When I first spun “White Flower, Dark Hill” by LA-based harpist and composer Nailah Hunter, I was instantly reminded of Jon Brion’s pensive original score to Michel Gondry’s seminal Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The way the keys are arranged handsomely atop Hunter’s ambient vocals drew me closer. And I pressed repeat…again and again, before zeroing in on Brion’s “Phone Call” and “Spotless Mind” as gorgeous parallels.
“White Flower, Dark Hill” forms part of Hunter’s debut LP, Spells, out May 29th on LA’s eclectic Leaving Records label. With each of the album’s six installments, Hunter looks to transport us to uniquely colorful worlds. “White Flower, Dark Hill” hits me a few days after watching the super flower moon rise late in the evening to illuminate the sky and leave me in awe of the cosmos.
“The idea of the purples and navies of the night sky and the way that shadows appear under full moonlight, the different shades of moonlight, and how it always brings out the color white,” Hunter says of the song’s makeup.
Listen to “White Flower, Dark Hill” (above) and pre-order Spellson Bandcamp.
With the world at a standstill, I figure a good way to keep projecting the sound of the Bay from where I’m standing, is with this little monthly feature that y’all can look forward to from here on out. Look for a few deeper track and artist highlights, along with newsletter style links to other music-related happenings in the Bay Area at the bottom.
Follow Everything Ecstatic on Twitter or Facebook and support the Bay Area music scene! Much love. — AS
Baybs – “Would You Dare”
Out today, “Would You Dare” is the lead single off of Baybs’ debut EP, Introvertigo. Fronted by SF’s Craig Jacobs, Baybs emerged last year and I was happy to have booked them on stage at Amnesia a couple of times. The EP is coming out June 11th on local faves Text Me Records, and I’m stoked to see Text Me staying committed to indie rock along with the loads of hip-hop that they’ve been churning out.
“Would You Dare” is polished slacker folk rock, backed by singers Melissa Russi and Chloe Zelma Studebaker (of Zelma Stone) and Jacobs’ hook is a real nice payoff. The track is produced by Timothy Vickers who’s sporting a golden touch on the boards as of late. Jacobs describes this music as a salve for fits of agoraphobia and social anxiety: “The times I felt like literally jumping out of my skin, the only thing that helped was picking up a guitar and creating a melody and building a composition from there.”
Waterstrider – “Liquid”
I’ve always half-joked that Oakland-based Waterstrider’s Nate Salman has an impossible voice. He registers eye-popping high notes and it’s even more otherworldly live. With a spectral electronica beat, “Liquid” sounds like it could be playing in a spaceship rave with Salman’s vocals ranging over a chaotic light show. Salman, who’s been exploring the building blocks of his existence and identity constructs as of late, has this to say: “The song describes a vision of hope rising out of fear. In this time of disconnection, uncertainty, and isolation I am aiming to reassure others (and myself) that we are not alone.”
Sour Widows – Twin Peaks Sessions
This third highlight comes from Oakland’s Sour Widows, who put out their stellar debut EP on February 28th. And now last week, the band released a stripped-down Twin Peaks Session featuring just singers Maia Sinaiko and Susanna Thomson on guitar on a rooftop overlooking San Francisco from Twin Peaks. They played renditions of songs “Whole Lotta Nothing” and “Low Doser,” which are memorable for the way they sound as they are for the way the Twin Peaks Sessions video series is produced; you feel the crisp fog overhead rolling parallel to the tunes.
I love what Twin Peaks Sessions have been doing in featuring Bay Area bands in this serene, birds-eye setting. It’s a super DIY operation, but the sound and video quality are top notch. Peep the Sour Widows session below and hit up the Twin Peaks YouTube channel here.
The new P-Lo video for “Get Lit” features a collage of video footage from fans dancing to the jam. It’s dorky AF, but it’s a cool look at how multi-cultural the Bay Area hip-hop fanbase is and the man writes a hook with the best of ’em.
Paris is the setting for Pamela, the new short film from astronauts, etc. frontman Tony Peppers, Chaz Bear of Toro Y Moi and the Berkeley-based Company Studio. Peppers is the film’s main character, shrouded in mystique as he courses through the city mindlessly breathing and exploring in a lovelorn state.
