New Album Of The Month, essential music from the fringes
Hollie Kanniff, Blue Lake, Mellie, Bianca Scout
Today we’re bringing you a whole mail out with just new music. No reissues, no archive releases, these are people making essential music right NOW. Now more than ever we feel it’s important to support artists existing outside the mainstream, lifers who are quietly making our world better by creating their own for us to slip into.
We’ve got a new Album Of The Month from a master of tidal, reverb guitar.
There’s a group from Leipzig doing deconstructed rock music like Stereolab, The Notwist going indie pop in Chicago 1999.
What about the solo musician from Denmark ensconced in Sweden making sublime, mediative drone and zither music?
Or a South London/Newcastle artist stepping out from collaborations to make a beguiling ambient adjacent record that’s gloriously wonky and DIY.
It’s all here, read on.
ALBUM OF THE MONTH
We All Have Places That We Miss (Western Vinyl)
Drifting in on the pillows of sound unwinding from We All Have Places That We Miss, it’s hard not to think that something is alright with the world. It isn’t of course, and never was, but the small pocket of existence opened up by Hollie Kenniff’s third album is a warm coccoon you should climb inside. Formerly in Mint Julep with husband/musician Keith Kenniff, this third album of swelling, tidal guitars, dazzling harmonies and fairy, dusty piano star twinkle is her most fully evolved, cohesive piece to date.
Using a base of layered guitars filtered through delay and reverb, then looped to intoxicating perfection, We All Have Places… reflects on memory, nostalgia, the power of harmony and sound to create space. This is what all great music does of course, but it also questions the lore and history of ambient music to these ears. The sound palette is definitely spacious, there are really lovely echos of classic ambient, like the Music For Airports-style blocks of aural balm, but if Ambient music exists to exist, to offer zen and calm and emotional balance, it seems to me Kenniff’s music is something else.
Kenniff’s music is more in tune with the likes of Stars Of The Lid, perhaps, or Growing, to be simply “Ambient.” Restraint is the main instrument, perhaps, with building waves of guitar textures rising into the heavens before being gracefully reigned in before cresting. Repeated, these swells form a bedrock of sound that the listener can gain nourishment from. Euonia’s stereo-panned guitar and pinched harmonics duet with a sythnesized choir, a synth pattern on Momentary references the sort of retro synthestics that Ghost Box records have brought back from the late 70s into fashion but with a serene over-wash that enmeshes the track into the fold of the album’s whole. The introduction of acoustic guitar on Amidst The Tall Grass has a bucolic feel tinged with a minor key melody that pulls at the memory, it’s a musical trick that could elicit a bittersweet response, a warm memory of a lost one. It’s these inflections that point to an emotional core at the music that divorce it from wallpaper.
Like the best music, Hollie Kenniff’s guitar-centric practice’s soundworld invites anyone in to find whatever it is they’re looking for. Comfort, memory, nostalgia, solace; the emotional response you bring to this music, to this place, is your contribution and it’s worth it.
Previously sold out, this is the second pressing of this quietly stunning piece of meditative music from Scandinavia. The work of Danish resident Jason Dungan, he recorded Stikling as Blue Lake in 2020 on a residency in Andersabo, Sweden. The tracks on Stikling are all based on drones, often buried low in the mix, recorded on an organ in a nearby church. These sustained tones are used as springboards from which Dungan gracefully takes flight. Never overwhelming, sometimes the drones simply drift in while a zither is dancing in the upper register. Sometimes the drones swirl on their own, soon to be met by a simple percussion pattern that triggers the mind to focus.
It’s all so simple and beautiful, with a narrative that gets fuller as the album progresses. By the time we get to Side 2 closer Shoots, there’s a light groove holding the drone down with subtle elements drifting in. The effect is gently uplifting, well tempered, fully formed yet unintrusively beguiling. The title track takes the whole of side B, a 19 minute piece of long-form composition which also features the most sonorous of the drones, with two tones dovetailing, in and out of sync and tune, causing different vibrations in the listeners’ third ear. Rather than crescendo into a predictable, full zenith, the track performs a dignified falling apart into zithers arpeggiating and plucking, like some sort of angelic serenade from a cloud above an otherwise cloudless Swedish coastline.
I Have Ideas, Too
Leipzig’s Mellie are a special proposition. As a trio, they’re completely locked in with each other, a rhythm section who seem umbilically linked in flexing and probing the potential of their instruments and vocal arrangements that are in turns pretty and moody.
It reminds us in parts of Stereolab, but in place of that group’s utopian dreaming they’ve got a world weariness born of relationship breakdown and urban decay. The guitars and bass weave in between the other neatly and succinctly like early Tortoise patterns, with dual male/female vocals bringing a pleasing Sea + Cake vibe. The tales are forensic skits about living in the city, any urban Western city plagued by late stage capitalism but in this case it’s the grand, socialist-leaning city of Leipzig. Julia Boehme and Marius Huber’s duel vocals compliment each other well, breathy but not too ghostly and always in service to the taut tension the trio conjure with their instruments.
The active basslines have a Television-esque use of space and melody, the spindly guitar lines crawl all over the music like tentative fingernails click clacking and in turn stroking or striking. A track like Flaw has a galloping drum pattern and droning bassline allowing the vocals and guitars to ponder and ring together. The title track has a searching, almost U.S. post-rock rhythm with subtle synth inflections and connected vocals that reminds us almost of a more organic Kreidler or Notwist. In fact the more we listen to this music it feels like a post punk answer to a lot of the German music we love, the practitioners of Munich, Cologne and Berlin who form on of the backbones of Monorail. Let’s add Leipzig to the web of intrepid musicians working it at the fringes.
The Heart Of The Anchoress
Having, in recent times, worked with luminaries such as Space Afrika, Mika Levi, Klein and Coby Sey, the time is certainly ripe for Scout to present her own vision and to firmly establish her talent among the rich tapestry of her peers.
The record was formed and sculpted from a three day recording session at St Giles Church in Camberwell (shout out Nick the Vic). The airy experiments and embryonic compositions that emerged from these sessions were then transferred from those lofty halls to the intimacy of the bedroom studio where they were twisted, teased, pruned and nurtured into the collection of sublime songs here presented. Scout’s innate sense for narrative – and ear for exquisite creakiness – acted the shepherd for every gesture.
Incidental sounds (the creaking of the pump organ, the sirens of the metropolitan police) are favoured and serve to ground the listener in place, while Scout’s intuitive, mantra-like songwriting (evidenced in tracks like Vanguard, This City Had A Wall ) succeeds in opening portals to heavenly vistas and scenes of golden-hour romance. All this while never outstaying a welcome or over-egging a pudding – partly due to a sharp sense of pace and a willingness to change direction at any moment (hear Dedicated Two, Proud To Employ A Qualified Ghost).
It should also be mentioned that what is presented here is in fact only one colour, filtered from the white light of Bianca’s creative output. Having recently premiered an accompanying contemporary dance performance at London’s Southbank Centre, and with several videos and multimedia projects due to follow (all set within the same universe as The Heart of the Anchoress) it’s clear that she has much more to offer, and we look forward to witnessing the material evolve once again.