To Keep You Company

Street: 02.20
Kitfox = Stars + Azure Ray

Kitfox are not your ordinary local band. The Provo-based foursome—vocalist Emilee Holgate, guitarist Devon Smith, bassist Conor Flynn and percussionist Nate Dukatz—redefine small-town talent with To Keep You Company, an album as saturnine as it is comforting.  Leaving their cutesy folk-pop beginnings in the dust, the band instead uses the LP to implement a hundred new sounds, thus establishing a new one all their own.

Far-reaching and impossibly destined, this full-length debut is a balanced culmination of hard work and fate. After having secured a $10,000 Kickstarter pledge, Flynn met Gabe Simon of the band Kopecky, a Kitfox favorite, who agreed to produce the album at The Study in Nashville, Tennessee. Since finishing recording, Kitfox has met national acclaim, with two of the album’s songs being featured on a pair of popular television shows. (“Always Keep You Warm” was featured on MTV’s Real World: Go Big or Go Home, while “Misery” was featured on ABC’s Blood & Oil, respectively.) 

The attention is not for naught: To Keep You Company is gorgeous. Unforeseen melodies from wholesome-as-hell Holgate pair spectrally with the swelling orchestration; her voice, purer than a lingering Dolores O’Riordan, marries Smith’s consummately. Sundry influences speckle the album—a touch of First Aid Kit on the evocative “Runaway,” a trace of Coldplay on “Ivory”—as well as sundry sounds, but beneath the synths dwell abiding, traditional songs that could stand on their own were the electricity to blow out. When you listen to their ambient folk, you won’t feel alone.

To Keep You Company keeps you company like a fond, distant memory—one you would be certain actually transpired were the details not so magical. It won’t be long before Kitfox are on the national circuit, rubbing elbows with fellow Provo-bloomers like Neon Trees, blissfully reminiscing. In the meantime, they’ll always have Utah. –Cassidy McCraney

Joey Brandin
Dim Lit Room

Street: 09.19.15
Joey Brandin = Beirut x Bob Dylan x Devendra Banhart

There is a worldly quality to Joey Brandin that transcends Salt Lake City. Though the singer-songwriter recorded his debut album, Dim Lit Room, in the very apartment shown on the LP’s cover, the songs themselves go beyond the enclosed area of their origin—you’ll hide away in the French Riviera while listening to “Untitled” and walk yellow beaches to the tune of “Silhouettes.” However foreign their feel, the tracks still carry with them a familiarity, one akin to the warmth and repose of a new home made your own.

At times, the songs bleed into each other to the point of indistinctness, as it should be on a rainy-day folk record. Instrumentally, Brandin isn’t trying to shock you. His composition is quiet—acoustics, finger-snapping, vocals à la Morrissey—so as to create a sonic atmosphere as inviting as is that dim lit room. He succeeds almost to a fault. Were it the early 2000s, and Myspace still a thing, the title song would be the next “Hey There, Delilah.”

Unlike many of his contemporaries, the musician isn’t unhappy. Brandin seems, rather, to be in love. The only heartbreak Brandin feels is a sociopolitical one. “To the Struggle,” arguably the album’s coup de grâce, canvasses change. An all-out anthem for the sick-and-tired progressive, the song voices truths that are often left unsaid. It’s the kind of cry for justice that could have been used to campaign for Bernie, were Brandin as celebrated as Ed Droste. While Brandin’s presence may seem soft, his words most certainly are not. 

While some might dismiss Brandin as a coffeehouse minstrel (he is a regular at Salt Lake Roasting Co., Coffee Break and Mestizo), his cultivated sound and opinion will likely displace him from any one environment. He can be listened to in bad weather or on a Sunday afternoon—when you’re unnerved or hopeful, sure or unsure. He can be listened to by the escapist, the sensitive, the doer. Brandin makes room for everyone. –Cassidy McCraney

Sam Burton – Until Returning – Chthonic Records

Sam Burton
Until Returning

Chthonic Records
Street: 07.16
Sam Burton = Department of Eagles x (Nick Drake + Jackson C. Frank)

Sam Burton used to sneak sessions on an off-limits guitar while his stepdad was at work. He credits The Beach Boys with turning him on to music and participated in a Velvet Underground tribute show with his killer shoe-gaze band, The Circulars. As if he wasn’t cool enough, the singer-songwriter is now issuing an EP that is being released on tape.

