INTERVIEW: L’Rain, Spellling, and Boy Harsher to Embrace the Experimental at Basilica SoundScape 2018

Just a short ride on Amtrak from Penn Station, Hudson – with its quaint brick buildings, historic architecture, and riverside views – has become an enclave for New York City’s artistic expats. One of its architectural centerpieces rises from the city’s industrial past: Basilica Hudson, a sprawling 1800s foundry reborn in 2010 as a concert hall and community space, thanks in part to its somehow stunning acoustics. The waterfront land it sits on, just South of the tracks, is bucolic enough that camping visitors are offered tips on tick safety, and they’ll need it this weekend, when a few hundred noiseniks, metalheads, vinyl nerds, and lovers of the avant-garde descend on Hudson for the seventh annual Basilica SoundScape, taking place September 14th and 15th.

It’s a festival that bucks festival tradition, booking acts whose oeuvre often falls far outside of mainstream tastes for intimate performances in the Basilica’s dramatic main hall. Organized by Brandon Stosuy and Basilica Hudson co-founders Melissa Auf der Maur and Tony Stone, SoundScape kicked off its inaugural year in 2012 with noise artists and their “machines” and a dance party hosted by queer Satanists, Rainbow in the Dark (the collective returns this year to soundtrack SoundScape’s Saturday afterparty; the other, on Friday, is hosted by AudioFemme). Musical performances are augmented by readings, psychedelic art installations, a flea market, record fair, and local eats. It is, as Auf der Maur describes it, an “immersive pilgrimage” for those with dark tastes and open minds.

But beyond engaging its attendees with an uncommon experience, Basilica SoundScape offers experimental musicians something invaluable – a forum in which to try out new sounds and connect with fans and peers alike. For artists like Spellling (who plays Friday) and L’Rain (who plays Saturday), two very personal projects that defy genre classification, events like SoundScape are a rare and perfect fit. Both acts have found themselves on the bill at a wide range of events, from metal shows to R&B-focused events to jazz-centric salons; both say the fluidity of their styles allows them an opportunity to connect with vastly different audiences – as long as the crowd is open and receptive. And at Basillica SoundScape, that’s the crux of the whole program – to bring together disparate styles under the umbrella of experimentalism and offer them to listeners frothing at the mouth for outré encounters.

“In my live show I try to make people feel maybe a little bit uncomfortable. Not like I’m doing anything that weird, but I like to reorient them in the space and [make them] more aware of themselves than me,” says Taja Cheek, whose project L’Rain debuted last year with a widely praised self-titled LP built on fragmentary arrangements that drift between shoegaze, sound collage, and soul. Though it started as solo work aided by producer Andrew Lappin, Cheek’s live performances now feature improvisatory musicians Buz Donald on drums, Devin Starks on bass, and Ben Katz on synths and brass. “We’re on the cusp of a lot of different styles and genres so we’ve done lots of different sorts of bills, which has highlighted different parts of our performance,” she says.

Taja Cheek, a.k.a L’Rain: “I still feel like I’m learning a lot about what this project is and what it can be.”

For Tia Cabral, the Bay Area-based musician behind Spellling, SoundScape “feels like an ideal sort of coming together – so much intersectionality and multiplicity.” Like L’Rain, Spellling began as a solo endeavor with roots in multiple genres, culminating in 2017 debut Pantheon of Me and encompassing a sound that Cabral herself struggles to define. “One of the most exciting things is the various types of people that come together for music; [it] feels like the closest thing to spirituality and relationship building in this generation. It’s very satisfying to walk into a room and feel unsure if your sound will reach folks and if they’ll have an open heart to it, and watching that happen, or not happen. It’s always humbling and exciting and strange at times.”

Tia Cabral, a.k.a. Spellling: “I let myself be surprised by the process and return to that place of innocence and playfulness that exists in the sound I’m making.”

