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Real Estate are boring. Their landscapes are dotted with unassuming flora and fauna like a Bob Ross painting. They’ve got a dozen wonderful songs nestled into three albums that piece together their boring-ness in a way that’s hard to decry. Their debut captured the “beach” band trend and the early releases on Captured Tracks, though it sounded clearer and less liquid. What was revealed in the reverie was that life is simple; and that Martin Courtney is happy to talk you through its banalities with a comforting manner.

The two following records were even more contented, containing specifics of Courtney’s healthy, yet “careless lifestyle” on “Green Aisles.” In Mind is an even clearer-sounding Real Estate – one that sees neither the minimalism of Real Estate nor the peaceful haze of Days. What comes through in the production is a Courtney that says many more words, but relates just a little as he always has: “I’ll meet you in the morning/Beyond that, I’ve got no plans”, he sings on centerpiece “Two Arrows”, as if we needed a reminder that he likes to keep things simple. This track contains an extended outro complete with sounds that could be found on a Quilt record. Through Courtney’s past-producer, Woods’ Jarvis Taveniere, there’s a connection between the two bands. It’s simultaneously cheap and heartwarming that they’d borrow styles. But, the instrumental here is so good, you could easily sink in and forget about the sad departure of longtime guitarist Matt Mondanile.

His absence is felt more strongly elsewhere. The relatively staid “Holding Pattern” has a pocketed lead guitar line from Jules Lynch, who compliments Courtney’s playing in a perfunctory manner on In Mind. “What this is is not real life/at least it isn’t boring”, sings Courtney mid-verse. His lyrics float about nicely, but all too often wind up containing four phrases. “White Light” is particularly victim to this pattern, giving the song a drudging predictability. Half way through one listen, it’s tiring enough to skip.

Apart from “Two Arrows”, there’s a lovely arrangement on closer “Saturday” that distracts from the formulism. Opening with soft pianos before a Real-Estate-album-closing-banger kicks in, it’s easy to remember the reasons why we’ve been enamored with this band for so many years.

Still, In Mind all too often feels like part two of Courtney’s 2015 solo record, Many Moons. The difference is that it’s more than him and Taveniere pulling the strings on this outing. The basslines of Alex Bleeker are as great as they’ve always been, but they’re further down in the mix than usual. Bleeker sings along to a chugging melody on “Diamond Eyes.” This track breaks things up from the Martin Courtney-show much like “How Might I Live” did for Real Estate’s last record, Atlas. Provided you make it to track nine, you’ll get the needed break from Courtney’s consistent vocal range.

It’s just as hard to throw shade on Real Estate as it always has. Particularly, it’s a new lineup, and the band deserves to be considered just as well as they were with Mondanile in tow. Though it sounds pristine from a studio perspective, it’s still the sound of a band that’s working through the changes. As such, the prospect of In Mind’s follow-up is very exciting.

Whether In Mind is a laborious or enchanting listen, it kicks off with “Darling”, which sounds just as great as it did when it dropped as the first single. The entire band pulls their rock and roll weight, and move through the broken time signature as if the song was as rollicking as “Beach Comber” was back in 2009. Though the rest of the record is conservatively written and performed, it is in a bold way. If your life needs to be stripped of its bombast for a little while, Real Estate remain a steadfast companion for a little R&R. Just don’t beat yourself up if you can’t sit through the whole thing.

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Though Yoni Wolf always employs as many instruments as he can get his crooked fingers on, few of the sounds are unnecessary. From the toy pianos on Oaklandazulasylum to the full strings on his latest opus as WHY?, Moh Lhean, there’s care and attention in his arrangements. You could blame this on his wonderful list of collaborators. But, only his brother Josiah joined him for production, and they are here proving that they’ve been the band’s backbone all along.

The one thing that tops Wolf’s proclivity toward ornamentation is his lack of a filter. We’ve heard rants about the type of soap he’s used to masturbate, oral sex in order to gain fans, and the plans to utilize retirement to the ends of listening to Garrison Keillor while stoned. Incidentally, Wolf lives a succinctly healthy lifestyle outside of his lyrics. There is a lot of documentation of him working out; an essential element to combating his Crohn’s disease. Furthermore, the man doesn’t even drink.

On Moh Lhean, we are hearing from a Wolf that has synchronized his art and his reality. It’s all wrapped up on opening track ‘This Ole King’; Yoni’s thoughts are preoccupied with death, but entertain “this one thing” that can be relied upon for peace of mind. Time has worn on the guy, and he is greeting it with esteem: “We know who we are/ from beyond to the veiled intentions between our cells.” He’s even saluting his body chemistry, which left him staring at his reflection in disapproval on 2009’s Eskimo Snow.

