Open Ear Blog

New Music Reviews | March

Angelo De Augustine — Tomb

From the opening bars of the first track on ‘Tomb’, as finger-picked acoustic guitar is joined by hushed, intimate vocals, it is clear why Sufjan Stevens’ signed Angelo De Augustine to his Asthmatic Kitty label. While a clear debt is owed to Stevens’ brand of mellow, naïve Indie, De Augustine tells his own tale and forges his own path here. Neatly tying narratives of heartbreak with a sense of optimistic anticipation for the future, the tight knit vocals and minor-key melodies are more polished than the Lo-Fi sounds De Augustine debuted with and better for it. The broader production allows for more nuance and conflicting emotion, as tracks like ‘Time’ feel both whimsical and deliberate at once.

Hauschka — A Different Forest

Elegiac and atmospheric, ‘A Different Forest’ is dedicated to Volker Bertelmann’s love of the outdoors. Moving away from prepared piano to what he has called “pure piano”, there’s an elementary nature to the sound that brings with it a sense of motion and life reminiscent of silent film era piano scores. As with classic silent films, there’s a third person point-of-view kind of perspective here that moves with the beholders eye from the sweeping vistas of ‘Another Hike’ to the micro studies ‘Bark and Moss’ and ‘Dew and Spiderwebs’. Unsurprisingly pastoral, with ‘A Different Forest’ Hauschka has turned his piano into a microcosm of the natural world. Take the time to peer inside.

“I’ve always had a massive soft spot for contemporary classic musician Hauschka, who has consistently been churning out beautiful, piano based albums for more than a decade. He flies somewhat under the radar compared to piano poster boy Nils Frahm, but in my opinion is just as talented. Check out his new live show too, with a good friend of Open Ear, Florence To, on visuals.”

Brian d’Souza, Founder and M.D, @auntie._.flo

Nubiyan Twist — Jungle Run

A genuine confluence and melding of influences dominate the sound of ‘Jungle Run’ as Jazz, Afrobeat, Soul, and Hip Hop take turns dominating the rhythms. The title track is the perfect exemplar as a Hip Hop beat switches effortlessly into Soul before picking up the pace with a hint of Funk and then diving headlong into a slow contemporary Jazz bass crawl. Elsewhere we get Afro-Funk in ‘Basa Basa’ featuring Ghanaian vocalist K.O.G. while the legendary Tony Allen guests on ‘Ghosts’. The highlight, however, is an almost straight cut of pure Jazz. Hitting hard with percussion, horn and vibraphone, ‘Addis to London’ features Mulatu Astatke and a solid walking bass line that struts. Don’t miss it.

Murlo — Dolos

Released alongside a 36 page graphic novel, it should come as no surprise that Murlo’s debut album has a cinematic scope, while feeling out of step with the sounds more usually associated with the big screen. Drawing on Grime, Bassline and Electronica, ‘Dolos’ is a multilayered beast of digital rhythms and melodies that coaxes and cajoles, at times threatening to overwhelm yet also exerting a gravity-defying inward pull. Melodies are lazer bright, basslines never waver, and percussion is continually crisp. While nowhere near Pop, there’s an accessibility in the sonic palette that feels immediate and contemporary and instinctively right. For anyone with a love of Electronica this is an early contender for album of the year.

“I’ve always been a huge fan of Murlo, and as he ascends further into his own imagined—and self-illustrated—world of electronic weightlessness, it’s appropriate that his first release on his own label should sound every bit as intricate, detailed and intriguing as the graphic artwork that the Brighton-based polymath produces. Diamond-tipped treble and shuddering bass weave around jittery melodies like the score of an unwritten sci-fi masterpiece, resulting in the beautiful logical future of grime, a scene long since left to descend into a parody of itself. I’m already playlisting this everywhere I can and I’m looking forward to hearing it in some appropriately amazing spaces.”

Neil MacDonald, Head of Music, @buildafire

India.Arie — Worthy

Timeless as ever, we’re glad to see India.Arie back for album number eight with a suite of Soul and R&B that clearly displays why she’s a multi-award winning artist with four GRAMMYs to her name. It’s a focused collection with a central theme that celebrates humanity and the value of social consciousness. This is overt on ‘What If’, a paean to Black civil rights leaders and social activists, as well as on ‘Rollercoaster’, a surprisingly upbeat critique of the negativity prevalent in 24 hour news for entertainment. More intimate and personal is the smooth acoustic R&B of ‘Hour of Love’, and piano ballad ‘Follow the Sun’.