Cabral was inspired to create music in part by walking into those same spaces, observing and absorbing the ways various Bay Area musicians would create sonic tapestries built from loops and noise. “I feel like a lot of artists will be prepared to bring something special and new to [SoundScape] because of how unique it is,” she says, noting that she’ll likely debut some new tracks she’s been working on, too. “I’m still absorbing a lot about music – and my music – in a live context. A lot of festivals are more about the crowd than about the artist sometimes – this seems like such a good balance between the artist being able to give more of their energy and time in an exchange.”

Like Cabral, Jae Matthews of Boy Harsher – an electronic post-punk duo from Northampton by way of Savannah – says that stumbling into the noise scene and witnessing first hand the innovations there allowed her to see a place for herself in its ranks. Originally a film graduate student, Matthews met partner Gus Muller in a repurposed storefront church where he was throwing experimental shows; soon enough the two had opened up their own space in former gallery but needed a local band with a minimalist bent to fill out bills, and so Boy Harsher was born. After completing a grueling tour with The Soft Moon last spring, Boy Harsher have been flying out to experimental electronic festivals in Berlin, Hungary, Lithuania, and Detroit, but Matthews says she’s particular excited about SoundScape because “it’s a community based festival – no one overlaps, you get the opportunity to see everyone, and it’s a mixture of performance, music, and readings.” Matthews approaches lyric-writing from a literary standpoint (she’s also at work on a book project) but says performing live is all about the give-and-take between herself and the audience.

Boy Harsher’s Jae Matthews: “I was very fascinated with underground performance artists and it was really special to go to a basement and see someone rip a wild set.”

“When I’m performing I’ll use the audience response as a mechanism how to respond,” she says. “If I can tell it’s a crowd that wants to be more aggressive, and really wants to feel it and have that type of smacking visceral connection then yeah, I’ll go deep.” She remembers playing a show at local Hudson bar The Half Moon years ago attended by a sparse, but “devoted” crowd. After their SoundScape set, Boy Harsher DJs AudioFemme’s afterparty at The Half Moon, along with Eartheater and Becka Diamond. DJing, she says, “takes a different level of understand and concentration – just like knowledge of music and what you have and what it means to other people.” She admits she’s something of a novice in that realm but says her DJ sets gravitate toward “some weirder picks that maybe are more ostracizing and strange… or maybe super invigorating for whoever’s there.”

If there’s any place where oddities can be truly embraced, it’s certainly Basilica SoundScape. Cheek, Matthews, and Cabral are also looking forward to becoming spectators – during sets from Grouper, FlucT, Miho Hatori, Lightning Bolt, Photay, and others – yet another way in which the festival blurs the line between artist and audience. Whether that encompasses L’Rain’s ability to “disrupt people’s expectations” as she puts it, or Spellling’s stated intention to encompass the “fluidity and boundlessness that can exist in the dreaming mind,” or Boy Harsher’s filmic energy, which Matthews hopes will “transport [the audience] somewhere else,” it all comes together under the soaring, vaulted beams of that former foundry for one fevered weekend in September.

Single day and weekend passes are still available for Basilica SoundScape 2018 – more info here.

INTERVIEW: The Hum Continues This Week with L’Rain, Lou Tides & More

When Rachael Pazdan, curator of The Hum, first told me about the series years ago, she explained to me that despite it featuring all female lineups, she didn’t want that to be the only defining aspect of the showcase. Over the years The Hum has been spotlighted by media outlets, from The New York Times to Nylon to The Village Voice. Each one has focused heavily on the central aspect of The Hum as a female based residency. However, there are other unique aspects of The Hum that deserve to be highlighted.

While the artists for these events understand the importance of having an all-female space to perform in, there is a piece of the puzzle that gets overlooked when this becomes the only focus of the evening. The Hum is not merely a stage allotted for female artists – it is, down to its curation, a work of art. In each well crafted evening, Pazdan has complexly united a group of artists mined from her expansive work with the indie music scene. This is no hodgepodge of random artists, nor is it a night to go see your favorite musicians to hear their album tunes. The Hum is a stage for exploration and experimentation.

