Kevin Morby – ‘Sundowner’

Sounds like … an embrace in solitude.

In a time where our minds and bodies are often trapped, the yearning for space and mutual affection grows bigger and our thoughts and emotions often begin to travel to distant places, Kevin Morby gives us Sundowner – an album full of warmth and heartfelt songs that takes us right into his soul and the Midwest of America. A place Kevin Morby calls his home and has been exploring carefully ever since moving back to Kansas City a few years ago. Being more and more inspired by its beautiful twilight and the powerful feeling of melancholy that hits him around the time the sun goes down each night. Laying bare an echo of solitude as well as thoughtfulness that seems highly relatable in a year which has brought us much of the same general framework. Although the new songs have been slumbering somewhere on a hard drive ready to be shared with the world for more than a year and way before we could have ever imagined any sort of imposed solitude.

Sundowner contains ten intimate songs, in which Kevin Morby swings opens the door to vastness as much as to snapshots of darkness and depictions of the loss of friends and inspiring people. Trying to cope with the past and present alike and soaking up the American Midwest – kissed by the evening sun and infused with a cozy warmth – as a source of inspiration. While Oh My God (2019) came along with an incredible energy and urge, Sundowner taps into the opposite direction really hitting a nerve of time with only few means and a much bigger cautiousness. Recorded before the pandemic in Kansas City in the shed of his backyard, which he converted into a makeshift studio – spending hour after hour there trying to capture the twilight that was right outside the door waiting for Morby to be taken in. Later, followed by recording sessions with producer Brad Cook at the legendary Texas Sonic Ranch Studios which humbly benefits the overall aesthetic of the album. Sundowner finds Kevin Morby delving deep into his innermost being and delivering a comforting, touching soundtrack in times of seclusion and longing. (Annett Bonkowski)

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Woodkid – ‘S16’

Sounds like … an exploration of new musical and visual territories.

It has always been a great pleasure for Yoann Lemoine alias Woodkid to experiment with his creative mind. For instance, he recorded music for a ballet, created the soundtrack for a fashion show and wrote the score to an entire movie over the past seven years. Although his creative output went in many different directions he always kept his personal handwriting as an artist who does not only attach value to his music, but also on the visualisation of it. Therefore, it is not surprising that his second record S16 explores new musical and visual territories which perfectly fit together.

Already Woodkid’s first single off the new record Goliath shows that the artists wanted to create something special and unique that incarnates multiple things. S16 is an album full of contrasts representing different issues the world struggles with every day: industry versus nature, power versus sorrow, love versus hate, darkness versus brightness. The album connects threatening and industrial elements which evoke an oppressive feeling (e.g. Goliath, Highway) with intimate and restrained, almost depressing tracks (e.g. Horizons Into Battlegrounds, In Your Likeness) but there is still one thing they all have in common: the dark and sorrowful undertone telling the listener that something is going completely wrong in the world we live in. The record deals the fragile state of the world and understands that something needs to change. S16 shows – like all of Woodkid’s creative outputs – that the artist has the ability to provoke feelings to make the listeners question their way of life and could inspire growth. Even if Woodkid’s new album does not lead to any change at all, it is still is a beautiful and elaborated piece of art deserving of great attention. (Miriam Wallbaum)

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Matt Berninger – ‘Serpentine Prison’

Sounds like … tranquil oases amidst the chaos of a troubled mind.

Good things take time, they say, and so did the official solo debut of The National front singer Matt Berninger. Produced by legendary multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Booker T. Jones, the announcement of Serpentine Prison was dropped as early as October 2019. And it is so much worth the wait. Apart from Jones, whose production of Willie Nelson’s Stardust (1978) had a strong impact in the genesis of Berninger’s debut, the wistful lyricist made sure to bring a whole fleet of indie world people that contribute to the collaborative feel of the songs – among them Gail Ann Dorsey, Andrew Bird, his The National bandmate Scott Devendorf or his EL VY comrade Brent Knopf.

If you already appreciate the mellow gloom that comes with the distinctive baritone that Berninger has crafted as the core trademark of The National, then Serpentine Prison is likely to catch your attention. Mostly framed in beautiful acoustic, and at times even bluesy, sonic patterns, these songs profoundly meander through melodic and poetic sensibilities. Given the more expansive musical dimensions of his main band, primarily on last year’s I Am Easy To Find, Serpentine Prison, with its grainy, organic textures it reminds a bit of The National’s early work. However, all of this is far from self-reflexive nostalgia, one may fathom.

