The entertainment world is focused on the Academy Awards, but the hits just keep on coming. Below, five new music recommendations.
Sarah Neufeld, "The Ridge" (Paper Bag). Best known for her day job as violinist for Arcade Fire, Neufeld has invested her dividends in a solo career that's far removed from Win Butler's scream-along anthems. She's toured and recorded with saxophone player Colin Stetson and is a founding member of the Montreal instrumental group Bell Orchestre.
On her second solo album, "The Ridge," Neufeld transcends genre altogether, mixing bits of avant-garde classical music, art rock, rural American music and experimental textures into a mesmerizing whole. You can hear the solitary beauty of Arthur Russell's solo cello work as well as layers of ethereal strings that suggest Arvo Part's "Tabula Rasa." Ranging from minute-long meditations to expansive compositions that stretch to nine minutes, the works illuminate a violinist at one with her instrument and more than willing to explore its possibilities. Don't expect simple songs on "The Ridge." Rather, revel in this artist's breadth of vision.
Feels, "Feels" (Castle Face Records). The first album by the Los Angeles punk band is a burner: messy-catchy songs that say only what need to be said, swirl with double-guitar energy and stick in the head on first listen. Produced at Ty Segall's back-house studio in Eagle Rock, the nine songs on "Feels" don't break many punk rock rules, but no matter. They're short, and they blossom at full volume.
The buzz of electricity and a killer beat opens "Close My Eyes," a song in part about being stuck at the bottom of the well. The song sprouts wings when the hook arrives and soars somewhere else entirely when it hits the bridge. "Today" tackles lethargy, depression and obsession as singer-guitarist Laena Geronimo confesses she can "taste you in my tea." Live, the band rages with the energy of a unit that's just getting started.
Tokimonsta, "Giving Up (featuring Jonny Pierce)" (Young Art). A producer whose work in the Los Angeles beat scene has been eclipsed by more in-your-face performers like Gaslamp Killer and Flying Lotus, Tokimonsta has over the past eight years built a global following while collaborating on tracks with artists including MNDR, Gavin Turek, Anderson .Paak and others. The newest track from the artist born Jennifer Lee's forthcoming album "Fovere" delivers further incentive to mark the calendars for March 4.
For "Giving Up," she layers Drums co-founder Jonny Pierce's voice until he's swirling through every measure. The track moves with an electro-heavy wobble, hefty with bottom-end frequencies but minus any suggestion of a dreaded bass-drop. Rather, it vibes like futuristic R&B.
Andrew Bird, "Left Handed Kisses (featuring Fiona Apple)" (Loma Vista). A back-and-forth sing-song conversation between two would-be lovers, "Left Handed Kisses" rings with a certain permanence, as though violinist Bird had resurrected the song from a dusty 78 and shined it up for contemporary consumption.
The lyrical conversation between Bird and Apple, which is taken from Bird's forthcoming album "Are You Serious," takes place over the phone. It starts as a spat and works toward resolution. They swap observations, him the skeptic and her the romantic. As the song, driven by acoustic guitar and a moaning violin melody, moves forward, the pair trade barbs about both love and the progress of the song itself. "You got me writing love songs," laments Bird. Apple's response, offered with a pitch-perfect quiver? "The part your song here misses/ Is that if you really loved me/You'd risk more than a few fifty-cent words/ In your backhanded love song."
As is often the case, she makes a valid point.
Susumu Yokota, "Sakura" (Leaf). The late Japanese composer and producer Yokota died in 2015, leaving a body of work that ranged from exuberantly weird house music to exquisitely rendered ambient music. As a way of celebrating both Yokota's life and his former label Leaf's 20th anniversary, his estate has reissued one of his most enduring ambient works, "Sakura," on vinyl. Also available on the major streaming services, the album serves as a reminder of Yokota's genius.
An instrumental collection that occasionally features sampled voice, "Sakura" is hardly background music in the vein of Brian Eno's landmark excursions in ambience. "Uchu Tanjyo" is built on a bed of meditative percussion and reverb-heavy guitar lines. The minimal "Hagoromo" is a wisp of a song that features a silken melody and drifts as if existing in some semi-conscious state.
"Genshi" bumps with the vibe of minimal Berlin techno. The sampled-voice and organ interplay that drives "Azukiiro No Kaori" sounds like frequencies from the dark side of Mars. But that could be said for much of "Sakura." Need incentive to buy the vinyl? Like all Leaf products, the expertly rendered artwork and lovingly printed jackets convey an artistic heft equal to the music within.
Follow Randall Roberts on Twitter and Instagram: @liledit