We’re in sort of a weird, experimental pop renaissance so far in 2015. There have been some extremely interesting and important records released this year that may have flown just under your radar but are more than worth the time and effort to seek out. I’m talking about albums from such notables as Bjork, Holly Herndon, Deradoorian and Circuit des Yeux among others. Later this year we’ll also get albums from Empress Of and Julia Holter, which should fit in perfectly with the rest. But right now I want to take a moment to highlight two particular LPs that I’ve been quite taken with so far this year.
The first is Briana Marela’s All Around Us, which came out earlier this month. It’s her first for Jagjaguwar, and for it Marela flew from Seattle out to Iceland hoping to be inspired. Iceland of course being the home to Sigur Ros, she wound up working with the band’s producer Alex Somers, as well as the orchestral collective Amiina who make their instrumental presence felt on just about every one of the band’s albums. The results are stunning and beautiful, particularly when paired with Marela’s sugary sweet yet breathy vocals. There’s a brightness that radiates through every song, reflected outward in a burst of rainbow colors like when sunlight hits a crystal. Cuts like “Surrender” and “Take Care of Me” are great examples of the expansive arrangements and slightly obtuse song structures present throughout the record.
If you’re interested in going a bit stranger and more confrontational with your music, Jenny Hval’s latest effort Apocalypse, girl can definitely help you there. Her modus operandi is tearing apart traditional pop songs and repurposing them to somehow find the more memorable and catchy elements within. There are two primary factors that help make her music so challenging. The first is the seemingly random way songs are composed, where pop melodies will emerge from a strange direction and either choose to stick around or continue on a separate path into obscurity. What the motivation behind such shifts are remains a mystery, but that’s all part of the adventure. The second has to do with Hval’s lyrics, which tend to be odd and provocative yet also meditative and well thought out. She’ll use phrases like “soft dick rock” and “huge capitalist clit” that have a certain WTF quality to them, yet their grand purpose is to make you think about concepts like the patriarchy and counterculture in a different way. Sure it’s not exactly easy listening, but the effort you’ll expend trying to dig into everything going on across this record pays out dividends across repeat listens. Give a listen to “That Battle Is Over” and “Sabbath” to get a better idea of what the album is all about and whether or not you might consider it to be your cup of tea.
What’s very exciting is that Briana Marela and Jenny Hval are touring together, and will be performing at Constellation in Chicago next Thursday, September 3rd. It’s an 18+ show that kicks off at 8:30. Tickets are $12 in advance and can be purchased here. It promises to be a highly fascinating and memorable night, so I strongly encourage you to come out and support these two powerful and innovative artists!