Playing into this theme is ‘One Mississippi’: “I know I gotta submit to whatever it is in control,” says Wolf. Where he once audaciously fought the bleakness that Midwestern life threw at him, he’s now adhering to major religious tenets. It’s well known that Wolf grew up in a Jewish household, but there’s never been any direct information suggesting he followed it. It’s livening to hear him be so accepting of the world. Where Bradford Cox and Deerhunter had their Fading Frontier, a celebration of life having turned out as it did, Wolf has ‘The Barely Blur’, where Son Lux joins him for a séance to man’s mysterious beginnings: “What mad stork brought us/ with no schematic and no map/ where every perfect nest disintegrates/ into the barely blur beyond.”

‘The Water’ is similarly submissive; a lurching bass reminiscent of Alopecia’s hip hop backdrops hovers over the song. Just when you think Wolf is ready to rap again, he sagaciously shrugs off the urge and tells a simple story: “out on the water/ me and my little brother/ we don’t say shit for hours/ maybe even longer.” The minutiae of this tale are akin to the hyper-specific set of details Wolf usually rolls out. The exception here is that there are far fewer words.

There’s a grace to the brothers Wolf having pared things down like this. You won’t find wordless tracks on previous WHY? records, but here there are two of them. So, even though we’re not hearing nearly as many sentiments, Moh Lhean sounds just as complete as any other WHY? record. This album is the mark of a man who knows where he is in life.

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Neither the pacing of Once I Was An Eagle swallowing Laura Marling whole, nor the forcefulness of Short Movie are present on her latest album Semper Femina. Marling has dovetailed her arrangements with her lyrics, leaving these two elements alone on the dance floor for a well-rehearsed recital. If the strings rise in dynamism, as do the lengths of the vocal phrasing. If a bass line broods and threatens the peace (‘Soothing’), Marling will approach it with a caution and grace unheard in similar arrangements that attempt to pull off the jazz/folk combination.

This dance of music and lyrics is most complex on ‘The Valley’, where guitar arpeggios meet Marling’s words like dawn: “I love you in the morning/ I love you in the day/ I love you in the evening/ If only she would stay.” Marling not only acknowledges the beauty in the valley, but recognizes it as fleeting, granting her a maturity she’s always hinted at, but never quite slam-dunked for an entire album’s length.

Semper Femina isn’t without brashness, either. ‘Wild Fire’ has Marling coaching a past lover for reassigning life’s trials to her: “I hear your mama’s kinda sad/ and your papa’s kinda mean/ I can take it all away/ you can stop playing that shit out on me.” Even her potty mouth sounds like a breeze under the song’s sizzling waltz and delicate production. The language is simply part of her lexicon, and isn’t used here for anything apart from service to the song. Such is the case with most of the elements on Semper Femina, be it the lyrics, production, or her masterful guitar performances. The words on ‘The Valley’ and ‘Next Time’ are meant to be rapturous, so the guitars follow orders and play off each other in dizzying beauty. “I can no longer close my eyes/ while the world around me dies/ at the hands of folks like me.” sings Marling on ‘Next Time’. If the world is indeed dying, we’ll need voices with character like the one presented here.

It’s an important transition that Marling is going through here at album six. She isn’t battling the world and people around her; instead she’s spending as much time being grateful for the moments she is given, addressed most directly on ‘Wild Once’. No longer decrying an urban and fussy love like on her debut Alas, I Cannot Swim, she’s looking back on the past with a gumption for the future that could have been overlooked after writing as many songs as Marling has.

On ‘Nouel’, the dance between Marling and song turns into that between Marling and Marling. “She sings along to ‘Sailor Song’/ in a dress that she made/ when she’s gone I sing along.” Marling describes, addresses, and even gives a name to the act of creation. Not only do we get a sneak peak of her own songwriting process, we get a snapshot of a musician in the throes of her prime. With Eagle already standing as one of the peaks of modern folk music, we would not necessarily have expected to hear another knockout record from her, but there’s no denying Semper Femina stands toe-to-toe with her opus. Whether addressing herself or her entire gender, the list of sagacious observations goes on: “She’d like to be the kind of free/ woman still can be alone/ how I wish I/ could flip the switch that/ keeps you from being gone.”