Until Returning, the aforementioned EP, is a progression—stone-cold evidence of Burton’s artistic ascendence. With melody as its bedrock and acoustics its emphasizer, the record plays as easily as the best of its predecessors. (Think Five Leaves Left meets Songs of Leonard Cohen.) However sonically languid, Burton is not aimless; to the contrary, he arrives more realized and structured than ever before.

The tracks—all 11 of them—are brief but impactful, like a glimpse of broken sunlight amid dead weather. A song like “Forfeit The Wreath” thaws, maybe even warms, and then vanishes, its residue a votive melancholia. At times, Burton’s voice takes flight, like a subdued Tim Buckley,

Until Returning is a return in and of itself—to tape and the lost art of listening. With the advent of iTunes, the purchase and gleaning of an album in full has been rendered obsolete, instead postulating the idea that we filter our anthologies and cherry-pick the art. In this light, Burton’s EP is not only welcome (Until Returning has already sold out of its first edition) but supremely gratifying. From “I’m Going Back” to “The Day Turns,” from the title song to the instrumental “Prelude,” the tape is seamless and doesn’t warrant a skip button.

Burton has come a long way since his guitar-swiping days, his days of youth and learning. Most notably, he has developed the capacity to take risks, the greatest of which is the ability to edit and trim down the work to cuts that pierce the soul. Whether solo or flanked by friends, digital or analog, he is worthy of many returns to come. –Cassidy McCraney

Kishi Bashi – Sonderlust – Joyful Noise Recordings

Kishi Bashi

Joyful Noise Recordings
Street: 09.16
Kishi Bashi = Queen + Lord Huron + Electric Light Orchestra

There is nothing quite as indefinable as falling out of love. The phenomenon—God damn it!—exists not in words, but only in jagged little feelings that shred our insides. They manifest themselves in all different modes, at all different times, and, if nothing else, implore a change: of action, of reaction or of heart. Such is the case with Kaoru Ishibashi, the man behind indie-psych outfit Kishi Bashi, who, when faced with such a God-damned phenomenon, dared to define the indefinable, express the inexpressible and encapsulate those jagged little feelings into one beautiful word.

Sonderlust, Kishi Bashi’s third full-length album, is an amalgam of cinema, melody and ear-piercing synth that’s been infiltrating our mini-malls since the ’80s. There is no categorizing it, this Sonderlust. It’s a breed of its own, one influenced by everything from lizard-lounge slow-rock to Sofia Coppola to the DeVotchKa song in I Love You, Phillip Morris. A track like “Hey Big Star” is the kind of pop song that will excite you about pop songs, while “Say Yeah” sounds like Tokyo’s fluorescent lights. There are Stranger Things scales on “Ode To My Next Life,” sweet three-part harmonies on the bouncy “Honeybody” and a Steely Dan–meets–Dire Straits–meets–Steve Miller Band vibe on the killer “Who’d You Kill.” Ishibashi, in his foraging heartache, thrives and triumphs, stunting the distinction of a single while aspiring to heal.

The album establishes Ishibashi as a feel-deep artist with guts, though that’s never really not been the case. He studied film scoring (a prevalent component in his work) at Berklee College of Music, titled his second album Lightght after an Aram Saroyan poem, and covered the Talking Heads’ “This Must Be The Place” in string. Ishibashi has dallied in numerous musical capacities as the founder of Jupiter One, a member of of Montreal and a violinist for the likes of Sondre Lerche and Regina Spektor. Since then, the Georgia-based musician decided to do his own thing: With the help of Kickstarter, he funded Kishi Bashi. Since commencing his solo career in 2011, Ishibashi has gained critical acclaim and friends along the way. He counts NPR’s Bob Boilen as a fan.

