Photo: Rahul Jain

Hidden Gems II: Scott Zanassi unearths some unheralded standouts from the last few months

Here we are again folks with another edition of Hidden Gems. Inside you’ll find some great tunes that you might want to check out; if it sounds good to me, it just might sound good to you too. Click on those Bandcamp links for each selection and listen to your heart’s content, and of course, if you can spare some cash, buy yourself some groovy tunes and support planet Earth’s music community.

Frog of Earth – Frog of Earth

This one is a strange piece of music indeed. Think of a combination of Hayao Miyazaki and Tim Robbins’ character Ian Raymond of the movie High Fidelity – if Ian wasn’t such an utter douchebag. I want to do yoga, eat organic food, and meditate to the point of absolute ego death when listening to Frog of Earth. I’d also probably give Ian a big hug and tell him that he really should cut off that ponytail. But seriously, this stuff is ambient, experimental and as beautiful as those first early rays of light on the morning after your wedding day. I want my music to give me the aural equivalent of a frontal lobotomy, and this offering does the trick. Have you ever been out somewhere and you can hear all the frog calls and croaks and it sounds like hundreds of those cute little guys just singing away in their own special language? I’d like to think that, to a frog, this album’s music sounds like ‘ribbits’ to their ears. I like weird and I like beautiful. When artists can combine the two in such a harmonious way as this, I am a happy camper.

Men Wearing Dresses – Starlust

How to describe this one? It’s like electronic music played with actual instruments, but not your ordinary instruments. Remember in school when you had band class? When I was in 3rd grade, all of us started with plastic recorders we called “song flutes”. Then 4th grade started and those of us that wanted to be in band class got to play actual instruments. Woo! I started out playing the saxophone but the thing was bigger than I was so I switched to the clarinet. Out of all the kids, most of us boys played the clarinet or sax, girls tended to gravitate toward the flutes, that one cool kid who started smoking pot around the age of 9 was the drummer, add a couple trumpet players and we all rocked. Oh yeah and there was the one weird guy who chose to play the trombone and the even weirder dude who played that monstrosity they called the tuba.

Boy, was I a misguided kid, because this album by Men Wearing Dresses is comprised of these genius weirdos who decided to make a band centered around the tuba, trombone and some instruments I’ve never even heard of including euphonium, flugabone, and an instrument that’s actually called a ‘serpent’ which you have to google to believe how weird the thing looks, and it’s all combined with some amazing beats and other electronic textures. This is avant-garde music at its best. The weirdo playing all these odd and eccentric instruments, Brendan, is just insane with these sounds, man. I never thought tuba-centric music could sound so good and captivating. The beats and atmospheric psychedelic gloop that holds it all together, provided by John Baylies, is just a perfect blend for all those strange bass-heavy melodies. Baylies really knows how to capture those horn noises and turn them into something really grand. I’m sitting here in my bedroom but listening to this I feel as if I’m floating in an isolation tank and enjoying every second of it. I never thought it was possible to make psychedelic music with these kinds of instruments, but here we are. I’m delighted with the 21st century, as I am with this album.

Anunaku – 042

Anunaku, AKA Guglielmo Barzacchini’s newest offering has the most exquisite sounds some of you might ever get the privilege of hearing. I might be biased because I too am of Italian descent, but Italy certainly does seem to produce some of the best things on Earth: automobiles, clothing, food, and in this case some really remarkable techno/house music. What really seals the deal for me are those lush and sensual female vocalizations that practically demand I feel the pleasure of the musical textures. It’s a short one, clocking in at around 21 minutes, but that’s 21 minutes well spent. Anunaku is the real deal. I would describe this music as luscious and very sensual. It’s got a pounding rhythm, but it’s definitely got a femininity to it that to my ears is a welcome and pleasant ride. This is the kind of music that allows me to fantasize of a world where its inhabitants just dance all day and night at house parties and do nothing else. 