The film, which comes across like an elaborate mood builder for the eventual introduction of Peppers and Bear’s new track, “Metropolitan” is shot using a Super 8 camera and is riddled with modern impressionist nostalgia for the most Parisian minutiae: A top floor patio smoke, spooning the foam of a sidewalk cafe cappuccino, a stroll through an art museum, deep breaths over a red wine lunch and having a think seated on the edge of the Seine; all with the same sense of calm.
The cinematography (from Bear and Samantha Sartor) experiments with inside out distance captures. One shot focuses on Peppers walking out onto the street, then zooms out to reveal the building’s full imposing facade. Another begins focused on pages of a book, then pans out to show Peppers reading under a tree in a park. The intention is always to give more windows into the essence of the mind in Paris, from different vantage points.
All in all, Pamela serves as an artistic music video for “Metropolitan,” which plays through the film’s denouement as Peppers’ elegant “Pamela’s Theme” score fades down, into a newfound canvas laid down by cathedral bells. The first official track from Peppers and Bear delves deeper into the David Axelrod-esque psychedelia wormholes that Peppers started digging into on astronauts, etc’s 2018 LP Living In Symbol. With the voice of hypnotic waking life stitched through, “Metropolitan” represents an effective convergence of the enveloping keys of astronauts, etc. with a touch of the Toro y Moi groove and we’re left wanting more. Here’s hoping for it…
The time is now. I’ve been adding songs to Vision, the 2020 Everything Ecstatic playlist since the start of the year and it’s finally in presentable enough shape to start sharing it with the world while it keeps building. The COVID-19 pandemic is serious business and everyone’s affected. More than ever, we need music to help get us through these days. So here we are.
Today, there are 31 mostly new songs and just over two hours of music on Vision from Burna Boy and Four Tet to U.S. Girls and Seu Jorge. But I’ll be adding tracks to it as the year rolls along, just like I’ve done with my previous yearly continuous playlists (which you can also re-visit):
Closing the book on 2019 with EE’s favorite songs of the year. All 30 of them are in the Spotify playlist below and while unranked, I’ll say this: “Not” by Big Thief and the harmonious collab we never saw coming in “Studie” by Teebs & Panda Bear, are the two songs that’ll stay with me the longest from this year.
The playlist checks in at 121 minutes and it’s a journey through the songs that marked 2019 for me. From Flying Lotus putting a bow on Denzel Curry’s “Black Balloons” trilogy and Priests’ fierce “The Seduction of Kansas” to Spellling’s post-Castlevania vibes on “Under The Sun” and Pop Smoke’s Brooklyn drill pomp meets North London swagger on the “Welcome To The Party” Skepta remix. Press play, enjoy. Peace.
Ranking the best albums of the year shouldn’t have to be about consensus. Heck, I’ve been making this yearly list for over 12 years and while I’ve sometimes fallen victim to the pitfalls of slotting and naming certain albums on the list because of the prevailing critical belief about their greatness, that approach is now effectively out the window.
What you’ll find in Everything Ecstatic’s Top 60 Albums of 2019 list, is a direct reflection of the best music I listened to and enjoyed the most this year; whether it’s by a mainstream artist, or someone you may have never heard of before. The latter, is what I think has made EE’s Albums list great for so long. ‘Cause at the end of the day, this site is about discovery and enthusiasm for said discoveries (of course). Stylistically, it’s always gonna be all over the map, from jazz to hip-hop to indie, electronic and beyond…from all over the globe.
Lastly, I’ll say this: I’m glad that I waited until 12/23 to release these picks, because the more days we have to listen to the insane amount of tunes that are getting released throughout the year, then the less likely it is to miss something you absolutely needed in your life (Jamila Woods’ incredible Legacy! Legacy! for example, would not have made its way onto the list, let alone into the Top 10 if this list was finalized in early December. )
So with that, here’s Everything Ecstatic’s Top 60 Albums of the Year, along with a Spotify playlist of them all at the bottom of the post. Follow @EcstaticBlog us on Twitter and like the EE Facebook page to get music shouts on the regular and to stay up on the EE live events series.
Click the Albums of the Year tab at the top of the web page to re-visit more than a decade of EE year-end lists.
