Best New Music: “Drake” by Benny Lackner Trio

Speaking about the skills and talent of German-born pianist Benny Lackner, someone once said that he doesn’t have to be afraid of any comparisons to composers like Keith Jarrett or Brad Mehldau, and that “he has found his place in the upper league of Jazz Piano Trios“. Of course, this looks like an important and bold statement, which in any case reinforces an objective reality: the music composed by Lackner and played by the pianist with his bandmates is absolutely profound and engaging.

I can’t judge today whether the comparison between Lackner and the two above mentioned masters of “Jazz Trio” is correct or not. What I can say, for sure, is that the direction undertaken by Lackner to reach the top seems the right one one. Jarreth and Mehldau (who’s been one of Lackner’s mentors, by the way) have contributed to the development of this genre of Jazz with a depth and a resonance that perhaps is still unsurpassed; Lackner’s musical production, in any case, can be definitely considered within the most precious and exciting things we heard in the last few years.

Born in Berlin to an american father and a german mother, Benny Lackner, moved to California at the age of 13, where he studied Jazz with his mentor Brad Mehldau.

Drake is the new album from the Benny Lackner Trio, and since the first time I started listening to it there has been one special thing which amazed me more everything else, and this is the adoption of an extremely essential musical language, at times minimal, which is incredibly far from those mere demonstrations of technique and virtuosity that too often we hear in modern Jazz. In this sense, Lackner has found a extremely personal code for breaking the rules of standard Piano Trio music. The modernity and innovation of Lackner ‘s style, to some extent, are the characteristics that bring him closer to the giants of Jazz that were mentioned before.

“Drake” is Benny Lackner Trio’s 6th album

Drake offers to the listeners a very elegant, sober, and extremely delicate collection of Jazz music blended with contemporary electronic elements. The piano is at the centre of every composition, but we would make a great mistake by relegating the two supporting musicians (bassist Jerome Regard and drummer Matthieu Chazarenc) to the role of pure accompaniment. The two are in fact the architects of those rarefied and magical atmospheres that we find in all the tracks of the LP.

Benny Lackner Trio consists of Benny Lackner (piano and effects), Matthieu Chazarenc (drums) and Jerome Regard (bass and effects)

The rhythms in Drake are moderately slow. All the chords, and sometimes the single notes, seem to arrive after a profound phase of reflection on the harmonic and melodic effect they will produce on the song. There is little sense of spontaneousness, and we don’t feel either the immediacy of the typical Jazz improvisation process, which is however compensated by a persistent attention to maintaining a constant sonic balance throughout the pieces.

The result is a music that, at least from an objective point of view, should appear cold, almost mathematical, but that actually evokes continuous streams of emotions. That’s the magic and uniqueness of Lackner’s music, which, in the end, is absolutely enjoyable to listen to.

My overall rating for the LP is 8/10. This is one of the best Jazz albums among those I’ve listened so far in 2019. It’s not easy to indicate which are my favourite pieces because it’s the overall level of quality of the LP which makes the difference. Anyway, there are a bunch of songs which evoked the strongest emotions: Tears, It’s Gonna Happen, Yorke and the opening track I Told You so.

Drake is available on iTunes and it can be streamed also from Spotify. The album is now featured in The JAZZ MUSIC Radar, which is the playlist collecting the best Jazz songs released since the beginning of the year.

Best New Music: “Hyperion” by Gesaffelstein

If there is something that no longer surprises me is to acknowledge how many talented artists periodically emerge from within the French electronic scene. Even if we consider only the last twentyfive years, we can mention a remarkable number of influential figures such as Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoît Dunckel (Air),  Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter (Daft Punk), Gaspard Augé and Xavier de Rosnay (Justice), Nicolas Fromageau e Anthony Gonzalez (M83), Ludovic Navarre (St. Germain), Martin Picandet (Martin Solveig), and Benoit Carré (Skygge). These artists have developed their own peculiar styles and techniques, but all of them share the same capacity to combine originality of approach with style and, of course, enjoyability.

One of the figures that in the recent times has gained an increased attention as both producer and songwriter is Mike Lévy, an artist who is best known with his stage name of Gesaffelstein. Levy has already accredited himself as one of the most intriguing figures of contemporary electronic music, well beyond France, as witnessed by the fact that in the time-span of just a few years he has already accumulated a considerable number of collaborations with artists of the caliber of Pharrell Williams, Kanye West and The Weeknd.

French electronic producer and songwritre Mike Lévy, best known as Gesaffelstein, a made-up word meant as a reference to both the concept of “Gesamtkunstwerk” (total work of art) and Albert Einstein.
The first releases from Gesaffelstein date back to 2008 but his first LP (“Aleph”) arrived in 2013. So far, he has published two LPs and 9 EPs.

On March 2019, Gesaffelstein has released the album named Hyperion, which formally is the second studio LP of his discography after his 2013’s debut called Aleph. As said, during this time Lévy certainly had the opportunity to confront himself with many different artists and experiences and, in fact, the new album comes out in a moment in which the artist has undoubtedly gained greater popularity and awarenes. And what we hear from his newest release is absolutely impressive.

“Hyperion” is the second studio album by Gesaffelstein, released on 8 March 2019. The album is produced by Columbia Records and it includes collaborations with The Weeknd, Pharrell Williams, Haim, The Hacker and Electric Youth.

There are really many things that I appreciated in Hyperion. The first one is the solid research that the artist has done on the sonic aspect of his music. That’s particularly evident in the instrumental tracks of the album, where we can enjoy beautiful but also very particular ranges of sounds. As a matter of fact, the possibility of customizing and shaping both sounds and atmospheres is really one of the peculiarities of electronic music, something that should be sought and exercised by every artist. Conversely, many modern artists seem to be happy to just rely on those palettes of sounds that have already been defined and affirmed by others, making their albums to be often indistinguishable.

Another thing that I liked is the temper, the character of this music. For most of the tracks Hyperion basically offers a fairly accessible and synth-based version of techno music. Below the surface, however, there is always a dark and relatively haunting feeling that you get from the music. It’s like a fil-rouge that characterizes the album: this is more evident in the most synth-wave oriented songs like Reset and Ever Now but, in different measures, it’s present almost everywhere.