The feeling created on stage at The Hum is the closest audience members will get to experiencing the practice space of the musicians that inspire them. There is a vulnerability to this kind of space that pulls the imagination out of these performers and asks them to show the audience their unpolished selves.

In turn, the audience experiences a one-night-only evening of music which may only exist for the few minutes the musicians take the stage. A potent magic cumulates in the spontaneity and serendipity when a room full of people silently agree to participate in the unknown.

This Wednesday The Hum returns to The House of Yes with another incredible lineup of musicians. Lou Tides and L’Rain spent some time talking to Audiofemme about their previous experiences with The Hum, and what they are looking forward to this time around.


AudioFemme: This is your second time playing for The Hum. What was your first experience like?

L’Rain: It’s a little scary. It’s daunting to have all this time that you have to fill with new material with people that you haven’t played with before. But it’s the sort of thing that you want to do because of the people that are doing it. Building in an opportunity to work on new material is really important, and if you don’t have someone kick you in the butt it’s hard to do sometimes.

AF: Did you bring some of those experiences with you into the music that you created after The Hum?

LR: I will be. I wasn’t expecting to at all. I was kind of like, “Okay, these are some songs that we are gonna play once and that’s it,” but I’ve been thinking a lot about them lately. I’m hoping that I can find a way to build them into the next record that I make.

AF: You and Glasser will be collaborating at The Hum – I’m curious how you are bridging the difference between your slower and melodic style to Glasser’s more pop infused style for your performance?

LR: I feel like in the sessions that we’ve been having, we’ve been just improvising a little bit and seeing what comes out of it and it’s been sort of meditative in a way. Which I guess is half expected and half unexpected. We both are really into, I don’t want to say ambient music, but we both have an interest in Alice Coltrane, and textural electronic music, and I feel like that comes out in a lot of this. It could change in the next couple days, but at least right now, we both are playing synths and we’re singing and she’ll probably have some stuff in Ableton. Which I think is a totally new set up for both of us.

AF: How does having access to a showcase like The Hum impact your music individually, and your Brooklyn community of musicians?

LR: In my day job I program music and I often find that a lot of the other people I know who are booking music are usually not women. It’s been really nice to befriend someone [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][like Rachael Pazdan] who thinks about the composition of bills from an aesthetic standpoint with care, and also thinks about the people who are making that music. One isn’t more important than the other but she really thinks about them in tandem. There are so many people that are really careless with how they think through women and female-identifying musicians on bills. They’re like, “Oh, here are some women and they have nothing to do with one another,” and that has sort of become the norm in a lot of ways. That’s really lazy and infuriating so I think it’s important to have a series like The Hum. And the structure of it too, I feel like I have an opportunity to develop deeper relationships with musicians that I ordinarily wouldn’t. So it builds a community not in a superficial way, but in a real way.

AF: What is it about The Hum that creates that community and camaraderie?

LR: Each week is basically a series of mini commissions, so I think that structure, when you are working with someone that intently or that intimately on something, you just form a different kind of relationship with someone. Rather than just being on a bill with someone and there’s nothing that binds you to that person or connects you to that person. I think the focus on the process is an important one, and one that isn’t necessarily considered as much.

AF: Do you see the potential for something like this becoming more common?

LR: Yea. I think there’s been a little bit of a shift in the way people think about live music. I’ve seen more artists in general being interested in curating bills, and people generally trying to make special live experiences which is really great. I think there’s a lot of potential for more of that for sure. I think that people are hungry for creating special live experiences that you can’t find in other places and that audiences also are kind of seeking that out.

Lou Tides

AudioFemme: How did you get involved with The Hum?

Lou Tides: I did the first iteration of The Hum, which was at the Manhattan Inn. I think Rachael just told me about what she was doing, and I thought it was an interesting project, and so I decided to do it. That night I got to play with two people I had been wanting to play with for a while – Zoe Brecher, who plays drums, and Jen Goma, who has become one of my main collaborators musically, and just one of my best friends.

AF: And that was the first time you met Jen Goma?