PDP III – Pilled Up on a Couple of Doves

Britton Powell, Lucy Railton, and Huerco S. team up as PDP III for this beautiful ambient offering. It feels like a movie soundtrack, except that it’s the movie soundtrack to the entirety of my life’s dreams. The apocalypse and the prehistoric share the same space here, breathe the same air, penetrate me at the exact same points of entry. In this dream landscape of an album, am I the protagonist, antagonist, or NPC? Will I find the exit to Plato’s cave, or will the apparent exit point out of this experience only lead me deeper into madness? I’m an oddball of sorts, so you won’t find me tuning into a top 40 radio station and grooving to the latest Cardi B or Kanye West tune. I’d rather wallow around in this and confront my shadow self. If you’re anything like me and don’t mind putting some far-out space music on your stereo and sinking into your bean bag and staring at the ceiling for perhaps hours on end, I believe you will get much satisfaction out of this one here. I love this it, and I wasn’t even pilled up on a couple of doves while I heard it – not saying that isn’t a bad suggestion though; sometimes you just have to follow the artists’ lead.

Vegyn  – Like a Good Old Friend EP

I’ve currently got this wonderful little EP on repeat everywhere I go. The spring sun is starting to come out and I feel like a real baller – or at least what I imagine a baller feels like – when I’ve got Vegyn blasting. I must confess that I’m about as far from a ‘baller’ as anyone could ever get. I’m nerdy, morose, certain movies and television shows bring me to tears. But I swear, when I’m listening to this here, I’m the king of the road, albeit temporarily. The last song on this EP is titled “Sometimes I Feel Like I’m Ruining Songs”; let me tell you, brother, the only thing that ruins this experience is when the last note fades out and the beat slowly disappears. Anyone here old enough to remember that Ice Cube video for “It Was a Good Day” and how cool it made you feel? Well this EP will make you feel pretty much the same way. If you drive a convertible, even better. Drive slower than normal, blast this stuff good and loud. When you’re stopped at a light, turn your head to the driver next to you, smile and just nod your head up and down as the music fills the air. I guarantee that other driver will be wondering just who that cool person was at the intersection for the remainder of their day. Who knows? You might be the very last thought in someone’s head years from now while they’re taking their last breath thinking to themselves “I wish I had been as cool as that person at that stoplight 40 years ago.”

nthng – Unfinished

I feel like a voyeur listening to nthng‘s Unfinished, like the sounds I’m hearing aren’t created for my ears. Oh, I enjoy them immensely, but I get this strange sensation that they’re not meant for me, so it’s as if I’m stealing them or preserving them in secret with my little old-fashioned tape recorder. I am inside a sacred realm and the sounds emanating from every direction are frightening to me, but not in the Friday the 13th slasher-film type of scary. No, this is more like I’m out of my realm and I’m among a much higher intelligence that I could never fully comprehend. Halfway through the album, I’m struck with the overwhelming sensation that the music being made by these beings is actually meant just for me. They’ve known of my presence here before I was even here and they’ve been waiting patiently. What are they trying to convey with these strange sounds? The fear has left me completely now and I’m beginning to actually learn things. The message has something to do with the powers of the mind, manifestations, creating one’s own reality. This album is a learning experience and I’ll take learning experiences wherever I can get them.

Lizz – Dromes EP

This little beauty clocks in at just over 21 minutes, with only two tracks, but they are both just epic. Call it tech-house or minimal-house or whatever you want — it doesn’t really matter. Lizz‘s little gem is a perfect example of where house music has been evolving to and where it could potentially go. It may seem simple and repetitive to the untrained ear, but therein lies the secret sauce. Not unlike the ancient tribal rhythms of Africans, this music will put the listener into a trance-like state that will give a profound experience. For some individuals, music isn’t just a thing to listen to – music is life. Music has the potential to connect our higher and lower selves to each other and to others around us. It’s quite specifically a form of communion. Lizz understands this, as do I and so many others. Seriously, Dromes is what is helping change the consciousness of planet earth, so I urge you to support transformative music. You don’t have to just listen to what the commercial radio stations tell you to listen to. You are an individual. You are unique. You are transforming as we all are whether you are aware of it or not.