The list of comparison artists on Semper Femina is a lengthy one. Marling encapsulates the modernity of Conor Oberst, the tenderness of Leslie Feist, the production chops of Ryan Adams, and so on. On closer ‘Nothing, Not Nearly’, she goes full Jeff Buckley mode. The guitars sway in a casual waltz with an ever-expanding vocal line, eventually culminating in a guitar solo that focuses on one note at a time, thus striking a chord with minimalist rock as well as the other genres in the album’s toolbox. “We’ve not got long anymore/ to bask in the afterglow/ once it’s gone it’s gone/ love waits for no one.” Though it’s unlikely Marling will discontinue her hot streak, she’s still reminding us that we may as well enjoy the sublimity of Semper Femina while we can.

But, comparing these tunes to past rock greats misses the point. Only in hindsight do the mirror images of this record present themselves. While listening, however, the swirl of guitars and melodies is all that matters. You’ll blink your eye, and all of ‘Next Time’ will have gone by. By the third or fourth listen, this trance will include singing along in a singsong, White Album kind of way. And there’s another reason Marling’s current state of affairs will stand the test of time. One can hardly bring it up without having to mention something already widely appreciated and loved. It’s a journey beyond explanation Marling is taking us on.

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The best pieces of art have a three-dimensional feel to them. Whether you’re looking at it ten years after inception, as a companion piece to a film, or simply an album’s artwork, the total picture of the music is essential. Such is the case with the seminal bossa/samba album, 1965’s Getz/Gilberto. Now, not much can be said of this record that hasn’t been said already. However, it’s the ideal example of three-dimensional art. Just looking at the original artwork on the cover, an expressionist painting by Olga Albizu, you’re thrown into the world of the impeccable tunes that introduced Brazilian music to an entire continent.

Such are elements that composer/singer/pianist Clarice Assad understands well. Although her talents are numerous enough to stretch an album length, she has turned her focus to workshops emphasizing education and the utilization of multiple art forms to bring a piece together. “The whole concept is that there’s not a concept, because you never know who you’re going to be working with”, says Assad of the workshops, aptly titled Voxploration: An Outreach Program for Spontaneous Music Creation. Though Assad’s main form of expression is her voice, she doesn’t limit herself or her students to one particular art form. Whether collaborating with percussionist Keita Ogawa or choreographer Andrea Santiago, the workshops pull together elements of musical theater, dance, jazz improvisation, and a litany of other styles.

Whether young or old, the people involved in Assad’s workshops go through a transition. They begin having no idea where their form of expression is going, and end with owning the unique sounds they’ve created through collaboration. It can be seen on their faces. I asked Assad what it was like to work with the shyer participants in the bunch: “You have to be so sensitive to that! I have a gift of being sensitive, but I’m so happy when they come out of their shell!” In working with youth, the stakes are even higher. But Assad has a patience and grace with the teenage participants she’s worked with. “It’s personal work that we have to do. It’s easy to get caught up with bullying in school… even if a person is not able to sing, we find what that person is good at.”

Brazilian-born and raised by musical parents, Assad stretches her talents beyond her main instrument. Her piano compositions are so dense, it becomes easy to forget that she’s primarily a singer. Despite the success of ballad ”The Last Song,” she remains humble: “I wouldn’t say I’m a fantastic piano player. I really struggled with it for many years.” We talk on about how some instruments remain complex to the performer while others come more naturally. We agree that the guitar is something so mathematical and complex, it’s hard to wrap your head around it while playing. She says the same of the piano: “I feel like [the piano] is not organic at all!”

This is strange to consider while listening to “The Last Song.” It’s been covered by many other musicians, and played the encore spotlight for her 2012 performance with Symphony Parnassus. There’s even an arrangement for big band. She jokes about how far the piece went after its simple beginnings: “I wrote that in 2010 and recorded it in one clear take!” In a way, it’s not up to the composer how their music is going to be received. Composers must let go of their ego, and let the music speak for itself. Indeed, few artists understand this balance as well as Assad, who translates this idea to Voxploration, where the express plan is to let improvisation lead the way. “We don’t always have an end goal,” she says. The proof of her words is in her work, so it’s easy to take whatever she has to say to heart.

Still, you don’t have to take it from her. In 2015, Assad brought her workshop to new heights with the Boston Landmarks Orchestra for “Cirandadas.” An effort to introduce broader audiences to classical music, people aged 9 to 40 fused a litany of talents and backgrounds together to create a symphonic piece. “What she’s doing is listening closely to what people are doing and organizing it… how do we assemble the pieces?” says the orchestra’s director Christopher Wilkins. I asked Assad if that was an accurate depiction: “He got it. He nailed it. It’s about listening and seeing what everyone has to offer. I want everybody to shine, and to find their moments of shining.” Her selflessness translates not only to the success of her own music, but also to the success of others. Even those with a hip hop background made connections with the music, claiming that the rhythmic backbone of “Cirandadas” was ubiquitous enough to break dance to.