Last, but not least, we can really enjoy a lot of different ideas in the LP. The ten tracks Hyperion of are basically divided into two main categories: a group of structured “songs”, which typically see the presence of a vocalist, and another group of instrumental pieces, typically shorter and more immediate, which develop around a single musical element and elaborate on it both rhythmically and musically.

Gesaffelstein’s new record is definitely one of the best electronic albums we could enjoy so far in 2019, My rating for the LP is 8/10 and there are really many good songs that I can recommend, including Blast Off, Reset, Vortex and the long. poignant and exciting instrumental track Humanity Gone, which closes the record.

Hyperion is available for streaming on Spotify and it’s now featured also in The ELECTRONIC MUSIC Radar, the growing playlist which contains a selection of the best electronic songs that have been released in 2019.

Best New Music: “Crushing” by Julia Jacklin

Sometimes I find myself thinking about how many groups or artists try to reach the hearts of their fans with compulsively conceptual songs, or stylistic choices that want to be innovative, but that ultimately do nothing else than putting an unnecessary distance between the music and the listener. Then, all of a sudden, a young musician arrives, with just her voice and a guitar, and she sweeps away all these overcomplicated artefacts with the simplicity of beautiful songs that speaks directly to the heart.

Julia Jacklin is an Australian singer and songwriter based in Sydney, and she has released in late February 2019 her second LP, Crushing, which follows her 2016’s impressive debut studio album, Don’t Let the Kids Win. Similarly to what happened on the occasion of her first record, the first thing which impresses of Crushing is the remarkable emotional intensity of the songs. These are reflections and flashes made by the artist on her life and her past experiences, translated into music with a naturalness and a sense of urgency and immediacy that cannot leave us indifferent.

“Crushing” is the second LP by the Australian singer-songwriter Julia Jacklin. The album was released on February 22nd, 2019, by Liberation Records.

When you listen Julia Jacklin’s new record, it really seems to be alongside an old friend of ours who decided, on a rainy day, to tell us about some of the strongest emotions she has experienced in the last few years, and she does it with passion, transport, and using a musical language that’s simple, as it is effective and confidential.

This album came from spending two years touring and being in a relationship, and feeling like I never had any space of my own. For a long time I felt like my head was full of fear and my body was just this functional thing that carried me from point A to B, and writing these songs was like rejoining the two.

Julia Jacklin, from her Facebook page
Julia Jacklin

From a musical point of view, the songs of Crushing stay right on the border that separates indie pop from folk. The instrumentation, in particular, is that typical of folk music: the tracks develop mainly on Julia’s voice and guitar, with a simple rhythmic session made by repeated notes of bass and slow beats on the drums. Rarely we hear a piano. The simplicity of the arrangement, however, is compensated by warm and beautiful sounds of all the instruments, which in the end enhance the sense of intimacy of the tracks.

As far as the style of the songs is concerned, Crushing alternates between poetical moments with meditative and confidential tones, and others where the rhythms rise (relatively) and the songs embrace a rock and roll feeling. The first category of songs is that one that impressed me the most, and which in my opinion makes this LP so beautiful and gorgeous. The opening song of the LP, Body, is perhaps one of the most expressive and engaging tracks I’ve heard in recent times. The song tells of the end of a relationhsip, and of how the destiny can have an impact on our lifes in the most unpredictable ways.

On the album-opening lead single “Body,” Jacklin proves the power of that approach, turning out a mesmerizing vocal performance even as she slips into the slightest murmur. A starkly composed portrait of a breakup, the song bears an often-bracing intimacy, a sense that you’re right in the room with Jacklin as she lays her heart out. And as Body wanders and drifts, Jacklin establishes Crushing as an album that exists entirely on its own time, a work that’s willfully unhurried.

Excerpt from Julia Jacklin’s Facebook page

Crushing is an album filled with emotions and played with passion and elegance. Julia Jacklin is improving her style and storytelling skills year after year. We can really expect the best from her future career.

I’m giving the LP an overall rating of 8/10. As I said, I was particularly impressed by the most intimate and delicate songs of the LP, which include the already mentioned Body, Don’t Know How to Keep Loving You, Convention, Turn Me Down, and Comfort.

Crushing is available on Bandcamp and it can be streamed also from Spotify.

Songs from Crushing are now featured in a number of different playlists among those I curate on Spotify, namely: CRESTS OF WAVES (the softer side of music), THE INDIE FOLK RADAR (the best of Indie Folk since the beginning of 2019), THE INDIE POP RADAR (the best of Indie Pop since the beginning of 2019), and MODERN SONGWRITERS. Check these out and follow the playlists, these are updated frequently with new songs.

Best New Music: “The Alaska Sessions” by Accidental Tourists (Burger, Erskine, Magnusson)

Accidental Tourists is the jazz music project led by German pianist and composer Markus Burger, who is supported, on every release, by others acclaimed and talented musicians. For his latest record, named The Alaska Sessions, Burger asked the collaboration of two of the most renowned musicians of the American jazz scene: acclaimed drummer Peter Erskine and bassist Bob Magnusson. As some already said, this ensemble basically combined European elegance with an “American drive”.

“The Alaska Sessions”, by Markus Burger’s Accidental Tourists, featuring Peter Erskine and Bob Magnusson.

The Alaska Sessions features a collection of beautiful songs that were initially written by Burger during a series of trips he made in Alaska and then interpreted by the trio during an intense two-day recording session in Los Angeles. “Interpreted” is really the right word to use because each song uses Borg’s input melodies as the starting point for precious and fascinating improvisations by the three artists. The result is a kind of jazz that keeps always a strong melodic baseline, with lots of classical and chamber-music influences, but at the same leaves the musicians free to explore all the harmonic, rhythmic and melodic boundaries of the central motif.

The song The Beginning of a Love Affair, as an example, has at least two different levels of listening: one is that of the piece in the foreground, which is a beautiful ballad played by Burger on his piano and that could very well be isolated from the rest of the music, and considered as a piece in itself, for how it is poetic and exciting; at a deeper level of listening we can focus our attention to the animated counterpoint that’s established between the piano and the beautiful Magnusson’s bass lines.

In this specific song, the drums appear to have a supporting role, but the situation is reversed for example in the next song, Kaleidoscope, where the rhythmic component is really the backbone of the song, with a persistent rhythmic motif that is as effective as it is immediate and original. In Skeys, the duet between the piano and the drums polarizes the listener’s attention, but still, we have one of the most impressive bass solos of the entire record.

