In Listening Post this week, I spend some time with new records from J Fernandez, Blind Lake, Jeremy Bass and Hints. Which albums are you looking forward to hearing this week?
J Fernandez, "Many Levels of Laughter"
Chicago resident and bedroom pop architect J Fernandez is interested in the warm, comfortable sounds that come from having complete control over your musical drive. His music comes to the crossroads of pop and '70s krautrock and doesn't even pause to check the map. He's so infatuated with the possibilities of where he's going that the tendency to second-guess yourself is thrown completely out the window. Fernandez is a master at this kind of un-self-obsessed kind of creation—where the only thing of importance is the journey from where you were to where you're going. For him, that destination has always been a little elusive.
On his proper debut LP, "Many Levels of Laughter," Fernandez wraps a lyrical stream-of-conscious intimacy with the sounds of a direct analog dedication. Pop music has rarely been so uncategorizable, but here, he draws from a wealth of influence to create something original. Trading in motorik grooves, avant pop inclinations and experimental asides, these songs are both familiar and occasionally alien in their approach. And it's in this uncertainty of direction that he manages to instill a real sense of wonder in his music. The record feels so wonderfully segmented, but it never comes across like the result of some kitchen sink experiment. All you have to do is blink your eyes and there's something new to hear—and all these little rhythmic pieces come across as unique interludes and smaller parts of a much larger musical puzzle. It's still got that unpredictable bedroom pop aesthetic, but there's also the possibility of so much more waiting just on the periphery.
Blind Lake, "On Earth"
Swedish "new wave pop/sci-fi folk" duo Blind Lake (AKA Lotta Wenglén and Måns Wieslander) seems to be fascinated with the seamless integration of various incongruous sounds. Their music has deeply held connections to various genres but never feels pulled apart, as if it can't make up its mind where it thinks it should come from—rather, it creates tenuous threads to each of its influences in an ever-expanding web of sound and inspiration. Drawing from a 2003 sci-fi novel by Robert Charles Wilson for insight into their skewed pop eclecticism, Wenglén and Wieslander form a glistening pattern of '80s synth production, resonant vocal melodies and a curiously agile synthetic construction.
For their debut, "On Earth," they marry a chromatic sci-fi influence with a more rustic folk aesthetic. It's in this dichotomy of noise and tone that the band is able to fully integrate these numerous sounds into a brightly lit cohesive whole. And in the process of overcoming this rhythmic disparity, they both find the beating heart beneath all the layers of melodic artifice that they so casually bring into play. Aspects of folk, pop and a handful of other genres slowly coalesce into something that shouldn't necessarily work but does because of the inherent innovation brought to the studio by the band. "On Earth" is a strong, confident statement from a band that's only just begun to scratch the surface of their seemingly endless well of musical creativity.
Jeremy Bass, "New York in Spring"
Interpretation and intent are funny things when applied to music. Everyone brings along their own baggage and, therefore, their own way of looking at things—this is especially evident in the music of Brooklyn singer-songwriter Jeremy Bass. His music is warm and inviting but also spiked with the occasional bit of melancholy and rustic authenticity. He's prone to jump genres midstream or midalbum and wind up somewhere different from where he started. Apart from being a classically trained guitarist and singer, Bass is also the musical director of NYC's Obie Award-winning performance collective, The Secret City.
With the release of "New York in Spring," the second half of a pair of records that began with "Winter Bare" earlier this year, Bass explores the fluid movements and rhythms of Bossa Nova. Drawing inspiration from artists such as Antonio Carlos Jobim and Brazilian guitarists Luis Bonfa and Baden Powell, the sounds are warm, pulsing with a fiery inner determination; he never weighs the music down with any unnecessary distractions. Every note feels alive and set to curl themselves around your brain in ringlets of comforting tones. The sounds may be familiar, but Bass has found a way to reconstruct his influences without losing that spark of mischievousness that held them together in the first place.
Hints, "No Regrets in Old English"
Brooklyn-based guitar pop group Hints are something of an enigma. They play jangling, wistful pop music without any sense of self-awareness. Most bands who tread this ground can't shake the feeling of staid pop nostalgia, but Hints manage to make this jangling, effervescent sound feel relevant and exciting—something most other bands haven't been able to do. With influences ranging The Church to Echo & the Bunnymen, Hints are more than capable of carrying the mantle of their predecessors without crumbling under the weight of this musical history.
On their latest EP, "No Regrets in Old English," the band crafts a wondrous pop latticework of jubilant guitar sounds, gossamer vocal harmonies and melodies that you'll be humming for days. There's nothing dramatically revelatory here, but the way the band constructs these songs is refreshing and speaks to their abilities to piece together their influences without sounding lazy or trivial. Guitar pop is alive and well in the radiant musical threads of Hints, and whether they realize it or not, they're helping show people that this genre is not just some jingle-jangle throwback—it's full of the creative determination and force that come along with the best kind of pop music.
Joshua Pickard covers local and national music, film and other aspects of pop culture. You can contact him on Facebook, Twitter or by email. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.