Ishibashi’s relationships, professional and non, have served him well. Sonderlust unites him with producer Chris Taylor (also the bass guitarist of Grizzly Bear) as well as drummer Matt Chamberlain (Fiona Apple, Morrissey), both of whom seem to understand and enhance Ishibashi’s unorthodox algorithm. Together, the group achieves a sound dissimilar to that of their contemporaries, one that pulls as much from the ’70s as it does from 2016. They experiment with tempo, speeding up and slowing down, like life at its most overwhelming.

The bulk of the inspiration, however, comes from Ishibashi’s wife—married 13 years, they separated during the recording of the album. You can often hear his struggle, the songs resonating like an out-of-step relationship: heart racing, heart stopping, heart beating on. You can hear that inexpressible sonderlust.

With this album, Ishibashi defines the indefinable—gives meaning to a phenomenon often uncharted and a name to those jagged little feelings, a name we pray that we need never use. Sonderlust is profound and futile, hopeful and shredded, an action and reaction, a death and a birth. Most of all, it is a change of heart: from one hardened to one softened by love. Ishibashi’s Sonderlust is a damn experience—one you may not be able to avoid. –Cassidy McCraney

Jenny Hval
Blood Bitch

Sacred Bones
Street: 09.30
Jenny Hval = St. Vincent + Air + Patti Smith

Woman. It is a declaration that takes some fighting for, some waging of hard-earned feelings in the pitfalls of adolescence. It is a celebration that takes some revering, some nods at our foremothers. For some, it is a week that physically hurts, an hour that emotionally binds and centuries of irrefutable greatness. And in a little nook of Norway, somewhere between Eve eating the fruit and Helen Reddy roaring, there was Jenny Hval: unapologetically bleeding, making her mark with the best of them.

Blood Bitch, the avante-garde musician’s sixth solo album, shines bright among said mark. Beginning and ending with synth, the album is a fusion of statement art-pop, burdened breathing and provocative soundbites (see: “Last night, I took my birth control with rosé”). Despite the mixed media, achieved with the help of fellow Norwegian artist Lasse Marhaug, the album isn’t arbitrary. In fact, much like its inspiration, Blood Bitch is designed and synced divinely and cycled masterfully.

Each track is vital, integral in the maturation of the record as a whole. While hits like “Female Vampire” and “Conceptual Romance” act as seeds to the more conservative of ears, the blooming interludes expose the darkest folds of womanhood to the starkest of light: “The Great Undressing” is a thumping amalgamation of ’80s MIDI, Portishead and consummate confessions like “I just need your love or your approval.” “The Plague,” sampling the sonic gore of old horror films, sounds like a mood swing, channels raging and flashing like a possessed television. Perhaps most lucid is “Untamed Region,” a track on which Hval—direly scribbling, recounting domestic dreams—stages a stained mattress. The singer doesn’t shy away—from sexuality or nature or the moment when a girl wakes up and her sheets are warm and red. If Hval is bleeding, she will tell you.

The artist has long been a crusader for the second sex. Whether studying at the University of Melbourne (everything from philosophy to theater to film theory), fronting a goth-metal band or a moniker (Shellyz Raven and Rockettothesky, respectively) or writing a novel (the Norwegian Perlebryggeriet, translated Pearl Brewery), Hval has delineated an aspect of her female experience. At once she breaks down the stigma, bends the perspective and preserves an admiration long held but often lost. While not original in her taste for blood—remember when Perfect Pussy’s Meredith Graves issued her own on their vinyl LP?—Hval’s interest is progressive, intending, perhaps, to normalize a happening whose depiction gets flagged on Instagram.