In general terms, The Alaska Sessions is absolutely, and objectively, a great album to listen to. The first thing that impressed me was the quality of the sounds. Each instrument is reproduced with a sound which is at the same time crystal clear and extremely rich of thousands of shades and nuances. The sound engineers in this case really did an outstanding job: the three instruments were recorded and balanced in a way that switching from the global harmony to the individual instruments is extremely simple and always effective.

On the musical side, I have already said that the album benefits from a selection of fascinating melodies. These manage to convey that sense of “classic” and universal amazement that only the wildest and most uncontaminated nature can give to a man. Starting from this valuable material, Erskine and Magnusson did much more than just supporting the leader, they enriched all the pieces with significant and remarkable contributions. My overall rating for the LP is 8.5/10.

My favourite songs are the opening track Perpetuum Mobile, the poignant and moving The Beginning of a Love Affair, Kaleidoscope, and Pure Imagination.

The album is available on Challenge Records and it can be streamed from Spotify.

Songs from The Alaska Sessions have been included in two of the playlists that I’m curating on Spotify. One is THE JAZZ MUSIC RADAR, which features the best and latest releases of 2019. The second playlist is ABSOLUTE BEAUTY, which is my personal selection of the most charming, delicate and classical-inspired pieces. Check these out.

Best New Music: “Wake Up The Coma” by Front Line Assembly

Bill Leeb (Vocals, Keyboards) and Rhys Fulber (Keyboards, Programming, Mixing) are the two masterminds of Front Line Assembly, the Canadian electro-industrial project founded in 1986.

I’m proud to be a long-term fan of Front Line Assembly. They have and will always have a special place in my musical heart. With equal parts of curiosity and devotion, I followed them experimenting with the entire spectrum of electro-industrial music, both as FLA and through their numerous side-projects. Therefore, I’ve always been prepared to expect the unexpected on every new album. Of course, when I discovered that one of the singles which anticipated their brand new LP Wake Up the Coma was a cover of Falco’s Rock Me Amadeus, I thought for a while that this time they had really “jumped the shark”. In reality, however, once I had the chance to hear the whole record, my concerns were quickly dissolved.

“Wake Up The Coma” is the eighteenth studio LP from Front Line Assembly. The album was released on February 8, 2019.
Front Line Assembly (Feat. Jimmy Urine) – “Rock Me Amadeus”

First of all, it’s important to say that in this new iteration the band’s style has become purely electronic. All the distorted guitars and the heavy riffs that did justify for some time the presence of a guitarist as a permanent member of their live gigs have now disappeared. Similarly, we have neither the deep and meditative atmospheric sections of the Civilization phase (which I really loved, to be honest). What do we have then in Wake Up The Coma? It’s simple: compact and thick electro-industrial with strong bass loops, danceable rhythms, flashes of synths, and vocals. The overall style oscillates between relatively catchy moments (like the opening song Eye on You or Structures), and heavier, slower and gloomy tracks. The first kind of songs, in my opinion, is definitely the best of the record.

May this be considered as a return to the origins? Not really, principally because we don’t have today the complexity and the rawness of their early works. Evidently, going through the most accessible regions of electronic music has left a tangible mark in their music. We’re in a sort of intermediate region: their sound is certainly easier to assimilate when compared with their first albums, but at the same time it’s far from the melodic and ambient-like tunes we enjoyed in more recent times.

Front Line Assembly (feat. Robert Görl) – “Eye on You”·

For longtime fans of the band, Wake up the Coma gives the possibility to appreciate the stylistic synthesis of many different moments that have been experienced by Front Line Assembly in their long career. Maybe there is an excess of simple and linear beat sequences, which in some cases become a basic and dancefloor kind of four quarters, but in the end, the songs are never too mundane or flat. On the other hand, however, some of the new songs don’t show the freshness, the creativity and to some extent the “urgency” of their best works. That said, my overall judgment on “Wake up the Coma” is definitely positive, even if the LP is not that absolute masterpiece that I was dreaming of. If I had to give a rating, I would say 8/10, even if I want to take the opportunity to revise it in a couple of months, once I will be more familiar with those few tracks that today don’t allow me to go to higher values.

In the context of their entire discography, Wake Up the Coma is for sure another good entry in the large catalogue of albums released by Front Line Assembly. In particular, it looks like the band has reached another stable state of their continuous evolution. The result is an album with a remarkable number of potential hits like we didn’t have from them for many years.

Favourite songs: Mesmerized, Albeit, Living a Lie, Eye on You and Structures. It’s easy to see that these are among the more “danceable” songs of the LP.

Wake Up The Coma is available on Bandcamp and it can be streamed also from Spotify.

Best New Music: “A Different Forest” by Hauschka

In a situation where we’re literally flooded by masses of authors who claim to play “modern classical” music but who, in true honesty, propose nothing more than easy listening pop melodies performed on a piano, the arrival of an album like A Different Forest, from Hauschka, may seem something completely revolutionary. And this is because this new work is results definitely closer to the classical music for piano that was composed in the previous century (I have in mind the Etudes by Philip Glass‘ or the Preludes and Fugues by Dmitry Shostakovich) rather than to the commercial successes that have been released in more recent times by world acclaimed authors like Ludovico Einaudi, Daigo Hanada and Joep Beving.

“A Different Forest” is the fifteenth album by Hauschka (excluding EP and remix album). The album was officially released on February 8th, 2019

Hauschka is the alias of German pianist and composer Volker Bertelmann

The surprise for me was even greater because the only single that I had the opportunity to enjoy prior the release of the LP was the song named Hike, which is curiously the most (and the only) similar to that genre of contemporary piano songs that I just mentioned, with its basic repeated element which resembles – even too dangerously – the beautiful motif from Flight from the City by Jóhann Jóhannsson.

The song Hike, in its original version and in an alternate and longer version (Another Hike), opens and closes the album. In between, the LP offers a sequence of impressive and absolutely original pieces of contemporary classical piano music. Thematically, as the title suggests, the songs are dedicated to the exploration of the world of nature, which for the author is epitomised by the image of a forest.

In A Different Forest, I’m focusing on the forest as a natural environment and contrast to the urban everyday life; to my surroundings. Where do I want to live and work? What surroundings do I need in order to feel fulfilled? By examining these questions I always come back to nature. How often have I gone for a walk and finished on the crest of a hill or mountain top, and found a new perspective on things. It’s quite a moving experience. The experience of the sublime. Realising that everything has been there for such a long time and will continue to exist, yet in contrast, our human existence is reduced to but a fraction of the earth’s history.

