Photo: Christian Lue

Hidden Gems III: Scott Zanassi plucks the best recent albums from the outer reaches

Alright it’s time for another instalment of Hidden Gems, the magical list of all things wonderful and slightly left of center. I hope you all enjoy listening to new music as much as I love sharing my findings with you. In a world gone crazy, music is still the glue that holds everything together, so support your local musicians and enjoy these super-fresh recommendations.

Adhémar – In Praise Of The Plant [Diffuse Reality]

This one begins with eerie ambient textures phasing in and out like a movie score… then track two begins, the beat kicks in and I’m hooked. The rhythm is tribal, simple, repetitive and infectious. Spacey bleeps and bloops layered on top – I’m mesmerized.

Have you ever noticed that your brain is either thinking of the past or the future? I do and it bothers me to no end, but when I’m listening to this one from Adhémar, all that stops and I’m right here and now. It’s such a wondrous feeling to be rid of that chatter for even a few seconds, and this music is a gateway to freedom. It’s a rarity to blend tranquility with rhythm patterns. Ambient music with beats? Sure, why not? Sometimes I wonder if the plant kingdom has their own language. Do they possess the capability to communicate with each other in some way that humans just don’t understand? In my experience on this planet, I would have to admit that yes, I do believe that the plant kingdom can and does communicate constantly with itself. This is a sort of concept album judging from the names of the songs: “The Growth of Plants”, “Radial Symmetry”, “The Roots System”, “Words From the Trees”. There is definitely a secret language buried within these tracks, and I’d like to think somehow these musicians found a way to record plants talking to each other and In Praise Of The Plant is the result.

Mind Maintenance – Mind Maintenance [Drag City]

Hard to believe, but this little gem was made by two non-Africans, bassist Joshua Abrams and drummer Chad Taylor. This is some of the most untraditional American music that I’ve ever heard – and that’s a compliment. If I didn’t know better, I’d think this was made by the hands and minds of some very talented African musicians. I must admit, my experience with African music begins and ends with Fela Kuti and Ali Farka Touré, so this offering is a bona-fide eye opener. Everything about the music is strange to my ears: the rhythms are foreign, the instruments (guimbri and mbira) are foreign. I can’t hear any guitars or someone playing what we would call a traditional drum set.

But herein lies the magic! It’s as if the music itself isn’t just music… it’s got properties that go beyond and deeper than mere notes that make up songs. Sit with me for a moment here and imagine that joy and fulfilment were actually tangible things that you could hold in your hands, or consume. ‘Yeah gimme a joy burger, medium fries, and a strawberry fulfillment shake. Oh, and no pickles on the burger!’ I listen to this and I feel a simple kind of joy – the type that little kids feel just when they’re sitting around doing what we adults would assume is absolutely nothing.

The choice of the name Mind Maintenance was genius, because that’s what this is if you boil it all down until just the sludge of truth remains. If you’re one of those individuals that puts even a little effort into mental, spiritual, and emotional improvement, then this music is meant for you. This album is joy, peace, tranquility – sustenance for a healthy mind and clean spirit, and it’s all done instrumentally. Yeah that means no words will be heard on this offering, and thank the universe for that; vocals would just suck the magic right out of this medicine.

Lunation Fall – Near [Stellar Frequencies]

You might be wondering about the state of shoegaze in 2021, so I’m here to tell you that it’s alive and well. I’ve been listening to this one from French band Lunation Fall for almost two months now (yeah, I’ve been holding out on you fine people) and it hasn’t gotten a bit old yet. It sounds as fresh as the first time I listened to it, and that doesn’t happen to me very often.

The sound of this album is the aural equivalent of standing on a giant rock where the ocean meets land and screaming exuberant paeans to Poseidon. This is the spot on the map where shoegaze meets dream pop – it’s a glorious intersection that should be investigated by all who enjoy music. When I listen to this album I feel so alive and full of energy – and I feel cool as a cucumber too.

Rainforest – Babylon Complex [Breakbeat Rebelz]

I’ve been in the mood for some brain-melting drum & bass and I think I’ve found my latest obsession. DnB might not be in everyone’s wheelhouse – perhaps you’re just not too familiar with those odd and fast syncopated breakbeats, or maybe you just find it somewhat confusing. Don’t fret, because you’re probably in the majority on this one. It takes a special (masochistic) kind of individual to listen to a particular type of music with the intention of inducing temporary psychosis.

A good DnB mix will have my brain matter in a gooey puddle on the floor and that’s exactly where I want it. If you can create music that renders me a drooling uncommunicative mess, then you’ve done something right and I salute you. Rainforest, wherever you are, I salute you. I had to wait a couple hours to merge body with mind to write these words here. Job well done, Rainforest.

Literature – Stoa [business casual]

Literature‘s album has had me dancing around for days now. It’s got some powerfully infectious grooves that command listeners to move their feet and shake their asses. Its Bandcamp page includes the tag ‘plunderphonics’, which would mean that the artist heavily uses music samples. Now I don’t recognize any of them to be honest but I’m sure many of you can help me out.

What I can say is that the music has a definite early 80s vibe that I’m really digging on. Funky bass? Check. Obligatory hand claps? Check. Retro synth washes? Check. It’s all here packed into 41 minutes and 15 seconds. If you’ve ever found yourself pining away for that Soul Train experience, you’ve gotta do yourself a favor and give Stoa a listen. Go ahead and play this album for somebody 40 years or older and they’ll certainly tell you that this was made decades ago. Summer is quickly approaching and those blistering days that ease into refreshing balmy nights need music that accentuates your not-a-care-in-the-world attitude emerging soon after the last final exam of the year. Yeah, you know that feeling – it’s time to party with the crew and loosen up. Add Literature to your cool summer soundtrack.

EXEK – Good Thing They Ripped Up the Carpet [Lulus Sonic Disc Club]

This album has everything I love in quirky hard-to-pin-down recordings: droning guitars and spacy sounds, a high-as-a-kite-too-cool-for-school sounding vocalist who sings/talks/mumbles his way through through it all, a driving rhythm section reminiscent of the mighty mighty German band Can — listen to the track “The Plot” and you’ll hear what I mean. I feel like I should be kicking back and sippin’ on purple drank while listening to EXEK. Y’all Texas comrades know what I’m talking about; the rest of the world needs to catch up with you crazy hooligans. If you like to spend your summer nights kicking back with some syrupy sweet sounds that hang in the air as thick as opium smoke, then look no further. Seriously, this 35 minute album is a real treat to the senses that does not disappoint. I’m telling you all right now to point your mouse to the link below snatch it up — Uncle Scotty would never steer you wrong.

Aleksi Perälä – PHANTASIA I

The sheer beauty of this album astounds me. It’s the type of music that immediately dissolves my tensions and all my worldly cares with a gentle push of the play button. After letting my brain be liquified by the sonic Vitamix that is drum & bass, this album by Aleksi Perälä is a tender and gentle caress straight from the land of glorious fantasy. It’s the sound of awakenings and discovery. There’s an innocence to it that feels overwhelmingly refreshing to my old cynical ears. I’ve stepped out of a cold and grimy world and into  a realm of resplendent dreams and unimaginable possibilities.

Sometimes music has the ability to penetrate and sink into the deepest reaches of one’s being, as if the human brain possesses specific receptors whose only function is to bind with particular sounds, melodies and frequencies. I don’t mean to sound overly sentimental, but this is soul music. You’re probably familiar with music that moves your body or music that stimulates your mind; PHANTASIA I transforms your soul. I went into this listening experience one way and at the end I’m certain that I’m a more empathic, compassionate and tolerant person.