Blood Bitch flows. It studies the dichotomous nature of the substance at hand—life-giving, life-taking—while worshipping the vessel from which it leaks. A conjure-woman of sorts, Hval evokes the likeness of her guided spirit-sisters: Björk losing sight in Dancer in the Dark, Kate Bush doing backbends in a bright-red dress, Helen Reddy again roaring. By the time the album is over, you’ll have experienced in an hour what it might feel like to be one of them. –Cassidy McCraney

Mothers - When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired

When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired

Grand Jury
Street: 02.26
Mothers = Nirvana x (Angel Olsen + The Cranberries)

What was music before Mothers? The anomalous quartet from Athens, Georgia challenge the mainstream, the underground and the culture with When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired, a purposive labor of artistry that culminates into one hell of a debut album. Sliding from back-wooded symphonies to flourished alt-rockers, founding member Kristine Leschper—hedged by drummer Matthew Anderegg, guitarist Drew Kirby, and bassist Patrick Morales—acts as a voice in the orchestral wilderness, shaping a new standard whilst leaving ego to the birds.

When You Walk is achingly good: the pierced-heart, splintered-bone, blurred-eyes kind of good. That it is only Mothers’ first full-length album is a wonder. “Too Small For Eyes,” the opening track, transcends expectation with a vulnerable Leschper trilling over delicate acoustic picks and 19th-century strings. (The string arrangements are courtesy of McKendrick Bearden of Grand Vapids and weave throughout the LP, setting a sylvan tone fit for a Josephine Decker drama.) “Nesting Behavior” sinks like a forlorn ship, a cello posing as Leschper’s morose male counterpart, while a weeping violin harrows the tone of “Burden Of Proof.” The singer herself is transparent, her timbre like a branch: fragile, yet capable of withstanding the elements and bearing heavy fruit. Braced with rustic imagery—unmade beds, gathering twigs, feathers, old milk—she scales the bars like a sad nightingale.

When You Walk’s composition is rid of excess, but don’t let Mothers fool you: They mesh as well with Soundgarden as they do with Mazzy Star. Kirby’s chord progressions and tempo changes, as seen on “Copper Mines,” “Lockjaw” and “Accessory Cloud,” certify that whichever tracks are not pastoral are full-fledged grunge. Mothers, as it were, are for everyone.

When compared to the nature of their contemporaries, Mothers are contrarians. Rather than decide between a noteworthy vocalist or a noteworthy band, they ditch the narcissism and opt for both. The wistful “It Hurts Until It Doesn’t” could very well be a Beach Fossils jam, that is until Leschper wails; in turn, were it not for its multi-layered medley, “Hold Your Own Hand” could be Jessica Pratt. The combination achieves a qualitative balance lacking from, and necessary to redeem, modern music. That they do not just settle for one or the other—that Leschper’s voice does not boast over a bland acoustic set, that Morales’ bass does not drown out a lo-fi baritone—not only defies the current trend, but establishes a new one: to try, dammit, and try again.

Mothers will be on your next Spotify playlist and the mixtape you make for your crush. They will be the band you Shazam at your local coffeeshop and listen to on the drive home. A music-lover’s ideal—emotive yet experimental, structured yet spontaneous—Mothers are a reproach to the easy way out,  their vocation in making music trumping only their ability to do so. At one point on the album, Leschper sings, “I was crushed by the weight of my own ego.” It is a staggering lyric given her lack of it. To extend rather than focus on one’s self is uncommon in this day and age, but it is Mothers’ unrivaled distinction. Individually, they raise the bar; as a whole, they sustain it. With Mothers there is no ego, only talent. 

Jennifer O'Connor – Surface Noise

Jennifer O’Connor
Surface Noise

Kiam Records
Street: 03.04
Jennifer O’Connor = Laura Veirs +Musicforthemorningafter–era Pete Yorn

She could be anyone: the girl from homeroom who never has a pencil, the teen who loses her virginity in the backseat of a car. She could be the college freshman who gains 30 pounds and spends every Saturday night re-watching Muriel’s Wedding. She could be a depressive, a lesbian, a Republican, a tramp; she could be lactose intolerant. That Jennifer O’Connor could be all of these things is evidence of her greatest strength: a fiercely
relatable anonymity.