Haushka, from a commentary on his new LP

But what’s absolutely impressive of this LP, in my opinion. is not the didascalic aspect of the music, but the technical and compositional aspect of the songs. The music composed and played by Volker Bertelmann for Haushka’s new LP is profound and “ricercata” (any fan of György Ligeti here?). In the new pieces, we can appreciate the result of an in-depth study upon the harmonic aspect of modern music, and it’s impressive to hear how articulated sections of counterpoint flow into melodic and poetic moments of absolute beauty. I can cite as an example the song Skating through the Woods: it starts as an elaboration of an hexatonal scale but progressively, and in an extremely natural way, it evolves into a melancholic motif of rare delicacy. We experience in the short time span of 3 minutes and half an entire cultural journey that starts with Arnold Schoenberg and ends with Ólafur Arnalds. Brilliant.

Such an “evolutionary” approach is a mechanism that Haushka exploits many times in the album, it’s a sort of leitmotif of the LP. It’s as if Haushka wanted to underline how the melodies that we like to listen to, and in particular the most catchy ones, should be considered as only some particular cases among the thousand different permutations that are possible starting from the same basic set of sounds. These notes, when combined in an appropriate way, can produce sweet and delicate motifs or, when reorganized according to different sequences, other important aspects of the interaction between man and music, such as the rhythm, the chromatic contrast, or even the memory.

The fact that Volker Bertelmann wanted to deal with a more rigorous and formal approach to music may be deduced also from the fact that, unlike most of his recent works, in A Different Forest he’s not relying on his famous prepared piano, with which in the recent times he has produced some of his most interesting and experimental works. As a matter of fact, Hauschka’s previous LP, 2017’s What If, was reviewed within the electronic music section of this blog!

Hauschka, “Familiar Things Disappear”, from his previous album “What If” (2017)

Hauschka is thus confirmed as one of the most important and authoritative figures of modern classical music. And with its precious combination of formality, research and passion, A Different Forest enters the list of the most important piano records of the last few decades.

My overall rating for the LP is 9/10. All the songs are equally impressive and interesting to hear, and Just for the sake of suggesting some song I can mention: Everyone Sleeps, Ghosts, Curious, Hike and Another Hike.

A Different Forest can be streamed from Spotify, where it’s also featured in the playlist BEAUTIFUL PIANO (with almost six hours with the best music for piano of the last few years).

Best New Music: “It Won/t Be Like This All the Time” by The Twilight Sad

There are bands whose career has been marked by many stylistic shifts but that have still preserved a recognizable and excellent quality of musical production. Among these formations we can certainly count The Twilight Sad: the band debuted at the beginning of their career with a heavy post-punk altered by industrial and noise elements, and they arrived today, through an articulate journey, to play an experimental version of indie rock that’s full of melodies and enriched with new wave nuances. In these cases, every fan usually feels more connected to a specific phase of the band’s career and lives with trepidation the release of a new album, trying to imagine how much the new material will be closer – or distant – with respect to his “favourite record”. From a more external and objective point of view (as it is mine, in this case), these changes of style are observed with less apprehension and much more curiosity. And coming back to the specific case of The Twilight Sad’s new record, named It Won/t Be Like This All the Time, it’s easy to say that the last musical incarnation of the Scottish band is absolutely brilliant and exciting.

“It Won/t Be Like This All the Time” is the fifth studio album by The Twilight Sad. The LP was released by Rock Action Records on 18 January 2019.

The first impressive characteristic of the new album is the remarkable number of truly memorable songs that it contains. There are at least 6 tracks that you would like to listen again and again, for how they are catchy and moving. And this is the reason why the album is so enjoyable and interesting independently from any consideration about the evolution of the band’s style. Very often, when I hear people talking about music, it seems to me that they forget that the ultimate objective of this art is to generate emotions in the listener and, if possible, to make him dream with his eyes open. An album like It Won/t Be Like This All the Time reconciles us with the very essence of contemporary music: it’s first and foremost a collection of superb rock songs. All the other disquisitions whether it’s noise folk rather than experimental or post-punk take on very little importance.

From a stylistic point of view, the songs of the album are built on a combination of multiple constituting elements. The first, in my view, is the work that has been made by Andy MacFarlane, who draws with his guitar sequence of chords, melodic lines or even distorted sounds that are always interesting and also relatively unconventional. The walls of noise that he was used to playing in the band’s early works have left the field to lighter, but absolutely moving sounds. It’s almost unbelievable to realize that in many songs of the album it seems, at first, that the guitars have disappeared. But as soon as we focus our attention it’s easy to verify that not only MacFarlane’s dreamy guitar is absolutely present, but that with its enveloping sound it’s actually one of the main sources of that atmospheric feel which impregnate every song.

Guitarist and producer Andy MacFarlane is one of the two remaining founding members of The Twilight Sad.

Another key element of the band’s today style is a tangible and persistent presence of delicate layers of synths, which are always dosed with great balance and elegance. This is combined with an effective rhythm section, which is as beautiful as it’s simple and linear. This is also the component of the band’s style which recalls the most the influences from new wave: clean bass lines, repeated notes, tight compact battery, all it’s really fantastic to me. Finally, but not least, the deep and expressive voice of James Alexander Graham, who’s absolutely inspired in this record.

When combining together so many positive elements, it’s easy to obtain an album so exciting as It Won/t Be Like This All the Time. And if I think that not so many years ago the guys from Kilsyth were seriously thinking about calling it quits, we must really be grateful to them for they changed their minds.

The Twilight Sad today consists of James Alexander Graham (vocals), Andy MacFarlane (guitar), Johnny Docherty (bass), Brendan Smith (keyboards) and Sebastien Schultz (drums). The latter replaced the historic band’s drummer Mark Devine, who had participated in all the band’s previous albums.

My overall rating for the album is 9/10. It’s a real masterpiece of modern rock, and one of the best of the band’s discography. I believe that we have already one of the contenders for the best rock album of 2019, if not the best among all genres.

My favourite songs are VTr, Girl Chewing Gum, The Arbor, Let/s Get Lost, Auge/Maschine, and the opening track [10 Good Reasons for Modern Drugs].

