The Best Music of April 2016

Impose Automaton

Cate le Bon

Photo by Ivana Kličković.

The Best Music of April 2016 is like the season itself, a transitional period that sees us shedding winter-like aggression in the form of a sunnier disposition. Many of the releases this month embody fury and tenderness; the lion and the lamb in a brief moment of harmony. Which is why our selections for the best of April are an amalgam of multiple personalities and redefined genres.

In this month of seasonal change we saw artists grow, more than one change their name, a few return from decade-plus long absences, and one who even saved himself. Thus it was fully appropriate to designate an artist whose ability to rediscover herself is paramount to her creative expression. The Best Music of April 2016 is never stagnant, always changing, with the promise of what’s next.

The Best Record of April 2016

Cate Le Bon Crab Days

Cate Le Bon, Crab Day (Drag City)

Welsh songwriter Cate Le Bon once said that she acquired her French surname from a “joke that went too far,” perhaps unwittingly foreshadowing the inventive use of language that distinguishes her consummate new album, Crab Day. As Le Bon explains in a conversation with Impose, the side-project proved reinvigorating. Crab Day is anchored by circuitous melodies and metaphors alike—the results of inhibitions shed, the mocking mouth of the sea, and the staggering power of nonsense.

I’m definitely a person who values my alone time. Last year I lost a dear friend and I started reading essays on solitude, which doesn’t mean loneliness; it means fostering meaningful relationships because you value your time spent alone so much that the time you spend with other people becomes special. In Los Angeles, I thought, ‘Oh now I’m in the city and I should be out and socializing all of the time.’ But it took me a while to realize that’s not the case, that wherever I am it’s important to tend to time with myself.

You can read the full interview with Cate Le Bon here.

Here are the rest of our favorites for April 2016, in no particular order.

Fog, For Good (Totally Gross National Product)

Will 2016 be the year our ears catch up to Andrew Broder? The marriage of the many faces of Fog is completed with wiggly turntable manipulations and fractured recordings of Chief Keef that lurk low in the sound. It’s as though in the nine years since the last Fog record Broder has managed to metabolize himself. In fact, “Kid Kuma” was written with exactly that intent, as Broder shared that it can be heard as a “grown-up spiritual sequel” to “Pneumonia”. He’s cherry-picked his best selves since 2002 and For Good is ready for reintroduction, possibly at his best.

Elucid, Save Yourself (Backwoodz Studioz)

With rebirth central to Save Yourself, Elucid works through phases of himself that deal in fallen angel syndrome on “Blame The Devil”, black nationalism on the fractured, abstract blues “If You Say So” (one of the most masterful expressions on the record), and unbridled heretic poems on “Jealous God”. It’s both a non-linear Bildungsroman and an examination of a 15-month span of his life in four phases: examination, assessment, shedding, and reimagination.

Free Cake For Every Creature, talking quietly of anything with you (Double Double Whammy)

For their second full-length, the four-piece out of Philadelphia remind us to listen close; there’s comfort in the quietest of sounds. Navigating the weird in-betweens of early adulthood and being new to a city, the deeply personal record manages to be wholehearted and optimistic, a collection of bright pop melodies with slide guitar and the occasional organ. Even while songwriter Katie Bennett sings about settling into a place where things still feel shaky, an unyielding energy and resilience remain in her half-whispered vocals. The record is markedly even-keeled, and loud enough that its quietest moments poke through brilliantly.

Kaitlyn Aurelia SmithEars (Western Vinyl)

Euclid, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith’s wonderful, lush first album, was created principally on the Buchla Music Easel—a relatively obscure modular synth by the famed sound engineer—and inspired by natural settings. Ears, however, is quite different in terms of mood, texture, and the prominence of Smith’s voice, which is here more choral and imposing. Ears employs similar instrumentation as Euclid, but it’s a dazzling left-turn. Smith’s singular commitment to the Music Easel is rare in the modular synth world, where artists more often incorporate an array of tools or flit between different ones according to gearhead fashion. Ears speaks to the rewards of Smith’s more classicist approach to an electronic instrument.

Radamiz, Writeous (self-released)

It’s a testament to Radamiz’ artistic vision that he collaborated exclusively with a slew of thoughtful individuals who generally paralleled his worldview. Radamiz has  been through a lot as a young person of color, but Writeous exhibits that he’s internally examined his plight to the point where he understands it and embraces it. The compact Writeous project is his way of paying it forward, by relating his particular struggle to the larger human condition in the hopes that a wayward listener may follow his path of enlightenment. Or at the very least nod their head to the dope-ass rhymes and rhythms.