Though a backseat to Voxploration, Assad’s studio work is equally impeccable. 2012’s Home was recorded in a mere two days, but has a laundry list of compositional ideas. She sings in multiple languages, performs on piano, and draws on different traditions over the course of eleven tracks. “The Last Song” is track five, and it’s a well-deserved instrumental break for Assad. “[Home] was like this horse that just went wild,” she says. That said, only a well-trained horse could pace itself as well as this record. Even straight jazz is covered on last year’s Live at the Deer Head Inn. “The performing part is where I get to play – like a kid.” On this record, her voice is on full effect, and it’s boggling to remember just how many other endeavors she’s got her hands on. Many of the songs on Deer Head are representative of her Brazilian roots, and it’s exciting to hear Assad’s vocals spread out in a flashier way than the unselfish version we see in the Voxploration videos.

After having lived in New York for a few years, Assad is happy to be back in Chicago where her parents live. Her mother the singer and her father the guitarist: it’s no wonder her range of musical skill is so diverse. “I had an apartment in New York, which was great, but it was getting too small for my things. I love to collect instruments, and I just remember thinking, ‘Where am I going to sleep?’ It made sense to come back to Chicago.” Indeed, creation requires space as well as inspiration. If switching cities is what it takes for Assad to continue composing and performing, so be it. Chicago just may be the visual component of the art she’s yet to release into the world. Though Assad is a musical person, the visual may just compose the last few degrees before we reach 360.

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King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard fandom goes like this:

• Pride – listener feels as if they’ve heard this music already from bands like Thee Oh Sees and Roky Erikson, and shrugs them off.
• Respect – as they start to realize how frequently they have a record in the new release pile, listener begins to appreciate how much material the band puts out.
• Breaking Point – listener has an experience, either at a KG&TLW concert or shuffling their seemingly endless catalogue at a party, where they realize that there are few songs that aren’t a blast to listen to.

After that, it’s easy to consider the septet as one of the coolest bands in the psychedelic sphere alongside other Aussie mainstays like Tame Impala, The Drones, and even Nick Cave. Flying Microtonal Banana is the first of five records the band plans to put out in 2017. But, it’s useful to try and ignore these items when listening to the record. There’s a lot of nuance in these songs that, no matter how hard it may be, deserves to be considered as more than a cog in the King Gizzard factory.

At first glance, FMB is a conservative release – shorter length, plenty of the krautrock propulsion the band are known for, lots of nods to sixties and seventies psych and metal. Follow the voice that repeats the chorus of “Rattlesnake”, and you’ll find yourself back at track one. This and “Open Water” go on longer than necessary, but it’s clear that this was intentional. Instead, think of the devil face that sings along in the “Rattlesnake” video. Think of the feeling drummers Eric Moore and Michael Cavanagh get while jamming at such lengths. Think of King Gizzard as the positive homage they are, not as the quantity-over-quality rip-offs they aren’t.

Besides, there are plenty of tracks with a more digestible length. “Nuclear Fusion” is the shit, playing staccato guitar grooves off lyrics that connect the human race via quantum mechanics. “Sleep Drifting” is the romantic counterpart to many of the apocalyptic themes: “I can feel you touch me/and I can hear you breathing/please no one wake me/when I’m sleep drifting.” Like this, many of the lyrics are mostly about rhythm and style than the words themselves. On “Doom City”, the chorus is bolstered by an erratic Turkish horn, blaring microtones all over Stu Mackenzie’s tale about the city air ripping him apart from the inside. A guitar the band fashioned to mimic these same tones piles more middle-eastern imagery on top of more than half of the tracks.

Like last year’s Nonagon Infinity, King Gizzard’s performances are muscular and relentless. Though the songs still fade into one another, FMB is far more compact. Even after a few listens, it’s very difficult not to reconsider just how much the band have out, and how much they have yet to this year alone. Is this the best snapshot of a band with so much to give? You’ll be battling these demons as you listen. That said, almost every idea sticks on Flying Microtonal Banana. Their homemade studio occasionally shows its flaws, but this is simultaneously heartening. King Gizzard are easy to forgive and fun to like, showing that it’s more than a record about reliving psychedelic music’s prototypes.

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