It Won/t Be Like This All the Time is available for streaming on Spotify.

Songs from It Won/t Be Like This All the Time are now featured in INDIE INSIDE, the playlist with the best of new indie rock. Check it out and follow it!

Best New Music: “When the World Becomes Undone” by A Pale Horse Named Death

Sometimes, when reviewing a record, it’s really difficult, if not impossible, not to be influenced by nostalgia. Therefore, when you’re in front of an album that keeps alive the legacy of one of your favourite bands of all times, the judgment will never be completely objective. I know that.

A Pale Horse Named Death is an American gothic metal band that was created in 2010 by Sal Abruscato, the former drummer of the legendary band Type O Negative. And since the beginning of this new project, he and his bandmates have never hide the fact that Type O Negative, together with Alice in Chains, was to be considered the principal references for their sound.

The current line-up of A Pale Horse Named Death features Sal Abruscato (voice, guitar, drums), Eddie Heedles (guitar), Johnny Kelly (drums), Eric Morgan (bass) and Joe Taylor (guitars).

When the World Becomes Undone is the new LP released by A Pale Horse Named Death, and the style of music played by the band doesn’t deviate too much from their previous two albums: 2010’s And Hell Will Follow Me and 2013′ s Lay My Soul to Waste.

“When the World Becomes Undone” is the third LP by American gothic band A Pale Horse Named Death. The album was released on January 18th, 2019.

Fans of gothic metal will enjoy in this LP the beautiful combination of dark atmospheres, heavy and melodic riffs, with slow – but not obsessive – rhythms. The quality and also the charm of this music, however, makes the record in principle accessible for a wider and more heterogeneous audience of listeners. Just as it happened in the past with Type O Negative or more in general as is the case with the best bands, their area of influence is generally wider than what the boundaries of their genre should dictate.

When the World Becomes Undone brings with it the original spark of light that illuminated the bands they are inspired by, and the album still preserves many of the elements that many years ago made these formations to become legendary. The level of quality of the masters remains still unattainable, that’s clear. But in this sense, the operation that was conducted by Abruscato was absolutely valid, and smart. He has in fact managed to develop a style of music that despite being inspired from that of his former band, it’s still moving towards new directions. In this respect, the insertion of the grunge component into the gothic recipe was an interesting and well-executed move. A few songs, actually, are more close to grunge than to gothic and doom. This is the case, as an example, of the two central songs of the album Vultures and End of Days that could be truly part of Alice in Chains’ new LP.

The songs of A Pale Horse Named Death’s new album range from atmospheric and relatively dark moments to brief phases in which the music becomes more energetic and the rhythms tighter. Slow tempos dominate for most of the record, in particular in the central part of the LP.

The sonic aspect of When the World Becomes Undone is particularly intriguing. There is in the forefront the combination of dirty and strong guitars with powerful bass, and of course the voice of Abruscato, which I found particularly warm and empathic. The work done by the other two guitarists is also excellent and the songs are plenty of interesting guitar inserts and subtle melodic lines that stay in the shadow of the main riffs. Sometimes all the intricate lines of the guitar may seem almost imperceptible, at least if you don’t put too much attention to the details, but in the end, they really contribute to the overall atmospheres of the songs.

My rating for the album is 8/10. This record presents a beautiful mix of past and present, and it offers a collection of songs that are strong and melodic at the same time.

My favourite songs: Love the Ones You Hate, the title track When the World Becomes Undone, We All Break Down, and Fell in My Hole.

When the World Becomes Undone is available on Bandcamp and it can be streamed also from Spotify.

Best New Music: “De Facto” by Lorelle Meets The Obsolete

If someone asked me what result we would get by putting in a blender a large dose of 70s psychedelic rock and a couple of abundant cups of dream pop, I would probably reply with something close to the new album from the Mexican duo Lorelle Meets The Obsolete. Lorena Quintanilla and Alberto González, the two masterminds behind this particular music project, have just published one of those records that really defies classifications. The band’s new album, called De Facto, contains a wide spectrum of styles that gravitate between the most extreme psychedelic experimentations and moments of pure ambient poetry.

“De Facto” is Lorelle Meets The Obsolete‘s new album, released on January 11, 2019.

De Facto is the fifth album released by Quintanilla and González, and it’s apparently the one where the two artists have left more freedom to their musical inspirations, exploiting a palette of sounds and atmospheres that range among apparently distant points of the musical universe. The result is absolutely brilliant, especially because the songs of the album are amazing and impressive not only for their originality but really because of the emotional intensity they bring to the listener.

Lorena Quintanilla (“Lorelle”) and Alberto González (“The Obsolete”).

In order to fully appreciate the music of De Facto, however, the listener really needs to get rid of any preconception and absorb the songs that arrive one after the other as they come, without trying to find familiar patterns or frameworks. Without this openness of spirit you would not be able to transition from a first track like Ana, distressing and almost trascendental with its slow and ineluctable pulsating rhythm, to a second track like Lineas en Hojas, which starts as a K-pop dreamy hit, and then evolves. The experience may be a little unsettling, there is no doubt about it, but the absolute value of music keeps everything tight and compact, with a constant sense of emotional suspension that manages to hold together moments that, at first sightm, could seem so loudly distant one each other.

Sonically speaking the album is truly amazing. De Facto was recorded in Ensenada, Baja California, in a home-made recording studio that the duo built with their roommate and touring synth player, José Orozco, after finishing the tour for their 2017’s LP Balance. To some extent, it’s surprising to realize that the music composed in a relatively amateurish recording studio has managed to become so universal, something capable to cross the boundaries of all the genres that we have heard to date.

If I should try to give some coordinates for describing the music of the LP, I would say that the songs of De Facto have a central core of psychedelic rock based on synthesizers and guitars, which are also the main instruments played by Quintanilla and González. The combination of dreamy vocals over psychedelic rock is one of the conducting threads that hold together the various pieces of the LP. In some tracks, such as the long song Unificado, it’s really the central component of the song, but in many other tracks it’s just one of the various contributors to the overal atmosphere. From this psychedelic baseline, the various songs of the disc depart freely through different and often amazing paths. A group of skilled musicians contributed to the composition of the LP, including the aforementioned Orozco on synths and organ, drummer Andrea Davi and bassist Fernando Nuti. Lorena Quintanilla has stated on several occasions that the songs of De Facto were conceived and originated with a “band approach” rather than starting from individual ideas. This is presumably another reason why we enjoy in the final product such a variety of tones and styles.

