This week I finally got on the literal saddle and biked every single day. It’s done wonders for my outlook. The days bloomed with a bright sense of openness, movement, and growth.
I find that optimism leads me to seek out new things with more enthusiasm. I ended up listening to a whole cavalcade of albums both brand new and new-to-me. I couldn’t fit them all so I’ll discuss the three that had the biggest impact on me.
Lnrdcroy – Much Less Normal
Much Less Normal is easily the biggest surprise I’ve had in months. I don’t normally trust the algorithms at Spotify to bring me new music, but sometimes I close my eyes and hit play on that weekly discovery playlist.
This album is a hybrid of spacey house music and that radio telescope atmosphere of early Warp records, bursting with life and enthusiasm, distracted with a naive sense of genre boundaries. The tunes here are expansive, warm, and welcoming. The beats are a soft landing after the club, gauzy, occupying a liminal space between head nods and dream time.
Lnrdcroy – real name Leonard Campbell – originally released Much Less Normal on cassette via the brilliant 1080p Collection in 2014. Somehow, I completely missed it until this month. Since the label consistently drops some of the most enigmatic and addictive music I’ve heard in recent years, it came as a shock to realize I’d been missing out on something so seemingly tailored to my tastes.
At its core, this album is a dazed take on deep house, all flights of fancy and daydream glow instead of pent-up club energy. But the textures tell a wildly varied story that evokes Boards of Canada and Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works while never stretching the narrative past coherence. Everything locks into place, tonally, throughout these 55 minutes of drifting bliss.
Almost every song on the album reflects a new facet of the music, so I’m choosing this track as an introduction because of the dreamy fan-made visuals. Check out I Met You On BC Ferries:
Mark Pritchard – Under The Sun
Mark Pritchard was known to me as one half of two different units: the recent Africa Hitech project with Steve Spacek and the groundbreaking 90s techno juggernaut Global Communication, with Tom Middleton. While the former produced some quality tunes for Warp music over the past several years, the latter crafted what is, quite simply, one of the greatest albums of modern times.
Global Communication’s landmark recording 76:14 is basically the premier ambient techno album of a generation, the standard bearer for an entire genre. It’s passed the test of time in spectacular fashion, gaining recognition and significance over the 20+ years since its release. It’s one of my favorite writing albums of all time, a set of music both intricately detailed and perfectly suited for drifting through.
I mention the importance of that earlier album because Under The Sun is the first project of Pritchard’s solo career to come within orbit of that masterpiece. It’s not the cohesive mood monolith of its forebear, but it does reach for a similarly celestial transcendence.
A series of interstitial bits form the emotional backbone of this set, helping to blur the lines between vocal features and more pop-oriented sequences. Whether it’s Thom Yorke’s alien warble on Beautiful People or Linda Perhacs delivering a gorgeously unnerving folk sermon in You Wash My Soul, the standout moments stretch the boundaries of genre in freewheeling fashion. This is something of an all-star album, full of left-field detours like the beat poetry of Antipop Consortium’s Beans on The Blinds Cage, but Pritchard remains in total control of the narrative, reeling back to the glistening drone that underpins the entire experience at every turn.
Here’s the understated heart of the album, Sad Alron. It’s one of the atmospheric pieces that glue the entire set together.
Torn Hawk – Union and Return
I shared the first single from this magnificent breakthrough LP a couple months back, but my anticipation never waned.
Torn Hawk, aka Luke Wyatt, has been on my radar since 2013, when I heard a strange, atmospheric tune called Born to Win (Life After Ghostbusters). It was a 15 minute guitar-driven vaporwave epic, sounding like nothing I’d really heard before. I was obsessed, looping it for days. But I faked myself out; the guy hasn’t made music that sounded like that ever since. Instead, he’s kept innovating and shapeshifting, evolving into the quasi-motivational artist who crafted the humble magnum opus pictured above.
Union and Return pulses with midi-fired classical instrumentation, a live wire take on the sort of elegant spiritual sound that Mark Hollis and Talk Talk spent years perfecting. Instead of the ostensibly rock format of this forebear, Torn Hawk’s songs come together in the structure of dance music, adding layers of gossamer beauty over subtly looping beats. Soaring string sections are pierced with electric guitar, disembodied female vocals float by like seagulls over a cliff, and sudden bass throbs shake the mix to its core.
The album sits at a strange crossroads of avant garde instrumentation and street-level accessibility, making for an enlightening but easygoing listen. It’s thoughtful, deliberate music made with an eye for enjoyment by just about anyone.
Here’s the first single, Feeling is Law.
The album comes courtesy of Mexican Summer, the label founded by Oneohtrix Point Never himself, Daniel Lopatin.
So I started watching Lost again. It was one of the most important pieces of fiction in my life, one of the only television shows I ever felt invested in. It awoke a burgeoning spirituality in me and helped me get through one very tough period of life. It also entertained the hell out of me for 6 solid years.
I know there’s been a popular internet narrative that the show “fell off” in the end when it became too esoteric, too invested in its own surreal mythology to make sense, but I imagine that most of the complaints came from casual viewers who were understandably put off by the utter inaccessibility of the show in its end game. To me, it ended as perfectly as could be, a knotty mess of philosophy, science fiction, and pulpy soap opera histrionics.
These characters and their stories will always have a place in my heart, no matter how uncool it is for me to admit. Lost helped pave the way for today’s television renaissance, where we expect ambitious serialized storytelling and narrative sleight-of-hand, ambitious metaphor and sublime production values. Without this show, I doubt we’d be seeing the return of its forebear Twin Peaks, over 25 years after its unceremonious cancelation. Without this show, I doubt I’d have dove headfirst into Buddhism or Vonnegut with such zeal. Sometimes I think that the most important legacy, for me, was all of the tangents that it provided, connections that I tugged on until they consumed me. My twenties were an adventure, inextricably linked with the show that aired alongside them.
It’s now been 6 years since the show ended and the time felt right for a revisit. So far, I’m loving it all over again, in all of its messy glory. It’s a gentle slide into a mystery I once knew all too well.
Here’s a video from the collectors edition bluray set, a love letter for fans.