Marika Hackman – ‘Covers’

Sounds like … bitter-sweet winter nostalgia.

During the lockdown and in these strange times, it can be hard to come up with new material. So to keep her creative juices flowing, Marika Hackman resorted to covering her favorite tracks. Covers is a well-curated compilation of – you guessed it – covers. But of course, the artist applies her own touch to everything she plays.

From the Grimes Realiti to Beyonce’s All Night, Marika Hackman picked a range of very different songs but filtered through the singer’s melancholic lens and mellow beat-palette, they form one cohesive record. The gloomy ring that Covers has seems to be made for the winter ahead – when the night starts at 5pm there is plenty of time to meditate on life. Even though the record is dripping with nostalgia, there is something about Marika Hackman’s voice that keeps it from becoming a sad record. She hits that sweet spot between heartache and joy. And while she might slip on the roles of other artist’s at core the songs are Marika Hackman songs whether the original is from The Shins, Sharon Van Etten, or Elliott Smith(Liv Toerkell)

Stream It:Spotify / ► Apple Music / ► Bandcamp

Kruder & Dorfmeister – ‘1995’

Sounds like … downbeat time-travelling back to almost forgotten times.

Ah, the 1990s! A different time on so many levels. Bill Clinton was US president, telephones weren’t really smart or mobile, the internet was a lovely gimmick and the climate crisis might have already been inevitable but was ignored like many other aspects during that era. It was a time of blissful ignorance, capitalistic euphoria and egocentricity and yes, there are a few people who like to call that the ‘good ol’ times’. And that brings us directly to the high times of Austrian artists Peter Kruder and Richard Dorfmeister who belonged to the key figures of the European electronic music scene in the second half of the 90s, thanks to their grooving, yet quite laidback mixture of jazz, trip-hop, samples and trippy electronica. Their iconic samplers DJ Kicks (1996) and The K&D Sessions (1998) became ‘state-of-the-art’ examples of that sub-genre some might tend to label ‘lounge music’ back then. Without Kruder & Dorfmeister groups like Röyksopp or The Avalanches wouldn’t have been possible and they might have also influenced plenty of contemporary hip hop though their ability to easily combine sounds from various worlds and place them into a fitting musical corset. These albums are still bestsellers and the live shows by the duo are still celebrated all over the world which is even more impressive if you consider the fact that they haven’t really released much new collaborative material over the past two decades. And even this new album isn’t technically a new one – 1995 was recorded in the title-giving year but never really released. Instead the band re-discovered it in the back of their archives on a few DAT discs and carefully and slowly restored its content. That took quite some time but as you might already guess by now: Kruder & Dorfmeister have a very different understanding of time and space.

The historical context of the album 1995 is crucial when it comes to its listening experience. You really get the whole analogue vibe right from the beginning and although I’m pretty sure the Austrian artists are capable of recreating the special K&D sound in the digital age (which might result in a new album in the next 20 years) it’s still a different feeling to hear music for the first time that’s actually from that year. The 15 tracks on this over 70 minutes long flashback won’t disappoint fans of the duo as they perfectly conserve that trippy, subsided downbeat vibe that feels like dark backrooms, flickering red lights but also the shimmering first rays of sunlight on a new day. The grooves are smooth and the tracks are packed with references to soul and jazz. You might spot a flute (Stoned Flower), a brass section (King Size) or even a funky guitar riff (Holmes) every now and then but there’s also room for subtle vocal elements. The record smells and sounds like craftsmanship, like vinyl, old sequencers and hour-long sample-searching on forgotten records. 1995 is an ode to a forgotten area and also a call for slowness, not only due to the fact that it took 25 years for the album to manifest at last. Kruder & Dorfmeister are still experts for hazy, stoned downbeat adventures that create a captivating and cohesive microcosm you can simply enjoy while being played or specifically look for all the tiny details in the samples and loops. And due to its timelessness the album arrives just in time to lure a new generation of music lovers into this very special universe. (Norman Fleischer)

Stream It:Spotify / ► Apple Music

Molchat Doma – ‘Monument’

Sounds like … gloomy music for gloomy times

New York based label Sacred Bones comes around with another release that perfectly fits into their dark and gloomy catalogue. Monument is the third record by Molchat Doma, a trio founded three years ago in Minsk, Belarus. That place, where today an autocrat is desperately hanging on to his power against the will of the people. Unfortunately, not the only one on our planet at the moment. Listening to Monument you might definitely get the impression that Molchat Doma deliver the perfect soundtrack for dark times like this. The band not only made a name for themselves as an underground act on bandcamp with several pressings of their second record Etazhi being completely sold out, but also – as unlikely as it seems – as a viral hype on TikTok. That the hyped song is dealing with a failed suicide attempt is secondary in the pop-cultural social media logic.