I started my review talking about a shake of 70s rock and dream pop. Other critics have compared this music to what happens when musical experimentation passes through a heavy psych filter. Both these descriptions are quite evocative but, in the end, they don’t fully render the complexity, the brilliance and also the freshness of this music. What’s certain and indisputable is that De Facto is an outstanding record. I give it a rating of 8/10.

De Facto is available on Bandcamp and it can be streamed from Spotify.

My favorite songs are the opening track Ana, the psychedelic hymn Unificado, the closing song La Maga, but also the intriguing Lineas en Hojas with its hypnotic bass loop.

Lorelle And The Obsolete are now featured in YELLOW EYES, the playlist with the best of contemporary progressive rock.

Best New Music: “John Garcia and the Band of Gold” by John Garcia

The beginning of 2019 has been particularly generous for the fans of stoner music: we have just received, just like a late Christmas present, the new album from one of the most important, influential and acclaimed figures of the stoner scene. I’m referring to John Garcia, the voice of the desert, the American vocalist and songwriter who has illuminated with his shining talent the world of stoner in the last thirty years.

John Garcia’s musical career has been marked by many important phases: he founded the legendary band Kyuss and after that experience he contributed to many other formations such as Unida, Slo Burn, Hermano and Vista Chino.

John Garcia performing live with Kyuss in 1995. You can see in the picture the band’s guitarist Josh Homme, who later founded the rock band Queens of the Stone Age.

Approximately five years ago, the singer from Arizona started a solo career which has already seen the release of three studio records: 2014’s self-titled LP John Garcia, 2017’s The Coyote Who Spoke in Tongues (where Garcia presented in a totally acoustic arrangement a bunch of new tracks and some of Kyuss’ legendary songs) and, finally, this year’s John Garcia And The Band Of Gold.

John Garcia’s third and latest LP: “John Garcia and the Band of Gold”

As soon as I started listening to the new record I immediately realized that this wasn’t just John Garcia’s latest LP. This album, in fact, could likely represent a turning point in the career of the American musician. John Garcia And The Band Of Gold shows a tangible shift towards hard rock and southern sounds and, in this respect, the album represents a relative departure from the classical “stoner metal” of Garcia’s previous releases. John Garcia And The Band Of Gold is therefore one of those records that you have to listen and enjoy without making continuous comparisons with the artist’s previous discography. Let me be more precise: if the operation of evaluating this new album in the overarching context of Garcia’s career is absolutely normal, especially for long-term fans (as I am), I believe that expecting from each new song written by Garcia to be the new Gardenia is wrong, and it doesn’t make any justice to the phisiological evolution of Garcia’s music, and the evolutionary process that he has undertaken in the last few years. I repeat: this has nothing to do with the overall appreciation of the new album, for which everyone is free to say whatever he wants. This is rather my humble recommendation: to approach the new LP by taking into account that, in its essence, this is basically a record of contemporary hard rock with stoner influences. And it’s no coincidence, therefore, that the part of the album that’s closer to classic stoner is the final one, in which the band reinterprets in an “electric” way the unpublished songs that were initially presented in Garcia’s fully acoustic LP The Coyote Who Spoke in Tongues.

John Garcia today.

Once made the necessary recommendations, let’s now focus on the new material released by our beloved singer. The first thing to say about John Garcia And The Band Of Gold is that the record is incredibly fresh, bright and also fun. There are many positive elements about Garcia’s new effort, but the thing that impressed me since the beginning has been the stylistic coherence of the LP. The album has a compactness out of the ordinary and it emanates a sense of confidence that honestly we couldn’t find when Garcia started his solo career. Compared to the music contained in 2014’s Garcia’s debut as leader, the artist today seems to have calibrated much better his style and he’s in condition to offer a collection of songs that go straight and without any hesitation along the road he has now chosen to follow for his music. There are no drops of tension, no dramatic changes of atmosphere, nor even the usual alternation of ballads and heavy pieces that we’ve listened in Garcia’s debut. The new record is like a car that runs fast along the straight and hot roads of Arizona (I’ve never been in that part of the US, but this is how I imagine the roads there). Clearly there is the risk that in the long run the LP could suffer for a relative lack of internal dynamics, but at least in this first phase of listening the compactness of the songs seems to prevails over everything else, and it makes the album absolutely exciting and enjoyable to listen to.

The majority of the tracks of the LP are characterized by simple but extremely appealing riffs, which result at the same time accessible and engaging. The album is immediate and ready to be assimilated already from the first listenings, but it doesn’t lose brilliance even after several runs in the stereo. For sure Garcia and his loyal bandmates (who are basically the same musicians that gravitated around him in the last few years) know very well how to win the hearts of the fans, and they do it on every new album. As a matter of fact, there are artists that have the capacity to write riffs and choruses that stick into the listener’s memory just from the first times you listen to them, and John Garcia is one of those. A few songs, in particular, have all the credentials to become new classics in his vast discography and they have also the potential to excite the audiences of the singer’s future live shows.

If I had to highlight a negative aspect of the record, I would have expected something more for the vocal part. John Garcia has one of the most beautiful and recognizable voices of rock and listening to him while he sings is always one of the most rewarding experiences for a stoner enthusiast (I have seen him live three times, and I can say that in the recent years, under this point of view, he is really in great shape). Nevertheless, in this last record I feel like Garcia has put on show all of his usual repertoire, which is really much stuff, but without ever surprising us with something unique and new.

In conclusion: John Garcia and the Band of Gold is another precious entry within the discography of one of the greatest musicians of all times, and not only within the stoner scene. It provides many elements of innovation to keep alive the interest of the long-term fans of the artists, and for the same reason presumably he will disappoint a few of them. The direction of Garcia’s music as band leader is now clear and his performance as singer is solid and brilliant, despite I would have preferred something new also on this aspect. Finally, the songs of the new album have a level of accessibility and immediacy that make the LP as a good entry point even for those who aren’t familiar with the previous production from Garcia.

If I should express my rating, I would say 8/10.

The album can be streamed from Bandcamp and Spotify.

My favorite songs: Chicken Delight, Apache Junction, Jim’s Whiskers, Popcorn, Don’t Even Think About It and the opening instrumental track Space Vato.