O’Connor, in fact, is a musician—one who breathes, grieves and loves openly. She wrote her first song in 1996, released her self-titled debut in 2002 and has since been articulating, somewhat impassively, the universal, oft-constrained and nameless inner voice. Surface Noise, O’Connor’s sixth studio album, compels that voice to grow and to be heard. A follow-up to 2011’s I Want What You Want, the LP discloses itself like a young woman’s diary, shifting from upbeat self-motivations to self-doubts in a matter of notes. (The double-voxed tracks scream Felicity Porter, a tape recorder and mid-semester ennui.) O’Connor, meanwhile, is periodically lackluster and holds true to her roots: the early ’00s. Somehow, she remains remote while still spilling her heart.

Surface Noise’s ardor largely stems from the instrumentation. Backed by drummer Jon Langmead and James McNew of Yo La Tengo, O’Connor assembles walls of sound—organ, melodica, piano, bass, electric and acoustic guitar—as if to hedge her sentiments from the reckoning of others. At worst, the stacked arrangement can be a slight distraction: overbearing drum machines on “Tell Me What You Need,” drowned-out vocals on “It’s Gonna Get Worse.” At best, it is quite moving. The resounding ivories and moaning strings on “Black Sky Blanket” bid a beautifully somber goodbye. O’Connor’s songs build like a feeling. Her lyrics are laced with gentle bromides (“It’s going to get worse before it gets better,” “There’s no right, there’s no wrong,” “Put down the past, just let it be”) and expect only for the listener to take from it what they will. However nondescript and seemingly impersonal, Surface Noise is a gateway to knowing the elusive O’Connor and, perhaps, ourselves
a little better.

Critics, in all their knowledge, might deem O’Connor mediocre; circles surrounding Angel Olsen or Joanna Newsom might not understand her. It is important to remember that O’Connor, her insights, and her music serve a valid purpose: to put a face to the everygirl—the relatable anonymity—and to embolden her. The introspect of a singer-songwriter—not to mention the subsequent courage required to share such introspection—guarantees a contribution to the world, large or small. O’Connor contributes. She is a strange binary of the familiar and the ambiguous, a phenomenon whom we may have never known we needed. She is expressive and full of hope. She could be you, she could be me, she could be the girl from homeroom—and not unlike our inner voice, she has something to say. –Cassidy McCraney

Hospital Ships
The Past Is Not A Flood

Graveface Records
Street: 03.11
Hospital Ships = Youth Lagoon + Papercuts + The Flaming Lips

This album is for the perpetually sad: the faint, the despondent, the worrisome, the unwell, the jumpers, the seekers, the meek and the mild; the hopeless, the naked, the grieving, the breathing, the break-uppees and the break-uppers; the doped-up, the sober, the somber, the fearful, the broken, the pensive, the nervous, the tearful; the toppled ships, the severed sails and all that sinks beneath. Tread lightly, you shiny-happy people—this album is not for the whole of heart.

Hospital Ships, the moniker for Kansan-based musician Jordan Geiger, lend their wounds to universal pain with The Past Is Not A Flood, an impactful six-track flotation void of intellectual insouciance. Fusing modern technology with archaic human crises, Flood is an open reflection of the thinking, feeling man: lonely and plighted, yet gone all too soon.

Produced by John Congleton (The Walkmen, Explosions In The Sky, Unknown Mortal Orchestra) the record is an amalgamation of melancholy and apprehension that registers as audial mental illness. “You and I,” a bleak nod to Geiger’s personal battle with anxiety, sounds like anxiety: The repetitive piano plinks coupled with the stressed-out synthesizers are about as reassuring as one’s future. In turn, the woebegone “Long May You” whirls with the submission that accompanies loss. Compared to the compact Ships of old (see: 2011’s Lonely Twin), Flood’s Ships are sonically spacious, but even with the barrage of rippling vibraphones and triangles, the band keeps afloat. Particularly buoyant to the contemplative LP is the single “All In Time.” Featuring Geiger’s countertenor and punchy percussion from SwansThor Harris, the grooving syncopation uplifts the singer’s lyrical surrender to mortality.

