Andrew Bird’s Armchair Apocrypha 14 years later

genre — indie-folk
for fans of  — Margot & The Nuclear So And So’s, Sufjan Stevens, Fleet Foxes

The first time I heard an Andrew Bird song, it accompanied an expressive modern dance piece choreographed by a fellow member of a dance company I was in during my teen years. Once I learned the song’s name, “Scythian Empires” was on repeat.

As the title suggests, Bird sings about The Scythians: Iranian equestrian tribes who inhabited large areas in the central Eurasian Steppe in the 7th century BC up until the 4th century AD — a seemingly questionable choice for the subject of a song. Yet the song’s lyrics allude to the fact that we are also “Scythian Empires/Exiting empires.” All of our possessions, our technology, our culture will be reduced to a few artifacts from a previous era.

While compelling, I suppose that it was not the lyrics that captivated me but rather the swelling instrumental arrangements paired with the smooth vocal harmonies of Bird and his backing vocalist Haley McCallum. The song opens with a sweet and catchy piano progression before the sound of tenderly plucked strings begins, creating a dreamy sonic landscape of an apocalyptic vision that is simultaneously lovely, haunting, and strangely familiar.

It has been long since I have thought of this record, and maybe that is on purpose. When I listen to it now, I am struck with pangs of hallowed nostalgia for the painful season of my life that paired with this soundtrack. I remember a version of myself completely stuck in the past, with music as the only way to immediately escape to a safer place in my mind.

Yet I have also grown a fondness for that era. There is an endearing excitement that comes from the quintessential novelty of first discovering something that makes you feel alive. Through the rest of my adolescence, each time I listened to a new artist or record, it felt like I was getting one step closer to my true self.  

So thank you, Andrew Bird, for this work of art that helped pave my life. Here is to you and it 14 years later.

score - 8/10
favorite tracks: armchairs, scythian empires, spare-ohs

Nubiyan Twist — Freedom Fables

genre — afro-jazz
for fans of — hiatus kaiyote, erykah badu, KOKOROKO

The 10-piece UK collective Nubiyan Twist’s new record Freedom Fables delivers a strong patchwork of styles and collaborators that is both enjoyable and accessible. This Leeds-conceived, London-based group blends elements of neo-soul, funk, Latin, jazz, West Coast hip-hop production, and the energy of Ghanian high-life to explore nine individual narratives on the record. The eclectic Freedom Fables is certainly an entertaining listen, and while there may not be a common thread from start to finish, Nubiyan Twist does a good job of taking its chaotic nature by the reins to accentuate the beauty and diversity of sound; as their musical director Tom Excell said, “when you collaborate, you always end up stronger than the sum of your parts.” .

score — 6.5/10
favorite tracks — tittle tattle, buckle up, 24-7

William Doyel - Great Spans of Muddy Times

genre — art-pop
for fans of — brian eno, ana roxanne, lost horizons

With a striking album cover featuring a 17th Century oil painting by Dutch Renaissance master Melchior d'Hondecoeter and an album titled Great Spans of Muddy Times, which is a quote about depression from Gardeners’ World presenter Monty Don, English musician William Doyle is upfront about the artistic and decadent nature of his latest release. Doyle debuted his first record Total Strife Forever in 2014 as the genre-hopping solo act, East India Youth, but recently dropped the moniker in favor of his name for a more personal presence for a more introspective journey than previous works.

Doyle immediately expresses aching romance with the opening track “I Need to Keep You in My Life” and continues the theme of vulnerability by sprinkling confessions in his lyrics throughout the rest of Great Spans of Muddy Times. Doyle’s retro synth-pop sound is reminiscent of Brian Eno; in the span of 41 minutes, he takes risks with experimental instrumental tracks like “Shadowtackling” and “New Uncertainties” by featuring warbling ambient synths. These tracks are balanced by transcendent songs like “Who Cares” with velvety vocals that demonstrate Doyle’s acute genre-hopping abilities for which we have come to know him. What it lacks in cohesion, Great Spans of Muddy Times makes up in soul thanks to Doyle’s willingness to bare his wounds.

score — 7/10
favorite tracks — i need to keep you in my life, and everything changed (but i feel alright), [a sea of thoughts behind it]

Death From Above -  Is 4 Lovers

genre — noise rock
for fans of — the white stripes, tv on the radio, the kills

With their larger-than-life sound, new fans would be surprised to find out that Death From Above 1979 is the product of just two people. Despite lacking a guitarist, vocalist/drummer Sebastien Grainger and bassist/keyboardist Jesse Keeler combine their talents for a maximalist effect. Death From Above 1979 originally made their mark with their 2004 debut record You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine — a record that, as always, sounds like it could have been released this morning. While Is 4 Lovers is not quite as iconic as their debut, it is definitely their best release since.

Consistent throughout Is 4 Machine are catchy hooks and raging instrumentation, but side B of the record takes an experimental direction after side A. The record starts out with two danceable tracks, “Modern Guy” and “One + One,” that prove Death From Above 1979 is still capable of making, to put it frankly, bangers. “One + One,” inspired by the birth of Grainger’s daughter, paints a picture of the joys of starting a family. Lyrics like, “One plus one is so romantic/One plus one is three, that's magic,” and, “Love is action!” diverge from their typical lyrical themes of societal and cultural affairs for more intimate themes.

Is 4 Machine is not to be missed. While I wish it ends as strong as it starts, it is becoming one of my favorite releases of the year so far...these tracks are certainly going to be getting some mileage in the coming months!

score: 7.5/10
favorite tracks: modern guy, one+one, mean streets