Mellow piano chords and ambient guitar patterns gently pave the way for the opening My Eyes Are T-Shirts. With a voice that is more hushed than actually carrying melody, Berninger fumbles his way through the sphere, creating a realm of a laidback retreat. Likewise the acoustic guitar-driven Distant Axis, which is more rhythmic and yet contains much of what the gifted songwriter is known best for: to create little islands of comfort amidst the painful chaos that his lyrics revolve around, „there’s a pattern to the way the world is tearing up / I think it’s happening to me“. Getting estranged from a loved one remains a theme and reappears on Loved So Little, which also remains acoustically solemn, yet gearing up with heartfelt passion – the strings, soft drums and a harmonica are taking care of the rest. The songs remain solemn throughout, taking on a harmonious stream, and Berninger succeeds in creating an immersing scape of sound that even for a National-follower has surprise moments to offer. Take Me Out Of Town for instance, a ballad most simple in terms of its sonic design, and yet a tune that, in his orchestral qualities, dares to encompass the grace of I Am Easy To Find’s most accomplished pieces. „I need a vacation / From intoxication“, Berninger sings in the title-giving closer. With these songs he may just have created a space where this is made possible. May each one of you pick the instants that work best to do so. (Andreas Peters)

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TOM And His Computer – ‘Future Ruins’

Sounds like … Danish dark wave delicacies for times of uncertainty

Although Thomas Bertelsen has been a restless figure in Copenhagen’s music scene for almost twenty years it took him a while to finally release a full-length under his alias TOM And His Computer. But this huge amount of patience resulted in a pretty impressive debut record that impressively demonstrates why Bertelsen is anything but a newcomer in the game. Co-produced and mixed by his close friend and “patron” Anders Trentemøller Future Ruins became a dark diamond of gloomy and imaginative wave pop with nods to all the sounds and artists that influenced Bertelsen along his way. While the first releases of TOM And His Computer were still shaped by his roots in electronic club music he slowly but steady moved his sound closer to the territory of groups like The Cure, Bauhaus or Slowdive. But Bertelsen’s inspirations go beyond the dark wave territory as they also include soundtracks and his love for photography. According to the artist the record was inspired by plenty of things, including pictures of Ethiopian elephants in the desert or images of 1980s Serbian brutalist architecture. One special ingredient of his music is the voice of singer Roxy Jules who became the steady vocal element in his music and is featured on four of the ten songs. While the opening A77 is a haunting ambient introduction, the following Lovers And Gasoline captivates the listener with a driving beat, noisy guitars and an uplifting, dreamy vocal performance by Jules that reminds you a bit of Rachel Goswell. Feathers takes the TOM And His Computer sound into even darker and grittier territory with its noisy post-punk twist.

Following the furious start Bertelsen slows down the tempo a bit, delivering some of his finest instrumental work so far. Waterfront sees playful and reverbed guitars surf along a gentle lo-fi beat while One Man In Toronto does indeed feel like a lost track from a dystopian 1980s sci-fi flick. Analogue and digital go hand in hand in the Dane’s musical understanding and it’s quite a joy to experience that. It gives the album a raw and gritty atmosphere while also being quite ‘state of the art’ in terms of production. Of course, the sinister Trentemøller DNA is sensible in all these songs, especially in the title-track but that’s probably caused by their longtime personal and artistic friendship. If you love the sound of one you might easily fall for the other as well. Future Ruins is a great, yet slightly too short, journey into a dark and uncertain future. It’s a perfect record for this season and this special year which pulled most of us out of our habits and comfort zones. The epic closing track is fittingly titled Disbelief In A Postmodern World and as long as this world looks a bit more grim this album is the best possible soundtrack to cope with some of the madness. (Norman Fleischer)

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Beabadoobee – ‘Fake It Flowers’

Sounds like …the perfect coming-of-age soundtrack for generation z.

Bea Kristi – alias Beabadoobee – is only 20 years young but already an indie-popstar to kids born after 2000. She is a rolemodel for a generation that is raised in the omnipresence of smartphones, social media, and a great overload of music and – most importantly – people who try to be individual but rather are pretty exchangeable. It is hard for generation z to find their own voices as everything already has existed in some way before and that pressures the people to be as individual as possible.

With her music Beabadoobee shows a way to escape these problems by just not caring about other people’s opinions – like a Billie Eilish for indie-kids. Her debut record Fake It Flowers is an honest and simple record that does not need any unnecessary frills. It is authentic DIY music consisting of rock guitars, a raw production, and catchy hooks. Some parts are more aggressive and angry (e.g. Yoshimi Forest Magdalene or Care) and others quiet and gentle (e.g. Sorry). The album captures the emotional journey of a young adult who tries to find her place in the world in an authentic way. Her lyrics deal with the personal experiences she made in the last years, like loosing a friend because of her own mistakes (Sorry). With Fake It Flowers Beabadoobee proves that it is still possible to create honest and raw music that affects people in times of superficial algorithms. (Miriam Wallbaum)

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