While a desire to vocalize suffering is by no means unique to Geiger, his motive and subsequent execution are inimitably honest. He mourns the late Jason Molina (of Magnolia Electric Co.) on “Nothing To Hide” and his decision to not have children on the wistful “Little Flower.” He sifts sensitively through stages of a sorrow that he hopes to one day defeat, if only by resignation. It is not a coincidence that the two songs of polarized perspective—“You and I” and “All In Time”—are underscored by the same melodic theme: If the former is Geiger’s uncertainty, the latter is his acceptance.

Acceptance, as it were, is the line drawn in the sand. It is the white flag, the floating ship in a deluge of disorder. It is the channel to overcoming the sadness. Waves of depression, while torrential, are able to crash into catharsis. One forced to live with such all-consuming dread is further forced into stomaching the absurdity of having to live at all—an assent that, while brutal, is imperative to one’s progression. The idea is akin to listening to a heartbreaking song during a heartbreaking time—While it might initially worsen one’s condition, the confrontation will enable one to feel, grieve, and eventually move on. The Past Is Not A Flood allows Geiger to do all three, an achievement that, while resonating with the perpetually sad, will go fully misapprehended by the shiny-happy whole of heart. Alas, behind Ships’ full-bodied clamor shrugs a tender, pensive man whose message is one of acquiescence. As listeners, what more could we ask for? –Cassidy McCraney

Marissa Nadler

Sacred Bones
Street: 05.20
Marissa Nadler = Sharon Van Etten + The Cardigans + Sibylle Baier

“This is not your world anymore,” she sings.

Marissa Nadler, the galaxy-gazer of American somni-folk, is not of this world. She is an extraterrestrial unloved, a wanderer nonplussed, an inhabitant of a realm that aligns dissonance with wonderment. She is ethereal, moody and dark like early morning, and with Strangers, Nadler’s seventh full-length album, our indelicate eyes are able to adjust to her clear, clairvoyant lens.

In cinematic constellations and crescendos, Strangers sets an atmospheric scene of apocalypse. The tracks, obscured by gulls of reverb, are echoes of the disenfranchised remains of a scorched and jaded earth, affording Nadler the opportunity to sing beyond herself. Assuming the identities of said remains—or the “strangers”—the singer-songwriter taps into the undefinable with her harrowing music. She eerily examines the loss of recognition, both of the physical and metaphysical, on the morgue-organ death march, “Nothing Feels The Same,” and the haunting pain of remembering on “Katie I Know.” The rolling single “Janie In Love” exposes the peculiar attraction to, and inevitable detriment of, destructive forces. The material draws her to the catastrophic, her perceived influences varying in tragedy: Elliott Smith–like chord progressions on “Shadow Show Diane,” whits of Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet on “Waking” and “Janie,” shadows of True Detective on the titular “Strangers.”

While her maudlin contemporaries deliver us to impossibly lucid locations—Kate Bush in a wily, windy moor, Lana Del Rey in a domestic dispute—Nadler’s destinations are interpretations and constructs of imagination: the dark side of the moon, a nondescript plateau, a halite formation in the shallows of the Salton Sea. She is difficult to navigate: Her tenor is a sonic cliffhanger, gravitating toward the minor key as if to preserve her mystery. If left unanchored, as on the acoustic closing number “Dissolve,” the artist’s voice is prone to drift away. However, when leveraged by layered orchestration—crashing percussion, surf guitar, three-part harmonies, sub-synths—Nadler’s melodic amble and streaming consciousness keep their course.

The full-bodied production by Randall Dunn (Sunn O))), Black Mountain) might misrepresent Nadler for a gloomier Del Rey, but her ethos is separate from that of the common pop star or studio player. In 2010, after being dropped by her label, Nadler launched a fan-fueled Kickstarter campaign that successfully funded her self-titled LP a year later. She has collaborated with Angel Olsen and lent her voice to Wrekmeister Harmonies, and she has covered The Smiths‘ “Pitseleh” and Leonard Cohen’s “Famous Blue Raincoat.” She released a rendition of Danzig’s “Blood And Tears” to a creepy Youtube claymation. Nadler’s ghost, at world’s end, will most certainly roam with the spirits she has touched, confronted and encountered.