La Yegros — Suelta

Pulling together Cumbia and other Latin Folk styles into an intimate tryst with Dancehall vibes and Electronic beats, La Yegros demands attention with ‘Suelta’. An album designed to move the body as much as the mind, ‘Suelta’ stands apart from contemporary Pop trends while also remaining hyper stylish and engaging. Nowhere is this more true than on the syncopated rhythms of ‘A Ver A Ver’, a full out, Cumbia-inspired stomper. Meanwhile, the album highlight comes half way through ‘Linda La Cumbia’ as Cumbia gives way to a raw synth line before barrelling into slicing electric guitar only to be joined by pan-pipes. It’s a remarkable epic that ends all too soon.

“This is not the future sound of Latin America, it’s the consolidated sound of La Yegros (The Queen of New Cumbia) but also the consolidation of a movement that started more than 10 years ago. A very successful merge of pop and new cumbia (King Coya’s magic in the production again) where her enchanting coplera style voice and look will attract anyone slightly curious in that part of the world.”

Oscar Esquimal, Head of Operations and Playlist Curator, @oscaresquimal

Rina Mushonga — In A Galaxy

Bold and broad but never heavy or brooding, ‘In A Galaxy’ is a showcase of Rina Mushonga’s strong vocals and a deceptively diverse approach to a grand, sweeping Pop album. Those bold Pop vibes are most clear on tracks like ‘For a Fool’ where ‘80s synths are doubled up and Mushonga’s vocals are treated to Kate Bush-like overdubs. Yet on the title track the rhythms flirt with Reggae while never committing, on ‘Narcisc0’ we’re treated to a bright, staccato New Wave melodic line, and on ‘Glory_’ we find a piano ballad. It should be a mess, but instead it’s a vibrant composed and expertly executed collection brimming with ideas and hooks.

“I’ve completely fallen back in love with Indie music over the past year, and In A Galaxy is a perfect example of why. It doesn’t follow a linear genre; it’s accessible Afropop and danceable, too. We’ve been lacking uplifting synth-pop in the last few months due to the overhaul of downtempo RnB, so it’s refreshing to hear Rina Mushonga pull this one out the bag.

Make yourself feel good with ‘Good Vacation’ and wake up with ‘Atalanta’.

If you like this check out Jacob Banks ‘Village’.”

Lily London, Playlist Curator, @sweetlemonadefm

Massive Attack — Blue Lines

Thanks to publishing deals that have seen every track here, along with any number of imitators, broadcast as the hyper stylish soundtrack to television and films over the last 25+ years, the sound of ‘Blue Lines’ is now ubiquitous. It’s therefore important to think back to 1991 when Massive Attack’s debut was innovative but yet to be recognised as influential. The ensuing years saw the spread of Trip Hop and chilled Electronica, eventually coming to be seen, by the turn of the millennium, as the music of dinner parties. With each new influence a line was drawn back to ‘Blue Lines’ as the genres formative moment. Yet sonically it always stood out as different to the music it begat. Mainly that’s thanks to the creeping sense of dread that permeates from the opening bass rumble. Of course, a strong part of that is down to the significant Dub influences, but there’s also a darkness to Shara Nelson’s big Soul vocals that loop back not to Motown or Aretha but to Nina Simone and Billy Holiday.
There’s also the isolated, anxiety filled vocal bars in the West Country drawl that come courtesy of Tricky. A true British voice, bold and strong yet wary of braggadocio, honest and reflective. His vocals cut through the Soul and Dub and samples of ‘Blue Lines’ dragging it back out into the streets, connecting it to lived life and ultimately providing the authenticity that anchor the albums grander sentiments. That you can draw a direct line through the ensuing generation of British Hip Hop stars such as Roots Manuva, The Streets, Dizzee Rascal, and Loyle Carner is testament to his oft overlooked role on this album. Nearly thirty years after its launch, at a time where amped up Acid House ruled and US West Coast G-Funk was mere months from exploding onto the scene, the inward and stoned sound of ‘Blue Lines’ is rightly hailed as a milestone in British Hip Hop and Electronica. That it continues to triumph despite its ubiquity is testament to its depth, nuance, and misunderstood beauty.

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