LT: No, we had met previously at a friend’s house, and I really liked her vibe, so I asked her to do The Hum with me and had a great experience working with her, and Zoe as well. But Jen and I in particular continued a pretty special friendship and collaborative relationship ever since then.

AF: For this iteration of The Hum, you’ll be collaborating with Miho, correct?

LT: Yes. I don’t know if you know her music but she’s really amazing. We are going to do a more improvisational set. That’s something that will be new for me. Miho does a lot of improv. I’ve done a fair amount, but it’s not necessarily the thing that I do often, so it’s a challenge and it’ll be fun. I also adore Miho and her music, she’s a really amazing musician. I look up to her a lot so that’s exciting to have the opportunity.

AF: What is that process like when you are doing a collaborative improvisation?

LT: We are sharing a little bit of music beforehand, and then it’s gonna be pretty much flying by the seat of your pants. I find with improv that sometimes less preparation can be better, because then you have to be super present, and be in the moment. I’m also extreme so I’m sort of like either/or. I’m either gonna be super prepared and rehearse a ton, or you just go into it kind of having no game plan. I also have never worked with Miho, so it’ll be really interesting to get into a room in front of people and do live experimentation. Which is nerve racking, but is also so exciting at the same time.

AF: How has collaborating with Jen Goma and other female musicians impacted your work?

LT: Well, I suppose something that was big about the collaborative process of The Hum, for me, was that, I’ve been in a lot of bands which are naturally collaborative, but also sometimes there tends to be one person who is the leader. Jen and I went into that situation as equal songwriters, so it’s been really interesting working with her. Really, really stepping back and exchanging ideas 50/50, rather than there being more of a songwriter/band dynamic. It’s enjoyable to create something as a whole, and not with so much ownership. And I think women can be pretty open with that too. I mean men can too, but there’s something about women – sometimes they’re a little bit less possessive of their ideas, so that’s been a really good practice for me to let go, and not be possessive, because it creates so much more beauty.

I also find it really enjoyable to listen to afterwards, because then I don’t hear as much of myself in it. So I become, therefore, less controlling. Collaboration has just become a much more interesting thing to me. And a lot of that has to do with The Hum, because I didn’t always collaborate as a songwriter before that.

AF: You’ve been switching your musical identity – can you speak a little on that process?

LT: I’ve been playing in bands for 10 years now – well, longer, but really actively and furiously, my two other projects added up to about 10 years. I think maybe it’s just time to try different avenues for myself. I’m interested in exploring a different way of doing things. It’s been an incredible amount of hard work and very difficult and very taxing, just as far as reshaping myself. Because I don’t have anything released I haven’t had some catharsis of the letting go of the process because I’m still in it, and it can be kind of exhausting. It’s a little abstract, I don’t know how much I can fully dig in without getting really out, I suppose it’s been about being less attached to form, and less attached to the idea of what something should be, and really just following where something wants to go. I’m trying to find new pathways. It’s both exciting, and scary, and exhausting at the same time.

AF: How does having access to a showcase like The Hum affect the Brooklyn music community?

LT: I think it’s great in the sense that – again back to the idea of ownership, and lack of ownership – part of collaboration is community and creating community. I think that especially in a time where it’s very difficult to make money and a living at music, that all the more emphasis on community is important. An event like The Hum is wonderful in that sense because it brings people together for those reasons. I hope that it encourages other programming that is more about a night and celebrating people doing something as a collaborative mass. People are going to the event to see the event, rather than paying all this money to see this person that is celebrated and in tons of print and magazines or whatever, because people think that’s what they should see, or because that’s the great person of the moment. It’s about celebrating community, and we don’t see much of that these days, so it’s definitely refreshing.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

AF 2017 IN REVIEW: 12 of the Year’s Most Compelling Debuts

When you’re new to the music industry, it can be really tough to crack the top ten of a critic’s year-end list. Oftentimes, the artists with the most accolades are established entities releasing their third, fourth, or tenth album, having a massive comeback after a decades-long absence, reinventing their sound or finally finding a niche and boring down into it, or waving goodbye for good.

