In Notes From Left of the Dial this week, Nooga.com spends time with new music from Briana Marela, Michael Nau, Coincidence Bizarre and Kacey Johansing. What have you been listening to lately?
Briana Marela, "Quit"
Hailing from the Pacific Northwest, sound alchemist Briana Marela creates songs that speak to our innate longing for companionship and the various aspects of love that alter our perspectives. Working within subtle electronic layers and organic rhythms, she meticulously crafts the foundations of her ephemeral sound, sifting her way through deep memories and experiences that cast shadows on each angle of her dramatic narratives. Inside these skewed musical stories, she mounts a weighted attack, the kind of sneaky emotional devastation that seems to appear out of nowhere, ready to shake the bones in your body and rip through the sinews and muscles surrounding your heart.
On "Quit," the lead single from her forthcoming record, "Call It Love," she combines her ethereal ambient tendencies with her exuberant pop inclinations to create a song that documents the death of a relationship and the subsequent emotional fallout that occurs. Rumbling rhythms and her haunting voice detail this collapse while blanketing the landscape with static, synths and ecstatic beats. She creates a magical and dark atmosphere where love and heartache coexist and draw strength from one another. The song is a gasp of excited breath, an inhalation of pain and uncertainty that leaves you shaken and questioning the reality of affection and its associative side effects.
Michael Nau, "I Root"
Maryland-based singer-songwriter Michael Nau seems to have a preternatural connection with the natural world. But whereas most musicians who tread through a folksy, woods-filled aesthetic seek to illuminate the spaces outside of civilization, Nau wants us to see the connections that exist between all aspects of our lives. His heart-filled blend of folk and rock lineages is mesmerizing and feels completely lived in, a fully formed world where music, experience and memory can share room and evolve together. With the forthcoming release of his new record, "Some Twist" (out June 16 via Suicide Squeeze), Nau looks to remind us that the pastoral beauty around us is enhanced by the fervent examinations of our relationship with it.
On his latest single, "I Root," Nau channels the soulful pop and sunshine-laden folk of the late '60s with a wandering troubadour's heart of pure gold. Airy passages of acoustic guitar mesh with spry bouts of washed-out percussion and circular vocal melodies to form a beautifully casual sound that evokes open fields and summer days spent traveling to some unknown destination. Peppering the lyrics with allusions to the wonderful moments hidden within long-standing relationships and possessing an understanding that these small bits of joy are terribly fleeting, he relishes the opportunity to embrace them, no matter their tenure. He sees the beauty in small things and allows us to witness it as well.
Coincidence Bizarre, "Shapeshifter"
There's a good deal of mystery surrounding the origins and details of West Coast collective Coincidence Bizarre, a group of artists whose work touches upon the roots of hip-hop and electronic music and incorporates a variety of psychedelic arrangements. But this quality of uncertainty adds a distinct allure to their music, steeping it in the dark recesses and shadows of blank expectations. They don't conform to any known musical backgrounds, because their songs don't advertise their influences. It's up to the listener to divine the various sources of what they're hearing.
On their new single, "Shapeshifter," the collective unleashes their shared influences and concocts one of the strangest and most inventive songs you're likely to hear all year. In a cacophony of sound and texture, the track works through a seemingly endless list of inspirations that shape the angular nature of this electronic landscape. Briefly touching on aspects of avant hip-hop and sample-based architecture, they fashion an unpredictable collection of warped vocals and manic rhythms that take on distinct personalities of their own. "Shapeshifter" is true to its name, finding the band changing its appearance and form without pausing to worry about what lays behind the next corner—we're spun in circles and left disoriented and ready for more.
Kacey Johansing, "Bow and Arrow"
For San Francisco-based musician Kacey Johansing, the complex relationships that exist between the varying shades of folk and pop music stand as some of the most fertile ground for rhythmic inspiration. It's not the specific sounds she channels that grab our attention, but the almost-familial way in which she allows us to glimpse her personal musical mechanics that set her apart in an ocean of folk-minded artists. She holds close a fluid sense of the base components of the folk, pop and rock aesthetics within which she works, building gorgeous and elemental melodies that ring across great distances. For the release of her upcoming album, "The Hiding" (out June 2), she founded Night Bloom Records with Alex Bleeker of Real Estate and her longtime friend/fellow musician Jeff Manson.
On recent single "Bow and Arrow," she blends classic folk and pop histories to create an echoing vision of Laurel Canyon-esque sounds that sink quickly into the deeper parts of your mind. Her ghostly, capricious voice and the winding melodies it delivers catch you off guard and refuse to fade into the background. The light shake of an acoustic guitar pairs perfectly with the occasional electronic flourish, binding these disparate sounds together in a series of unforced revelations. Johansing has mastered this slightly angled singer-songwriter personality and offers "Bow and Arrow" as a reverent, affecting ode to her decadeslong influences and the direction they've provided.
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.