Gothically and cataclysmically beautiful, Strangers stirs the unknown in us all: the part of us that is willing to love dangerously, embrace a visitor and say things we have only said in private. Strangers awakens the part of us that might survive doomsday. In times of crises or foreignness, we tend to band together and gather remnants of normalcy to simulate its semblance. Nadler, with her musical musings, does the very same. “This is not your world anymore,” she sings, and she is right: It is ours. –Cassidy McCraney

Bitchin Bajas & Bonnie “Prince” Billy
Epic Jammers and Fortunate Little Ditties

Drag City
Street: 03.18
Bitchin Bajas & Bonnie “Prince” Billy = Pauline Oliveros + Galaxie 500

Let me break down the facade of verbiage and give it to you straight: I am not particularly fond of this album. Reviewing Epic Jammers and Fortunate Little Ditties, the excessive effort from sound-smiths Bitchin Bajas and singer-songwriter Bonnie “Prince” Billy, has proven to be an assignment most taxing—an irreconcilable ramification given the album’s tantric tones. Although the endurance is slightly rewarded—the only real “jammer” or “ditty” is found at the end of the record in the aptly-titled “Your Hard Work Is About To Pay Off. Keep On Keeping On”–the unprecedented collaboration between the Drag City labelmates simply amounts to a labor of exhaustive experimentation: one that gongs perpetually, self-assures repeatedly and attempts to boost those serotonin levels.

Beginning like a Stan Brakhage dream sequence with “May Life Throw You a Pleasant Curve,” Jammers and Ditties stays in the clouds for its remaining 56 minutes–all the while implementing Jethro Tull-like reeds, Pink Floyd-like arcs (“Show Your Love and Your Love Will Be Returned”) and clanking chimes fit for a city garden (“Nature Makes Us For Ourselves”). Bajas founder Cooper Crain creates a soundscape both abundant and nuanced; the coda of the sweeping “Your Whole Family Are Well” wails with sirens, casting a pall of doubt over the proclaimed well-being of kin. However textural, the tracks quickly dissipate—either into thin air, themselves, or each other—suggesting an execution that, while earnest, is wanting. Coupled with Billy’s vocal minimalism, there is very little left to retain.

Bajas & Billy make one thing certain: They do what they want to do. In all of their soul-searching and posi-psychedelia, the artists are hypo-aware, if not negligent, of what is widely acceptable and marketable in the confines of their field. It is admittedly endearing, like a child marking a busy highway with colored chalk. Billy, in mantric hums, recites the titular proverbs (“You Will Soon Discover How Truly Fortunate You Really Are,” “Your Heart Is Pure, Your Mind Is Clear and Your Soul Is Devout”) as if to attain enlightenment; he channels, an albeit tedious, Jim Morrison. Bajas, meanwhile, utilize synthesizers and bells as modes of meditation, looping strains and chords into trancelike incantations. Refraining from the average hook, and even a simple melody, subsequently renders the album environmentally and circumstantially dependent: It probably listens best while on a vagrant’s retreat or holding pose in Sun Salutation.

With Epic Jammers and Fortunate Little Ditties, Bajas & Billy join the ranks of audial odd couples: Lou Reed & Metallica, Al Green & Annie Lennox, Elton John & Eminem. In their case, the result is unbalanced. While the Bajas, though more dulcet, are somehow amplified by Billy’s providential drones, Billy himself gets lost–and unfortunately, his prose goes with him.

It is true that I am not especially fond of this album and that reviewing it has proven to be taxing–but what the hell do I know? I also cut my teeth on Def Leppard, own Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat on vinyl and cry when I listen to “Jumper” by Third Eye Blind. There is no accounting for one’s taste, only a tacit acknowledgment that it may not be shared. For every person like me who actually feels despair while listening to “Despair Is Criminal,” there is another, probably better, person whose spirit the same song uplifts. Which person are you? Find out for yourself. –Cassidy McCraney