Stellar Spins (60-51)
60. Arthur Russell – Iowa Dream
59. Kedr Livanskiy – Your Need
58. Rosie Tucker – Never Not Never Not Never Not
57. Hand Habits – placeholder
56. Hot Chip – A Bathful of Ecstasy
55. Skepta – Ignorance Is Bliss
54. San Fermin – The Cormorant 1
53. Bedouine – Bird Songs of a Killjoy
52. Nate Mercereau – Joy Techniques
51. Jordan Rakei – Origin
The Top 50
50. Black Belt Eagle Scout – At The Party With My Brown Friends
49. Mndsgn – Snaxx
48. Billie Eilish – WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?
Malci’s songs feel more like spasms. The Chicago rapper jerks from phrase to phrase with little regard for structure or pattern; the thrill of a track like “When They Get Me” comes when the ear captures — sometimes a beat too late — the precise moment when the meandering shifts into the miraculous.
“I rap in all capitals,” Malci spits midway through the 90-second sprint that highlights his latest album, Papaya, but I’ll be a contrarian and say, well, not quite. He tosses capitals and other cases about these tracks with the free-associative abandon of a rapper who trusts his producer (i.e. himself) to do the necessary clean-up. The gyre widens, but the center somehow holds.
That’s thanks to a collection of beats that lean on a collage of field recordings and round, wet synths to build a base that can withstand Malci’s sputtering vocal solos. The results often skew jazzy, though I don’t get the sense of an ensemble playing in hard-earned lockstep. Papaya is the product of a singular vision. Its lived-in messiness is its own and, like the growling dog on the album cover, it perpetually threatens to claw through the fence.
Growing up stateside, the only music from the Philippines I knew was my Grandmother’s lullabies. But digging through my Dad’s records one summer I came across a gem: The Soul Jugglers. Made up of local musicians and African-American US troops stationed in Subic, these dudes had so muchswag. An undeniably smooth Pinoy funk band, if it wasn’t for their Tagalog lyrics, The Soul Jugglers could pass for Motown proper. They strung together the kind of sound only Shaft could walk out to if he was a perm-haired manong in 1970s Metro Manila.
That record helped crack a history and heritage that wasn’t really talked about at home. The Soul Jugglers were among other Philippine bands that found creating music as respite during Ferdinand Marcos’ martial law. They defined the music eras through experimentation and surged into new sonic territories. There was joy to be found on those stages and studios, even when the world outside was deprived of it.
Lexi Papilion isn’t the type to beat around the bushes. Following in the rich tradition of artists who wear their influences perhaps too proudly on their album sleeves, the LA artist went with Punk Adjacent for the title of her debut solo album as Bloodboy. The “adjacent” is what you’ll want to pay attention to, as Bloodboy is most interesting when carving around the margins of what she’s signaled the listener to expect. A case-in-point: Standout track “Can’t Go Home With You Tonight”. At first blush, it’s a mid-tempo pop ballad adjacent to many things you’ve probably heard before, but Papilion’s emotive vocal performance pushes this one into special territory.
The production doesn’t hurt, either. Producer Taylor Locke (Cullen Omori, Geographer) steers Papilion’s howling chorus into red-line territory, generating just enough fuzz to clear the cobwebs off lyrics that lean into the lust-meets-disgust phase of a doomed romance. In the hands of a lesser talent it could all come across as a bit pathetic; instead, somehow, I’m left with the image of Papilion staring down the sea with two middle fingers in the air. It’s not quite punk (or even punk adjacent), but it scratches the same stubborn itch.
I took a jaunt up to Washington for the first time in damn near a decade last week. And despite multiple trips to Seattle in the past, I’d never seen a proper concert in the city before. This is no longer the case, and a couple of these five tracks that marked my trip related back to those live music experiences. Here they are, along with two new discoveries and one absolute classic that tell the story of a memorable trip to the PNW.
Nicola Cruz – “Criançada” (feat. Castello Branco)
We arrived on a Wednesday and made our way that evening to the tightly-packed yet still comfortable Nectar Lounge in Seattle’s Fremont District. Nicola is one of the few producers I’ll make a point to not miss when he comes through for a DJ set and I was happy to make up for the SF set I’d be missing with this Seattle tour stop. “Criançada,” with it’s Brazilian rhythms and vocals by Castello Branco, is a total standout on the incredible cultural journey that is Siku. Nobody infuses indigenous South American music into electronic production quite like the French/Ecuadorian Cruz and more than anything, this is type of music I want to have playing at a club when I’m catching up with friends, drinking and dancing the night away.