Agitated Atmosphere: Kelly Moran, Matt Christensen, Archeress

Agitated Atmosphere, Album Reviews
03/31/2017
Justin Spicer

As major labels continue to exist behind the times, artists and labels with little capital and lesser reputations are producing some of the most innovative, interesting, and inspiring music. Whether it’s creating a new niche in digital technology or looking to once obsolete formats, Agitated Atmosphere hopes to pull back the curtain on a wealth of sights and sound locally, regionally and globally.Kelly Moran - Bloodroot(Telegraph Harp; LP/DL)

Much will be made of Moran’s inspiration and fascination with heavy metal, and its impressions throughout Bloodroot. Much will be said in the mechanical prowess and experimental fundamentalism displayed by Moran throughout her latest masterwork. But what will be lost – but is well worth the digital ink – is how enjoyable Bloodroot is from start to finish.

Though casually strewn about in the preceding paragraph, there is no doubt Bloodroot is anything short of a masterpiece of modern classicism. Moran, keen to multiple musical styles and influences, has circumvented the traditional for something very unusual: a prepared piano record, sampled and fed into a MIDI keyboard, that is a pop record. The basis is fundamentally classicist, but Moran sabotages norms for a rude bit of psychology. Often, prepared piano releases are bogged down in the execution: a bunch of ideas that never play into the whole. Yet with the sophistication of a Cage, and the bravado of a Coleman, Moran has created a riff on expectation.

Back to the heavy metal: for all the wordplay and press copy spent discussing it, it’s more an aesthetic than a sound throughout Bloodroot. I struggle to hear anything but a brilliant pop record, where manipulated piano strings are just a vessel for versatile melodies that unfold with a cool restraint that only the most gifted jazz musicians have displayed; that ability to fill the in between with meaning and yet, not completely swallowing the present that is silence. Compositions such as “Celandine” and “Liatris” are music boxes, crafted to spin an all-black ballerina around in a room full of sunshine and children’s laughter. The idea that heavy metal means something ebon and somber, when in fact heavy metal is an experience of shared comradery. It’s ethos, not pathos. And that’s how Moran has seemingly approached Bloodroot, where the result doesn’t need to be a 60-mph riff with hair-flailing, break-neck intensity. Rather, the beauty in those riffs – the steely chug of overcoming the rift between the dark and the light to finding the bright side of the gray cloud – is what Bloodroot most promisingly displays.

If this is heavy metal, it’s the composed equivalent of the viral video of Metallica playing “Enter Sandman” with toy instruments. But Moran is no Fallon; she’s far too smart to craft an album for a but a snooty meme. What she does have are pop sensibilities that stretch into variable genres – many far removed from the idea of pop ideology – and finding what is universally enjoyable about them. Bloodroot doesn’t fit the stereotype of its influences and its outcomes, nor should it.

Matt Christensen - Through the Thorns, To the Stars(Self-Released; DL)

Last year, Christensen produced a cavalcade of spectacular releases (personal note, Pour it Over Me was my favorite music release of 2016) that went largely unnoticed, but it hasn’t deterred his output. Already with a handful of digital and physical releases under his belt in 2017 and plenty more in the pipeline, Christensen wows with each new release. None seem content to repeat the same musical combination, though they certainly borrow from the same pool of ideas. But the airy doom of Through the Thorns, To the Stars is grimly beautiful.

Christensen’s vocals are the true marvel of this digital album. Each instrument is stretched into the ethereal abyss, but Christensen keeps his voice raw and grounded. As guitar strings and synthesized notes are manipulated by the black holes and solar winds of outer space, Christensen’s words beacon from ground control as if to keep his music calm as it drifts further into the galactic abyss.

More meaningful, it seems as if Christensen is keeping us tied to reality even as we search for cosmic relief. Where everyone seems to be in a race to tear each other asunder (when not twisting our own selves into yeast-less pretzel knots), Through the Thorns… tries to speak toward inner peace. We can’t change the attitudes and platitudes of a population inundated with information overload, so the stripped bare Christensen speaks to the naturalist streak in all of us. Where much of that narrative is usually tied to returning to Mother Nature, the futuristic explorations of this album seem to break free from that symbolism. And yet, it’s not reaching for the wholly psychedelic idealism of space as the final frontier, but rather the clarity of nothingness to reset and have a rethink. The forest is now primeval, littered with our discarded excess and an animal populace eager to run us out of their squandered habitat with squalls, screeches, and claws.

Or maybe I’m just reading too much into it and it’s just another darkly candor Christensen release. If that’s the case, it’s damn good as just a singular musical statement – especially that bluesy riffage on “Hypnotized.”

Archeress - Marry(Self-Released; DL)

The drawback to our increasingly digital world is how it allows for unfettered expression. That zeal-without-consequence can manifest itself into the dark recesses of troll-dom. In most cases, it leads to a band posting every nugget of their being on to the dark web and finding little redemptive therapy because in showing everyone everything, there is little mystique. And often, not every musical statement is worth posting.

So, I came to Archeress’ Marry a bit wary. The 10-song release isn’t shy about length (five songs clock in at or past 9-10 minutes, there is a 12-minute song, a 16-minute song and two 30-minute songs) as it opens its overcoat to reveal its stark nakedness. Yet, the repetitive nature of the shoegaze-y drone of Marry continues to unveil itself with each new listen. When the naked eye first glimpses another’s naked body, it usually traces to the sexualized bits. But when you begin to examine a body; when you are lucky enough to embrace, and be embraced by another as we came into this world, the curves of one’s body; the way their stomach moves as they breath; the touch of soft skin; the faint gurgle of an empty belly – it all becomes far richer and intoxicating than a health class chart of sex organs.

This is the continued sensation found with Marry. As its title invokes, there is an intimacy that grows as the bond between music and listener deepens. Sure, some marriages end horrendously and painfully, others slowly disintegrate as love is replaced by circumstance. Considering Marry hasn’t been out for a considerable amount of time, this could just be a tinge of lust or a case of being smitten by the shoegaze bug begins to pollinate the crisp Spring air. I’d prefer to believe, considering it has been a siren’s call for many, that the wall of noise and dreamy drone of Marry will indeed be a lasting relationship. It has a lot of stories to tell, but I’ve yet to reach the threshold of finishing its sentences because I’ve heard the same story over and over.

Justin Spicer is the editor of Cerberus at Tiny Mix Tapes and has bylines all over digital and print media. You can follow him and his work via Twitter.

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