Sound Bytes : Jono McCleery, Mats Eilertsen, Silent Land Time Machine and The American Dollar

Jono McCleery
There Is
Here’s is another one of those rare occurrences in which I make an exception and review an album full of good ol’ songs, lyrics and all. It’s possible that the first thing that attracted my attention to a new album by Juno McCleery was his appearance on Ninja Tune XX: 20 Years Of Beats & Pieces compilation, where he contributed his “Tomorrow” track. On his release on Counter Records, McCleery offers 12 songs for the electronica generation. At the center of each track is, of course, McCleery’s voice – that effortless, smokey, yet deeply resonating voice, reminding me a lot of when I first heard the soul tracks by James Blake. But unlike the pop-radio tunes, which are empty of context and imagination, each song on There Is contains deep emotion, beautiful melodies and excellent songwriting. McCleery graces us with “a voice of simple beauty, a voice that can soar through the octaves or duck behind your back, which can crack with emotion or hit you hard with its understated delivery.” Oh, and for those that are second guessing this selection, Counter Records is indeed a sublabel of Ninja Tune, which has already released a single by McCleery in 2011, consisting of two tracks: “Wonderful Life” and “Garden”, featuring remixes by Seiji and Fybe of the second track. There’s also a promo sampler floating around of just instrumentals from There Is, but trust me, they feel like they’re missing something. And that something is Jono’s voice. No wonder Ninja Tune introduced him to the world – fans of Bonobo, The Cinematic Orchestra, Fink, Jamie Woon, Loka, and Submotion Orchestra should flock to become familiar with Jono.

Mats Eilertsen
Today is one of those days when I survey a huge pile of disks occupying my desk and try to reach out for a few, more or less at random. How or why did I miss these particular CDs? How long have they been waiting for this moment? Never mind regrets, denials or excuses – they’re playing right now. Today is one of those days when genres resurface and jolt my fatigued ears into new adventures, previously unexplored. One such journey comes courtesy of Mats Eilertsen, a Norwegian jazz bassist recording on Hubro and Aim Records. At first look from the cover of SkyDive, depicting a sandy beach and distant body of water, I picture the sounds of shoegaze or post-rock, and am unprepared when hit with a full on sound of contemporary jazz. We’re talking about cool piano keys, Fender Rhodes, saxophones, shuffling percussion, guitar, and of course, double-bass. The voluptuous melodies seem to effortlessly flow from this group of jazzy musicians, who are entangled in their intimate dance of music. I close my eyes and try to picture Eilertsen on the contrabass. An image of a jazz player behind this magnificent instrument surfaces, as he sways with the beat of the music, his eyes shut, lips muttering plosives in rhythm of plucks. There’s a whole other language to jazz – that which I now understand, no matter how abstruse and abstract. Perhaps it is my connection to the musicians behind each instrument which mutters the loudest. Perhaps it’s just the soul of music. Whatever the case, today is one of those days when I need it. And Eilertsen nails it with SkyDive.

Silent Land Time Machine
I am no longer alone…
Indian Queen
If Silent Land Time Machine‘s debut album, & Hope Still (Indian Queen / Time-Lag, 2008) used an ampersand to shorten its title, then the follow-up 2012 EP is the complete opposite. Titled after a quote from Carl Jung as I Am No Longer Alone With Myself And Can Only Artificially Recall The Scary And Beautiful Feeling Of Solitude, this six track EP, which is released on a limited edition 180g clear vinyl, is a darker affair, experimenting with abstract electro-acoustic sound at the extreme territories of folktronica and avant-garde. This is not exactly an afternoon of easy listening, but then again, listening should never be that easy. Compare those efforts with the endless work that went into construction of any project (and this one in particular) and you begin to appreciate the intricate layers the are impossible to unfold, and so you try again. Finally, after numerous listens, the sound gives in, like a stubborn child or a shy first love. But when it finally does, it surrenders completely and unconditionally, and now you are the guardian, in charge of steering its destiny to safety. The cover art of the record features photographs of monuments in former Yugoslavia, dedicated to honor the people perished in concentration camps during WWII. The subtext on the inlay offers a somber view on the cause of this tragedy, crediting various governments and their policies with the industrializing warfare for the sole purpose of their own economic agendas. And whereas Jung was examining the “shadow side of the fortune of love”, SLTM is ultimately reflecting on the dingy shadows of ourselves. In this context the record becomes a tribute of its own. But instead of mourning the collective insanity it celebrates the awakened state of being here in recognition of the dark that lurks beneath. Released on his very own Indian Queen Records this EP is recommended for fans of post-apocalyptic pseudo-psychedelic shadow-rock.

The American Dollar
Awake In The City
Yesh Music
Although I haven’t really covered The American Dollar on Headphone Commute in the past (I don’t think), I have been indeed listening to this NYC based duo since their debut in 2006. Back then, Richard Cupolo and John Emanuele self-released a self-titled debut which blended elements of ambient, shoegaze and post-rock into one sonic cocoon, in which I used to hide during the cold winter months. A year later, the group self-released The Technicolour Sleep, and on the following got signed to Yesh Music with the release of A Memory Stream. In 2009 I still kept up with The American Dollar’s release of Atlas. And since I’ve been meaning to write about The American Dollar, I might as well start with their very latest, Awake In The City. Cupolo and Emanuele compose acoustic textures with slight hints of electronic percussion, soaring guitars, and cinematic keys, the likes of which will appeal to fans of Lights Out Asia, Hammock, God Is An Astronaut, Epic45, Explosions In The Sky, The Album Leaf and Port-Royal. The major harmonics on the album leave you with a sense of well-being, ready to kick start a brand new project, or throw yourself into another busy day. This is a wonderful opening to my morning commute across the concrete jungle as pavement is brimming with sunlight and fumes. And although Awake In The City does not break any grounds in terms of evolution of sound, it does nevertheless feel like ‘home’ – and that’s a well desired attribute in music – that’s the one that makes me want to reach out for another spin again and again. File somewhere before emotional electronica and after the post-rock. Be sure to also check out the two compilations, Ambient One and Ambient Two available via The American Dollar’s bandcamp.