Translated, Molchat Doma means “Houses Are Silent”. On Monument the coldness of the Sovjet aesthetic displayed on the album cover perfectly corresponds to the sound of the record. The lyrics by Efor Shkuton, completely kept in Russian language, deal with dark and morbid topics like loss and damnation. Gloomy synths, cold drum machine beats and post-punk guitars dominate the nine songs, while heavily breathing the spirit of the 80s. Synthpop, dark wave and gothic rock – the record is full of hearable influences from bands like Joy Division, Depeche Mode or Bauhaus. Yet, it has a classic post-punk touch to it making the songs danceable despite of their dark mood. The songs are kept simple, only using limited and repetitive elements to create a very own atmosphere. Every now and then there is a glimpse of hope coming through, especially when the synthesizers step back and leave room for New Wave guitars to unfold their haunting beauty. Like in Obrechen, where the sound is kept open and reminds you of 80s indie bands like The Smiths. The following Discoteque on the other hand is dark and pumping synth pop dancefloor anthem. Having found their comfort zone and now being released on a label like Sacred Bones, Monument could be the overdue step out of the underground for Molchat Doma. (Abhilash Arackal)

Stream It:Spotify / ► Apple Music / ► Bandcamp

Jesse Kivel – ‘Infinite Jess’

Sounds like … honest reflections of a matured indie music songwriter.

For a big part of the late 2000s and early 2010s Jesse Kivel crossed my paths in the indie music blogosphere thanks to his participation in critically underrated bands Princeton (with his brother Matt) and Kisses (with his wife Zinzi Edmundson). I still think his profound songwriting deserves way more attention but it feels like Kivel made his own peace with flying under the radar. Three years after his debut solo EP Content his first full-length release under his own name is a testament of a man at peace with the world and his position. Infinite Jess is an almost autobiographical reflection on the state he’s in, his life so far and it still got plenty of that special Kivel magic I’ve come to enjoy over the years. That warm and relaxing Californian spirit is still shining bright and while Burning Man more works like a short reduced introduction to this album, the over five-minute long William paints Jesse Kivel‘s cosmos in the brightest colours. The more mellow Desert, Moonlight continues this notion and finds the protagonist delivering a tender performance over a sonic soundscape.

Over the course of this nine-track long LP various short interludes highlight the instrumental strength of Kivel a bit but he’s always best when he combines it with a proper song concept, resulting in surprising hits like the way too catchy Northside which is a prime example of the sort of music he constantly delivers over the course of the past 15 years. R&D Kitchen becomes a surprisingly romantic ode to a generic restaurant in his neighbourhood, presented as a shimmering dream pop ballad. The songs of Jesse Kivel are little glimpses into his everyday life and struggles and this piece especially is a lovely story of the protagonist fantasizing about an unrealistic level of stability and predictability in life that usually never happens, well, except for a place like such a restaurant. The artist’s life might have changed a lot in the past years. He became a father and pursuit a different career path with music just being one aspect of his new life in Maine. Infinite Jess is the sound of a arrival and acceptance, a laidback nod to the artist’s own past and the life he’s chosen. Maybe this is the end, maybe it’s just the next chapter. As long as there are still songs in Jesse Kivel I will always look forward to hear them. (Norman Fleischer)

Stream It:Spotify / ► Apple Music / ► Bandcamp

Katy J Pearson – ‘Return’

Sounds like … a perfect pop/country blend, heated up and baked to perfection.

For UK based singer-songwriter Katy J Pearson, this debut album almost didn’t happen. With a previous project succumbing to the pressures of a major label record deal over the course of two-and-a-half years, Pearson almost threw in the towel. “I didn’t write for about seven months”, Pearson reflects. “I was just like nope, I’m gunna become a gardener, this isn’t happening.” Return is about the whole experience of beginning to enjoy writing again. Thankfully, as the album attests to, persistence pays off – the result is a collection of ten wonderfully authentic songs about life, relationships, and the triumph of perseverance. Produced with Ali Chant (PJ Harvey, Perfume Genius), the whole record is an uplifting mix of country and pop, coated with a lo-fi shine. Even though Pearson comes from the South-West of England, musically this album feels more like a tour of the American Midwest.

From the gloriously uplifting brass on opening track Tonight to the 80’s inspired Take Back The Radio, it’s clear that Pearson is comfortable exploring a range of styles. With the opening guitar on Fix Me Up, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d stumbled across a Katy Perry album, albeit one that covers somewhat less sugar-coated topics. Describing that track in particular, Pearson says “it’s about wanting independence in life after messy situations. In times of darkness, feeling that pang of loneliness; wanting someone else to be there to help you put all the pieces back together.” Elsewhere, Hey You and Something Real, both of which were inspired by real life friendships, provide a warm, American-drenched vibe and will satisfy anyone craving some classic country with a modern twist. With a run of headline shows planned in the UK for early 2021, we’ll be keeping Return on repeat until then. (Dan Cromb)

Stream ItSpotify / ► Apple Music / ► Bandcamp