And while old favorites (usually) deserve the attention they get, the unfortunate flip side of that is that newer artists sometimes get lost in the tide, even when their debuts manage to make some waves. Sometimes, the freshest new sounds are branded as novelty simply for their newness. And while a nascent artist’s staying power can only be proven over time, 2017 seems to have produced a flurry of future stars. Here are a dozen albums that threaten to disrupt the zeitgeist.

SZA – Ctrl (Top Dawg/RCA)
The long-awaited debut from neo-soul chanteuse Solána Imani Rowe, better known as SZA, has been well worth the excruciating process that brought it to fruition. Following three acclaimed EPs and co-writes on tracks from megastars like Beyoncé and Rihanna, SZA hunkered down in earnest to begin writing Ctrl, then under its working title A. Mired in the anxiety of producing something that would live up to the hype she’d already generated for herself, she painstakingly wrote and rewrote some 200 tracks; it’s rumored that her record label actually had to confiscate the hard drive which housed her material just before the LP’s June release, because otherwise, SZA may never have settled on anything. Lyrically, the album reflects SZA’s indecision as it relates to the process of coming into her own womanhood and navigating its attendant relationships and self-discovery, but ultimately lands squarely as a radical dissertation on feminine sexual power – the kind that demands respect, exacts revenge, and fucks solely for the sake of pleasure. SZA’s scathing honesty is softened by luxuriant, sometimes unusual production choices that bridge gaps between genres as far ranging as indie rock and trap, her infectious patois exhorting baes and besties to spark blunts and eat tacos one moment while questioning their motives the next. Whether channeling Tisha Campbell’s Gina or sampling the matriarchs of her own family, SZA dazzlingly represents the millennial iteration of strong female identity, and Ctrl is her powerful mission statement.

Phoebe Bridgers – Stranger in the Alps (Dead Oceans)
As confessional singer-songwriters go, Angeleno twenty-something Phoebe Bridgers has an uncanny knack for rendering unforgettable heart-piercing details that, while they feel hyper-personal, evoke the kind of universal emotions capable of stopping listeners dead in their tracks with recognition. One potent example is “Funeral,” which begins with Bridgers planning to sing at a dead friend’s wake. Later, in a moment of listless, empty depression, she chides herself for moping with the starling realization that “Someone’s kid is dead,” but in the choruses, she resigns herself to “being blue” all the time; in another verse, she laughs off suicidal ideation while strings soar softly behind a delicately strummed guitar. Bridgers’ wispy voice has just enough grit to direct unexpected expletives toward cops in the midst of what is essentially a love song, or to implore a long-distance lover for nudes in “Demi Moore,” or to open “Motion Sickness” with the nonchalant vitriol of a line like “I hate you for what you did/And I miss you like a little kid.” Having made friends with the likes of Conor Oberst (who makes an appearance on “Would You Rather”) and Ryan Adams, the prospect of Bridgers whittling her songcraft into an even sharper point might be almost too much to handle.

Kelly Lee Owens – Kelly Lee Owens (Smalltown Supersound)
With its almost synaesthetic qualities, Kelly Lee Owens’ eponymous debut taps into something subconscious, mysterious, and utterly absorbing. Its evocative sparseness gives the record the homemade warmth of a newish, naturally intuitive producer; much like Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith (who released her similarly lush sophomore LP The Kid this year), Owens builds worlds from the breathiness of her voice and a keen sense of depth, space, and light. Owens has a surprising ability to cull new sounds from familiar instruments, teasing an intangible nostalgia out of rarefied air. She can induce a trance with cascading marimba (as she does on “Bird”) just as easily as she does with droning sitar (on nine-minute closer “8”). Counterbalancing clubby numbers like “Cbm” (color, beauty, and motion) with dream pop bliss-outs like “S.O” and “Keep Walking,” each of these ten tracks radiates its own frequency squarely aimed at providing a blunted body buzz that feels satisfyingly therapeutic.