The Repos, Poser (Youth Attack)

The latest full-length by long-running Chicago outfit The Repos makes good on the promise of 2013’sLive Munitions, capturing a hardcore band that’s grown increasingly inventive and bold without compromising the self-aware sense of humor that animated their early catalog.

Abdu Ali, MONGO (self-released)

In 2016, music that conveys the frustrations of people of color (and affirms our value) is the cream rising to the top of the music world. Baltimore rapper/activist Abdu-Ali is deeply affected by our plight, noting in an essay that “the fire inside makes me feel like no road cant be unconquered.” It’s with that sense of agency and industry that Ali released MONGO, a fiery mixtape that encapsulates the pain, fury and confusion of Black existence. Ali is the gifted artist who can eschew lyrical complexity while still resonating a powerful message. He’s making mantra music. The way he shrieks, “I got rage of a Black mother” on “Tears Of A Black Mova” makes me believe him. MONGO is a visceral experience with igneous pangs of consciousness flying at the listener for nine tracks.

My Favorite, “Christine Zero” b/w “Killed For Kicks” (Death Party Records)

Death Party Records’ boss Michael Avishay has moved label operations from LA to NYC, relaunching the DIY imprint with a new 7-inch from cult legends My Favorite. Re-emerging since originally disbanding back in 2005, Michael Grace Jr.’s new lineup and new recordings point to new beginnings from the band. Grace Jr.’s self-described death disco and purgatory pop of the addictive, alluring, & strangely alarming “Christine Zero” matches the powers of wills with revelations of powerless impotence (or ineffective). Boulevards of crashed-car rundown dreams are delivered in imagined Avalon-era jacuzzi mansion parties where sordid details of fatalistic fronts and events are sung and hissed like the character of a jaded interloper crashing the bourgeoisie cocktail party.

Dream Panther, Memory Drunk EP (self-released)

Dream Panther do not disturb the vibe across Memory Drunk. “Avocado Toast, Bottomless Bellini” fuses soft psychedelia into a tinkling piano interlude, while “Zen and Da Art of Machine Gun Maintenance” takes on a persona reminiscent of early Toro Y Moi, in the chillwave era, without being a transgression. Mastered by M. Geddes Gengras, Memory Drunk is submerged, but not drowned in the sensory deprivation. It maintains a minor interest in being awake and pressure free. The group is calling it “D O P E C H I L L” and has recommended the following strains of El Nino OG, Platinum Bubba Kush, and Wifi OG as complimentary in heightening the natural high of the EP.

Eskimeaux, Year of The Rabbit (self-released)

On the heels of last year’s gem O.K., the outfit helmed by Gabrielle Smith has been making available previously recorded, and sometimes released, songs that have helped shape the Eskimeaux sound. Recorded roughly five years ago, Year Of The Rabbit often dwells on the insecurities that continue through her more “professionally” released records, though as one would expect, the concepts aren’t fully fleshed out. That’s not the point of Year of The Rabbit, however. It’s a portal to an important time, not just in Eskimeaux’s growth as an artist and band, but it also marks the beginning of the Epoch collective that has spawned so many great releases from their family tree. Nostalgia weighs heavily throughout, and it’s exciting to contrast the “what’s to come” nature of Year of the Rabbit, alongside the successes the group has achieved in the five years since.

Tonstartssbandht, Christchurch (DOES ARE)

Tonstartssbandht are at their most dynamic and energetic live. Moreover, their live sets taken as a whole are fluid, immersive experiences, and Christchurch is a prime glimpse of that fluidity in full bloom. This set feels particularly heated, the vocals electrifying with ample delay against wailing guitars and big off-kilter drums that only occasionally pare off into lighter sections. There are plenty of nods to artists from various realms, like a sultry Pat Metheny cover as part of a medley to open the tape; from side A to side B, a grooving version of a Pärson Sound track segues seamlessly into a bass-heavy cover of “May The Circle Be Unbroken” by Spacemen 3. Throughout, there’s no loss in energy—these guys are tireless and generous, and emotions only seem to run higher as the record progresses. The impromptu a cappella covers at the set’s close are just a bonus.

Das Ram, Das Ram EP (self-released)

Queens, NY-by-way-of-LA artist Rachel Mason remains one of the most creative forces in the world, continuing her multidisciplinary pursuits that are never strictly committed to one singular medium. Known from her solo musical output, her group Little Band of Sailors, and last year’s critically acclaimed musical film feature The Lives of Hamilton Fish, Rachel now presents her new pop project Das Ram, in collaboration with LA artist Jeff Hassay. Fans will definitely be able to hear Mason soaring high off the buzz from last year’s Hamilton Fish as she demonstrates a prolific and vast sense of the performing arts that edge into the terrains that haven’t been explored. This is everything from how Rachel arranges and embodies an ensemble of beings that spring from the imaginative ether in all sorts of forms and presences.