Songs from the album John Garcia and the Band of Gold are featured in DUST AND SAND and THE DELICATE SOUND OF THUNDER, the two playlist I’m curating on Spotify with the best of new stoner music. Listen, follow and spread the word!

Best New Music: LAST BUILDING BURNING by Cloud Nothings

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Dylan Baldi is the singer, guitarist and leader of indie rock band Cloud Nothings. The band started in 2009 as Baldi’s solo project but it soon became a full formation with other permanent members.

There are bands that represent the essence and the spirit of rock. Among these I surely include Cloud Nothings, the spectacular indie rock from Ohio. I follow this band with particular attention since their 2014 album, Here and Nowhere Else, and from then I’ve felt a natural attraction for their music and I’ve literally fallen in love with many of the intense and profound songs they wrote. I’ve always found their approach to music as the perfect paradigm and synthesis of rock and roll in modern times. Their songs manifest the urgency of communicating something strong, and the musical language they’ve built in order to transmit their feelings is raw, immediate, dissonant and full of contradictions as is today the world around us. No frills, no masks, a kind of music that is stripped of all what’s superfluous but that, in doing so, shows a monstrous and impressive substance. I feel that Cloud Nothings have achieved the perfect synthesis between the immediacy of punk, the aggressiveness of alternative rock, the melodies of power pop, the research and experimentation of avant-garde music, and the the angularities of noise rock. Their sound is the point where all these different ways of interpreting modern rock eventually meet together, and their albums are gifted by a sense of spontaneity and naturalness that makes everything alive and exciting.



Last Building Burning is the new LP released by Cloud Nothings, the fifth of their discography. The publication notes say that the album was recorded in only eight days in a studio located in a border town of Texas. It’s not surprising, therefore, that the album offers such intense feelings of immediacy and spontaneity. Don’t expect the balance and the crystalline perfection of those over-produced albums where clear sounds and catchy melodies are tuned and refined up to the smallest details. Instead, prepare yourself for rough sounds and a genuine flow of electric anger, with songs that point straight and without hesitations at the heart of music, at the essence of rock.



I’m here to say that Last Building Burning is yet another great record by a fantastic band, and I’m sure that its arrival, in this cold November, has the effect of warming the soul of all the fans of indie music. The record has no false steps and every song is a little gem. There are of course some tracks that shine with a particular light of beauty. I can mention the song In Shame, perhaps the most melodic, fast and accessible song of the LP, one of those tracks that you want to listen again as soon as it ends, without going on with the rest of the album.



On the other opposite there is Dissolution, a song that makes me think of Dylan Baldi and his bandmates hitting hard on their instruments with rage, fury and passion, but at some point they find themselves blocked on a single note, a chord that they can’t abandon to move forward into the song, as if they were imprisoned by a magic spell, until the drums eventually arrive to wake them up and then, as a response, they embark on a three minutes psychedelic trip which gives life to one of the most exciting finals that the band has ever composed to date.



In more general terms, if we compare the new LP with their more recent releases we find many confirmations and a few signs of difference. The confirmations mainly concern the general approach to music, which includes the immediate and “urgent” style that I mentioned above. Among the differences we can highlight a more evident recourse to gloomy and disheartened tones, both for the music and the lyrics. But, in the end, that’s another evidence that their music do not only reflect the current state of rock, but rather the more general situation of our society.


If you enjoyed the music of Cloud Nothing’s last album you will like INDIE INSIDE, the playlist I’m curating on Spotify with all the best and latest Indie Rock songs. Listen to it, follow it and spread the word!



Best New Music: WHAT MATTERS MOST by Dakota Suite, Dag Rosenqvist and Emanuele Errante

One of the most fascinating aspects of music is that there are works made to convey positive feelings and therefore capable to brighten up your days, but at the same time there are many others that insist on emotions like melancholy, sadness, desperation, but still result enjoyable and interesting to listen. What Matters Most, the album born from the collaboration among Dakota Suite, Dag Rosenqvist and Emanuele Errante, belongs definitely to this second category.


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Singer and guitaris Chris Hooson is the founder and leader of Dakota Suite, the Leeds-based formation that has become famous for their songs filled with ambient and cinematic soundscapes.

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Swedish sound artist Dag Rosenqvist has released more than 30 albums in which he creates musical landscape through the combination of elements of drone, improvisation, and noise effects

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Emanuele Errante is a composer of ambient electronic music from Pomigliano D’Arco, in Italy. Since his debut in 2006, he has released four LPs.


The main feeling that emerges from the songs of What Matters Most is something very close to profound sadness or, even better, to that particular emotion that we feel when the pain for an important loss becomes the awareness that nothing will be the same. And this is not something which remains in the surface and flows on your skin without leaving a trace. The music that was composed by the artists is precious, extremely emotional, it manages to interact with the deepest parts of your soul, and you still feel the chills even after the song is finished.



The songs of What Matters Most are relatively different one from the other, but all of them share a few common elements which give a sense of strong expressive continuity and stylistic coherence throughout the whole album. Almost every song, for example, sees the dominant presence of one single musical instrument, typically the acoustic guitar or the piano, which is assigned the task of drawing the melancholic arpeggios or the delicate melodies that constitute the backbone of the song. Around the main instrument we hear gentle touches of strings, sometimes a wind instrument, and ambient noises. Everything contributes to create the rarefied and beautiful atmospheres that, in the end, are what binds together all the tracks of the album. Some songs have also lyrics and the nice alternation between the parts with the voice and the instrumental sections adds a further element of dynamism and internal variety to the LP, together with some crescendo that occasionally arrive to break the moment of stasis that was created by the instruments.

In true honesty, however, we couldn’t expect anything less than execptional given the presence of Dakota Suite: the band from Leeds has always released albums of rare beauty as only the great musicians can do. Despite the undisputed skills of the artists involved in this project, the album took a long time before being completed. The reason is clear, however. It’s sufficient to listen with attention one single song of the LP to appreciate the maniacal care that was applied to every details, and also the effort that was spent to reach the impressive balance which exists among all the individual instruments.

A special mention is necessary to praise the impressive performance of Chris Hooson, Dakota Suite’s guitarist, singer and leader of the band. The contribution he gave to this album is absolutely remarkable and much of the emotional impact of the songs is due to the beauty of his voice and the elegance of his guitar arpeggios.