Sophia Kennedy – Sophia Kennedy (Pampa)
If ever there was a sucker for quirky art pop, I’m definitely one, and if ever there was a record that oozes the polka-dotted plastic charm of Pee-wee’s Playhouse, Sophia Kennedy’s self-titled debut is it. With joyous abandon, Kennedy indulges every whimsical tendency she has to offer – husky vocals, playful poetic panache, and plucky piano lines abound – and then goes on to deliver “Being Special,” a direct ode to embracing her weirdness despite the isolation it can sometimes create. It’s as if Kennedy is attempting to soundtrack her own cartoon musical, replete with the occasional slide whistles, warped gongs, boingy spring sound effects, and gurgled psychedelic asides. But Kennedy isn’t all kitsch, using that buoyant energy to boost darkly observed truths about herself, her peers, and the everyday scenes that play out in the city around her.

Kelela – Take Me Apart (Warp)
Following up her explosive 2013 mixtape Cut 4 Me with a studio debut four years in the making, Kelela pulls no punches on Take Me Apart, daring listeners and lovers alike to get to know her inside and out. Backed by fluttering Technicolor production, Kelela’s contemplative and deeply sensual turns of phrase explore desire and disappointment in equal measure. Minimal beats from collaborators Arca, Ariel Rechtshaid, and Jam City put Kelela’s buttery soprano front and center, making each of her missives seem that much more urgent, those sentiments hovering in the liminal spaces where fantasy meets reality.

Sloppy Heads – Useless Smile (Shrimper)
Produced by Yo La Tengo’s James McNew (and featuring YLT biographer Jesse Jarnow, along with Ariella Stok and Billy the Drummer), Useless Smile tickles all kinds of indie pop sweet spots. Not since Times New Viking has a band so gloriously vacillated between punch-drunk lo-fi ruckus and delicious post-shoegaze psych jams. Though album opener “U Suck” makes for an annoyingly juvenile introduction, that track turns out to be a false flag for what’s to come: the gentle, laconic reverb of “Suddenly Spills;” the smoky twang of “Always Running;” the interplay of insouciant organ and rumbling drone on “I’ll Take My Chances;” the title track’s hints of Mazzy Star meets K hole. When it comes to amalgamating the sound of a late-Nineties/early-aughts college rock royalty, Sloppy Heads certainly don’t slouch.

Bedouine – Bedouine (Spacebomb)
The songs on Azniv Korkejian’s debut as Bedouine are simple affairs that beg a hushed reverence. They are snapshots of moments you’d want to bask in, unsuspecting until they open and flourish like a rare night-blooming orchid. Listening to them feels similar to the comforts of coming home; the irony is that their progenitor spent most of her life globe-trotting. She was born in Aleppo, lived on an American compound in Saudi Arabia, and spent her adulthood bouncing between Boston, Houston, Austin, Savannah, Lexington, Kentucky and Los Angeles, where she currently resides and works as a sound editor on film projects. And though she’s adopted a moniker that harkens to her Middle Eastern heritage and her nomadic history, her self-titled debut is where she finally puts down roots. Working with Matthew E. White at Spacebomb Studios, Korkejian crafted timeless, traditional-sounding folk songs with an introspective, almost off-the-cuff approach that makes for a stunning introduction.

Sheer Mag – Need to Feel Your Love (Wilsuns RC)
Since 2014, Philly quintet Sheer Mag have been hard at work, reinventing Seventies classic rock with modern, punk-inflected ethos. Three bracing EPs and lots of buzz for their beloved live sets have certainly helped audiences acclimate themselves to the band’s lo-fidelity leanings, and Need to Feel Your Love delivers AOR’s feel-good trappings in abundance. But perhaps more importantly, nestled within that unabashed pastiche are truly subversive songs of protest railing against Trump-era policies of doom, death, and destruction. Tina Halladay’s snarl is truest when threatening corrupt politicians on “Expect the Bayonet” and most resilient when paying homage to the Stonewall rioters on “Suffer Me.” Gone are the problematic trappings of a genre that was always notorious for excluding voices like Halladay’s, and while she may not be interesting in soothing the white male rockist egos of yesteryear, Sheer Mag makes music that’s got the same soul.

