupting the status quo while holding up the Riot Grrrl-spirit. (Abhilash Arackal)

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Southern Shores – ‘Siena’

Sounds like … tropical escapism into a colourful summer dream.

The potential of music is not just about soundtracking our everyday lives but also about creating a world of its own, a fictionalized place that you can only access via the sound itself. If this is done in a correct way you really feel that imaginary place and want to desperately visit it in real life. Over the past decade Canadian duo Southern Shores slowly but steady painted their own fictional world in the brightest musical colours. Their latest album Siena is the current peak of their story that started in 2011 with the EP Atlantic. One again, Jamie Townsend and Ben Dalton created an exciting and vibrant world of dreamy pop-infected electronica that is filled with multiple influences and fuelled by an undeniable love for music, sounds and samples. The first half of the new record was already released as an EP back in June but now the entire Siena package feels like it gives this tropical daydream the fitting length it deserves. You really sense the love for referential details and tiny little moments in these songs; they feel like familiar friends and spread a warm notion of nostalgia due to the group’s devotion to samples. In terms of attitude they might channel of The Avalanches while the dreamy and trippy vibe of the Southern Shores sound also reminds me of short-lived Swedish groups Air France and Korallreven (I’m pretty sure the latter one gets sampled on Brisa).

Listening to the sound of the Canadian two-piece really feels like looking through a kaleidoscope. Harmony and brightness dominate the album right from the moment the gentle sea of strings of opening Saes start the journey. Vocal samples spread messages like “I really feel free” and “I’m not scared anymore” … and that’s the sort of vibe they’re going for on Siena. Guitars, flutes and percussion exist right next to the electronic beats that recall Balearic 80s pop as well as acid house moments although it’s more of a laidback sunset vibe the musicians deliver here. Instead of a huge rave party the delicate groove of songs like Bari and Estrisa invite the listener for a little dance in their own head. In- between slightly melancholic moments like the beautiful trumpet melody on Archipel underline the thoughtful approach of Southern Shores to their music. According to Townsend and Dalton the record shows a more organic or improvisational sound and feels like it’s more at peace with itself and you really sense that. Compared to its predecessors the sound of Siena feels more natural, the borders between original material and samples have fully vanished, allowing the listener to fully dive into this tropical collage that really shows a band that loves music and is very passionate about its emotional potential, utopian ideas and pop historical context. If you need a brief moment of tropical escapism in bleak and grey winter days, this is the perfect world to enter this year. (Norman Fleischer)

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Ultraflex – ‘Visions Of Ultraflex’

Sounds like … pure BFF pop fun, done in a very serious way.

The term “mutual artistic crush” might describe the relationship between Iceland’s Special-K and Norway’s Farao the best. What started as a musical affair when they both lived in Berlin in 2019 evolved into a full-grown friendship, a band with a vision and ultimately this lovely little gem of an album. Ultraflex is not only a testament of the pop musical skills by these two women but also a really entertaining DIY pop album that is packed with honest love for the music that once inspired the two artists in their formative years. The eight tracks on Visions Of Ultraflex feel like forgotten treasures from a long lost 80s mixtape, produced with a nod to the past but sounding like state of the art bangers for the here and now. Funky bassline, kicking drums, shimmering synth pads, light-hearted bell sounds and sensual vocal performances by the duo dominate the vibe of the album. The accompanying music videos and photos (shot by fellow Norwegian artist Okay Kaya) underline these Visions Of Ultraflex which always come with tongue-in-cheek humour and a certain amount of irony. However, these two take the fun seriously and they really do love the cheesy sound of the 1980s. “Sweat dripping down my face / stretching my body in various ways” they sing in quite a sensual way on Work Out Tonight, underlining a constant level of subtle erotic stimulation that runs through the album.

It’s a clever modern take on the partly sexist understanding of female pop performances of those days. “Get fit, get ripped, get a lover, get kids”, they proclaim in the opening Get Fit and it’s a nice nod to the expectations of the listener. There is a seductive joy in these glimmering little pop gems. Of course, there is a saxophone solo happening in the track Papaya. On the other hand they also deliver cosmic disco tune with Never Forget My Baby or unleash a dreamy synth-pop instrumental on Olympic Sweat. Ultraflex describe the record as a personal safe space which actually allows Farao and Special-K to step away from their personal and reflective solo material and enter a shimmering fantasy world where they can just enjoy themselves, these sounds and deliver lines like “I took your virginity in Manchester United sheets” with dignity. The result is an ode to friendship, carelessness and electronic dance and pop music. If you happen to be a lover of quality 80s pop you should definitely follow these two sirens into their soft-coloured safe space here for half an hour of feelgood vibes. (Norman Fleischer)

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SUUNS – ‘Fiction EP’

Sounds like … the kind of fiction you want to lose yourself in.

Some of the main ingredients in any artist’s life are perhaps curiosity and fearlessness. Both also play a vital role whenever the members of the Canadian rock band SUUNS based in Montreal come together. Over the years, their musical output has been shaped by a an incredibly forward-thinking nature that is not only captivating, but always experimental with a touch of edginess. Most likely, you will find the songs in a state of limbo – often on the verge of an outburst, yet also surprisingly controlled and filled with a subtle energy that slowly grows in its intensity and therefore depth. After their 2018 album Felt, SUUNS now return with a new bunch of songs in the form of their 6-track EP Fiction that – if taken literally – is another direct result from the band’s continuous urge of wanting to explore how far they can really go with their imagination. It is a journey that once more demonstrates SUUNS’ ability to create complex and hypnotizing music in 2020 and signifies there is more to come next year when the band is said to release a new album.

Interestingly enough, the Fiction EP does not contain all entirely new ideas, but also revisits musical ideas from the past like the song Pray which was originally recorded years ago for their album Hold/Still (2016). With all songs on this EP being based on a live recording, the tapestry of sound SUUNS come up with in this collection of songs almost makes the whole process appear as one big chemistry set where the band members mix an abundance of ideas with noisy, sometimes heavily distorted effects. All giving off a vibe that is raw and almost a state of trance that immediately draws you closer because what SUUNS present to you feels a little out of reach and like only a fraction of what you can expect. While reworking old ideas and turning new ones upside down, the band members have proven to be real masters of dissolving existing structures and letting the different components breathe until they eventually intertwine in their own pace. The Fiction EP containing rhythmically complex, flickering and hypnotizing tracks along with collaborations with Jerusalem In My Heart and Amber Webber. Blending the past with the future, the final track Trouble Every Day even contains a spoken word by Frank Zappa. Now let that sink in and immerse into the wondrous sonic spheres of SUUNS. (Annett Bonkowski)

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