What Matters Most is an excellent work, there is no doubt about that. Of course you cannot play it in every moment of your day, but it may rest in a corner for when we’re ready to immerse ourselves in the beautiful melancholy of its music.

The album is available on Bandcamp and it can be streamed also on Spotify.




Best New Music: ATW by All Them Witches

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All Them Witches represent something special to me, if only because their beautiful 2017 record Sleeping Through the War was one of the first that I reviewed when I decided to launch this blog. And already at that time I expressed words of appreciation for the band, their sound, and their album.

Less than two years after, I found myself in front of a new LP from the band, and it was one of the most beautiful surprises I had in the recent times. First of all because it’s always good when a rock band is experiencing a phase of creative inspiration, and in this respect All Them Witches were able to compose and record a new set of beautiful songs at a relatively short distance from their previous release. But even more surprising to me was to discover that in the short lapse of a year and half these guys from Nashville have made a gigantic step forward in their musical evolution and released a record that has the full potential to project the band into the Olympus of the most important bands of contemporary stoner rock.

The stylistic growth experienced by All Them Witches took place through the development of an absolutely unique and personal musical language, an evident evolution of the style that they had already presented in their previous works but that only today, arrived at the fifth studio LP of their discography, seems to have found its final maturity. The music played today by All Them Witches no longer needs to be described in a derivative way; there is no need in fact of making comparisons and references with other bands. All Them Witches have achieved the result that many bands aspire to reach but that very few can rally get: other formations will be now associated to their style, we will find ourself saying “this bands sounds like All Them Witches”.

What happened to the band and what’s the cause of such an improvement? I don’t have many elements to make my hypotheses, but I think it’s a matter of increased confidence in their capabilities. Listening to the songs of the new record we realize in fact that All Them Witches have understood the reach of their talent, and they eventually decided to abandon the usual routes. those illuminated by the light of the masters of the rock, and venture into those darker and unexplored meanders, which are however closer and more fitting with their musical sensibility. And it’s no by chance, therefore, that the title they gave to the new album is ATW, like their name. This is All Them Witches. From now on, the others will follow their steps.

From a musical point of view, the songs in ATW seem to belong to two main categories. The first one is the group of what I like to the “apparently conventional” songs, i.e. those pieces that seem to reproduce initially a very precise stylistical model but then develop into something different, and extremely intriguing. An example is given by the energetic song 1st vs 2nd that starts as a standard stoner rock tune but then, through a crescendo that you would expect to fade but which always increases in intensity, evolves into an obsessive mid-tempo thrash metal riff that would not disfigure in a song by Metallica.



The second category of songs, which is also the one that gives the biggest surprises, collects a series of beautifully dark, slow, hypnotic and slimy bluesy ballads. These are the songs of the album where music really seems to came directly from the soul of the artists. The architecture of these pieces is minimal, essential and usually based on the repetition of a note, a chord, or a simple riff, with elements that are then incrementally added one on top of the others and which, one by one, increase the overall tension of the piece. In this category of songs the psychedelic element is still present but always dosed with great wisdom. The fantastic and majestic Diamond is perhaps the most representative song of this second group of tracks.



Beyond the value of individual songs, however, it’s the album in its entirety that deserves the most sincere compliments. This was really a surprise from a band that has definitely entered a new phase of its career, signed by an improved stylistic maturity and also by the full awareness of the expressive capabilities that their music have gained in the last few years.

ATW is available on Bandcamp and can be streamed from Spotify.




Songs from ATW are now included into the two stoner playlists that I manage on Spotify:





Best New Music: MATTERS by Fröst

Sometimes the beauty of music hits you suddenly and through unexpected forms. A few days ago I had one of this experiences when I came across to an album from a formation that was completly unknown to me, called Fröst. I didn’t know what to expect from the album and its release notes, in true honesty, were a little ambiguous and not exactly evocative: “For fans of the likes of Broadcast, Silver Apples and Kraftwerk together, Frost create angular and electronic music by blending Motorik and hypnotic radiophonics into neatly wrapped often bilingual pop structures“.

Fortunately enough, good music uses a language that is typically more immediate and emotional than certain artificially complex and cryptic descriptions. And in the end, as soon as I started listening to the songs of Fröst’s debut abum, named Matters, the quality and beauty of this work cancelled in a few seconds all the doubts and the uncertainty that I had at the beginning. Also because if there is one single thing that Fröst’s music demonstrates unequivocally is that true beauty often lies in simplicity.

There are very few and also basic ingredients in the songs of Matters: we have catchy bass lines, electronic drums that are limited to a few sounds and which never deviate from elementary “motorik” four beats signatures, delicate touches of synths and, on top of that, an angelic voice that sometimes sings in English and sometimes in French. What is absolutely brilliant, instead, is the originality – and the class – that the artists have shown when combining together these simple elements. So, if I wanted to describe their music with the same simplicity of their sound, I would say: catchy and singable melodies transported into low-fi electronic music. As simple as that, but extremely satisfying to hear.



Fröst is a Brighton-based collaboration between French-Swedish sound artist and vocalist Johanna Bramli and synth player and producer Steve Lewis. Both artists have a fairly interesting past both as soloists and as members of other formations, but I am led to think that their collaboration for the album Matters is probably, so far, one of the most important stages of their career. The naturalness with which the songs of Matters develop one after the other is really impressive and this musical marriage beteween the two artists is something magical. It’s as if these two musicians were really born to play together: their music is extremely effective and complete, from all points of view.


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French-Swedish musician, composer and sound artist Johanna Bramli


Musically speaking, the strongest element of the album is for sure the melodic sensibility of the composers. The songs of Matters are actually simple and extremely linear in their structure, but they are never trivial or boring. When you hear the album you feel like you’re listening to melodies that you have always known, even if it’s not the case. And the beauty of these musical motifs is much stronger because of the lightness and the elegance of the arrangements, which are never exaggerated or out of context.



Last, but not least, it’s really satisfying and laudable that there are no gap fillers in the album. Each track has its reason to exist and, although clearly there is a group of songs that are more exciting and engaging than the others, the album in its entirety is really one that you can listen again and again, in perpetual repeat, without interruptions.

In summary: Matters is definitely an important and promising debut from a formation that has just appeared in the scene of electronic music. I really hope that the collaboration between Bramli and Lewis will continue in the next years and this won’t result as only one temporary stage in their careers.

The album is available on Bandcamp and it can be streamed also from Spotify.