Stef Chura – Messes (Urinal Cake)
2017 turned out to be the year that Detroit-based musician Stef Chura cleaned up. Re-working her best Bandcamp songs from some seven self-released albums, Chura made molehills into mountains on Messes, and then stood upon their peaks, yodeling her biting lyrics in the curious warble that’s become something of her trademark. Clearly informed by a love of the ‘90s alt-rock Chura grew up on, the album has some folksier inertia as well, like the iridescent “Human Being” or its final aching track, “Speeding Ticket.” Chura claims that she’s a perfectionist, but the album’s best moments are those that are flawed – say, when her voice cracks or she slurs her lyrics. Paired with the candid nature of her songwriting, this realism ultimately makes Chura more relatable. If Messes were a mirror, it might be cracked and dirty, but it would absolutely reflect the beauty of a chaotic life well-lived.

Nick Hakim – Green Twins (ATO)
In 2014, Nick Hakim posed a simple question via the title of a two-part EP: Where Will We Go? Already bursting with potential, it took three years and a stint at Berklee College of Music for Hakim to find his direction, but the sprawling, euphoric Green Twins makes it clear he’s on another plane entirely. Surreal grooves float in a warm haze of unexpected, quirky production flourishes that make them endlessly endearing; stray piano here, a distended vocal loop there, an occasional burst of brass, doo-wop drum machine reverb throughout. But it’s Hakim’s soulful croon that connects and cuts the deepest, his breathy register perfect for the many intimate realizations that comprise his love-stoned lyrics. Green Twins has the same homemade eccentricity of vintage Ariel Pink or Unknown Mortal Orchestra, but Hakim’s music feels far more earnest, more inventive, and certainly more dreamlike, an opportunity to poke around in one man’s gauzy, pulsating subconscious. Due in large part to those sensual qualities, it activates an almost instinctual response to stay and explore a little longer.

L’Rain – L’Rain (Astro Nautico)
Though multi-instrumentalist Brooklynite Taja Cheek’s solo debut turned into something of a treatise on mourning, it’s not as immediately obvious as say, Mount Eerie’s A Crow Looked At Me. That’s because Cheek was almost finished with L’Rain when she lost her mother Lorraine (from whom she takes her stage name) to sudden illness; it’s comprised of Cheek’s field recordings and Soundcloud snippets going back several years, making it somewhat tricky to pin down. Certainly indebted to free jazz as much as it is bedroom-produced dream pop, fluttering vocal loops rewind through spritely guitar arpeggios, Cheek’s vocals like some version of herself refracted, a Gaussian blur of her matrilineal roots. The soupy “Bat” gives way to a tumultuous vignette of “Alive and a Wake,” which itself gives way to a field recording of a storefront church on “Benediction,” which then gives way to the album’s mesmerizing carousel of a lead single, “A Toes (Shelf Inside Your Head).” This collage-like assembly amounts to a dizzying meditation on the inexorable march of time, its fragments wafting in and out like distant memories; in that way, it’s a fitting tribute to loved ones lost, even if L’Rain keeps those parameters pretty loose.

Hoops – Routines (Fat Possum)
Though its title suggests stability and even monotony, Hoops’ debut record was born of anything but routine; in fact, it’s the direct result of founding member Drew Auscherman shaking things up. Initially conceived as Auscherman’s direct to four-track solo bedroom recordings – Hoops’ three cassette-only releases are now available as a compilation – he welcomed longtime pals Kevin Krauter and Keagan Beresford into the fold. It wasn’t a move solely meant to up the ante on Hoops’ salt-of-the-Earth Midwestern image, though all three are the sort of nice Indiana boys you’d introduce to your mother; as a trio, they co-wrote the songs on Routines and swap instruments with aplomb when playing live. Signing to Fat Possum also put some legitimate dream pop shine on Auscherman’s formerly lo-fi affair, though the project still retains its homemade charm. While Auscherman may have been set in his ways, it was a wholly newfound approach that made Hoops a breakout band in 2017.