Basmala, Basmala (Preservation Electronic Recordings)

Basmala has a vision of the future, one informed not by his social experience at large, but by the inventor’s call that exists in his head. Formerly known as Hasan Atiq, the artist now referred to as Basmala donned the title in order to demarcate a new direction of electronic hip hop. The self-titled debut is a progressive offering of afro-futurism that bonds in brotherhood with Anti-Pop Consortium and the black fusion jazz funk of the 1970s. Basmala brings an attitude to his debut that places him in the periphery of Brainfeeder’s progressive methods, expanding the movement beyond one collective and into the social strata of black music.

Dark Thoughts, Dark Thoughts (self-released)

Dark Thoughts’ self-titled LP is twelve tracks that altogether total less than 20 minutes—there’s no time for a breather, but it’s all so immediately catchy that you wouldn’t want one anyway. With a sound that feels like The Ramones stirred with a good deal of power pop from the last few decades, there’s an irresistible draw to these songs. The lyrics are blunt, and Jim’s voice shifts between a distant shout and a more direct, intimate tone as he traverses the woes of love and debt: your standard topics, but the delivery makes it newly affecting. The threesome takes a sweeping approach, covering wide ground over the record’s brief course. Though Dark Thoughts do run through some darker thoughts, these songs ultimately feel brighter than the name lets on—they’re just a joy to listen to.

Plazas, Empathy EP (NBD Label)

Occasionally there is that record that shakes you up in ways that make the borderlines between the familiar and foreign feel even thinner and more vague. Such is the case with the just released Empathy EP from Plazas, comprised of the vocals, visions, samples, synth, programming, and production from Vancouver artist Savana Salloum-Hedgecock. An exhibition of what initially began as a college project of Savana’s, Empathy creates a world of her very own where empathetic responses and feelings are treasured on a level of importance that has been otherwise reduced in many of our global communities. Empathy is an EP for everyone and seeks to find those sacred spaces of shared understanding and warm reasoning.

YC The Cynic, The Farewell Tape (self-released)

The seven year mark is a juncture in which many artists look to build upon their body of work, but for YC The Cynic, it’s time to say Farewell. This past month he released his final full-length work as YC, the fittingly titled The Farewell Tape. Who knows if the choice to put 25 tracks on the project was symbolic of his age, but I’m thankful he chose such a hefty tracklist. The mixtape is a celebration of his artistic ascension, full of old tracks and collaborations that he says are among his favorite from the YC era.

Frankie Cosmos, Next Thing (Bayonet)

Next Thing is a good title for a record that marks both an arrival and a passing-through. On Frankie Cosmos’ second studio album, Greta Kline and company expand on their established sound, incorporating some brand-new songs and some reworkings of sketches from as early as 2013. Keeping an instrumental setup similar to that of Zentropy, these songs breeze by, minimal but blooming. Still, with 15 tracks there’s enough sprawl for Kline to dip deeper than ever into sinister feelings—detachment, resentment—when she’s not celebrating affection.

Hovvdy, Taster (Merdurhaus)

Austin’s “pillowcore” duo of Charlie Martin and Will Taylor have created a warm enclosure where there’s space for airing questions of intimacy and home. On their first full-length, the band’s usual guitar and bass setup is sometimes underpinned by subtle synths as Charlie and Will sing in tandem, bringing the sound to a place that’s slightly wayward, slightly on edge. These songs are narratively dense and imagistic, never shying from strangeness. Hovvdy deal in the gray areas in feeling, and in a few fleeting moments, doubt and reassurance come to a vanishing point.

Rabbit Rabbit, I’ll Always Remember You (Nicey Music)

Peter Nichols of Great Valley / Grape Valley has moved the Spooky Town Tapes party over to LA launching the imprint Nicey Music, with a commitment to DIY excellence that Peter refers to as being “dedicated to the freakiest, shiniest pop we can imagine.” The first release on the imprint is the final farewell album from Western Massachussetts’ cult psych group Rabbit Rabbit. I’ll Always Remember You is the keepsake / forget-me-not to remember the Northampton band, from the opening dark skanking “We Chunk Way”, stormy skies and unsettled sentiments together converge in an invitational to join the group as you step into their world of weirdness and wow.

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