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Outsideleft Week in Music We're hearing from Laufey, Life Without Buildings, Ed Dowie, Discodor, Xiu Xiu, Reigning Sound, Witch Prophet, Noname, Allison Russell, Arab Strap, Japan and several more...

Outsideleft Week in Music

We're hearing from Laufey, Life Without Buildings, Ed Dowie, Discodor, Xiu Xiu, Reigning Sound, Witch Prophet, Noname, Allison Russell, Arab Strap, Japan and several more...

by Alex V. Cook, Music Editor
first published: March, 2021

approximate reading time: minutes

This Life Without Buildings repress is not for dumb boy-rock types - Duncan Jones

This terrible world! It just chugs along like a woodchipper and we keep feeding it trees. Good thing we have the eternal mill of music, consuming and re-creating itself, a wheel in a river we can never step in twice, but we can flip the tape. Or let it auto reverse! Favorites from across five decades all come around this week to make us feel like we have done something right with our lives. Rejoice!  Or at least clog the woodchipper with nostalgia and listen to the sweet wind in the branches. --Alex V. Cook


Best Friend
What could be more adorable and charming than an Icelandic-Chinese singer-songwriter/cellist recording her first single “Street By Street” at university the literal day before the lockdown? Dunno. I usually shy away from adorable and charming, but Laufey caught my ear with a spot-on “Moon River” accompanying herself on cellos and guitar like it was a Zoom meeting with heaven. Her forthcoming EP’s follow-up single “Best Friend” underscores her jazz chops but jumps out of the “she’s got talent” box in which she might be placed by warbling “But I promise that I love you/even with that hairdo/I’m sorry I made fun of it/It’s not your fault it looks like shit.” Prepare to adore and be charmed. --Alex V. Cook

Red Stone
(Needle Mythology)
It is Springtime and a Japanese Harp is playing in a garden as the Cherry Blossoms start to flower.  A man starts to sing sweetly and then, another version of him starts to magically harmonise with him.  Whatever studio trickery may have caused this, I simply refuse to believe it.  What sorcery is this?

‘Red Stone’ is Ed Dowie’s fourth single for Needle Mythology and it is his most endearingly sublime yet (yes, even more than the retro synthpop joy of ‘Number Eight Wire’ from earlier in the year).  It also suggests that the forthcoming ‘The Obvious I’ album may just be one of the musical highlights of 2021.

Maybe it’s because Dowie was once a choirboy that has meant that his voice is so honest and delicate.  Maybe it’s because he immersed himself in the art of experimental music (studying a Music, Technology And Innovation degree at De Montfort University), that means he knows how to create such deceptively beautiful music. 

Or maybe he is actually a magician.  I would not be surprised. -- Jason Lewis 

The Rain Is Blue
(Wonderful Sound)
Discodor are fast becoming one of my favorite bands. Thank you, WoodenHänd for alerting me to these guys. They have the artistry of the Pale Fountains, as is evident on their new single, the deliciously metered, The Rain Is Blue. Its nightlife savvy is woozily just off the pace, beyond your expectations enough to have you thinking… Well what would’ve happened if Georgio Morodor couldn’t get an erection? Music would be entirely different, right? He couldn’t have fathered disco. But he might have fathered Discodor. Meanwhile back at the studio you’d be forgiven for thinking Alexandra Bastedo was playing mum or something, telling them to be naughty, very naughty, so cool are they. Go get them the indie grammy right the minute after you hear this... --Ancient Champion

Rumpus Room
I used to love Xiu Xiu but they lost me along the way. I’m sure it was me. The videos for the Duets album might be winning me back with their pandemic homespun no-budget Kenneth Anger kink parade. Angelo Sao in a devil cheerleader outfit. Jamie Stewart cavorting with a bunch of rope like a Trent Reznor who never made any money, which, well. In another bands’ hands, this would be a dumb post-whatever banger, but we are seeing in Xiu Xiu’s cracked funhouse glass and hearing it on their busted speakers. Like that harness you asked about, get into it. --Alex V Cook

A Little More Time
Lord almighty, Greg Cartwright’s Reigning Sound has re-emerged after seven years of wandering the halls of that haunted high school of the heart! We should have a pep rally! Spin the bottle battle - cheerleaders vs. the A/V club!  If you are like me and their 2002 album Time Bomb High School means the world to you, that same band rocks anew and a-old on this title track from their forthcomer.  Jangly guitars, that Stiff records organ, lovesick dreamy longing, all haloed by a tambourine from heaven. --Alex V Cook

We’re going to the South By South West Festival (SXSW) next week and the video for Witch Queen’s “Tesfay” has been shortlisted for a Polaris Music Prize which is part of the SXSW Film Festival Music Video Competition. Tesfay is taken from Witch Prophet’s superb 2020 LP, D.N.A. Activation, an ode to her Ethiopian and Eritrean ancestral roots, fusing Jazz, Hip-Hop, Soul and RnB with songs sung in English, Amharic, and Tigrinya. Tesfay is Witch Prophet’s late grandfather and namesake for the song, he raised five daughters as a single father in Ethiopia after the passing of her grandmother. Instead of focussing on the traditional roles for women in his day, he pushed his daughters towards education and empowerment, a radical move for the time. This video’s a great one. -- Lee Paul

Everything I Wanted
Allison Russell, is a founding member of Our Native Daughters (with Rhiannon Giddens, Leyla McCalla and Amythyst Kiah) and Birds of Chicago (with JT Nero). Currently working her way through a covers catalog and arriving upon Billie Eilish’s “Everything I Wanted.” It’s sung in both English and the Montreal-native’s second language, French. We love that kind of thing! Stay in school kids and learn your languages and break down borders. Anyway, Great start, vibrato guitar, haunting voice, music from another time and another place, soaring with passion, racked with pain and loss, sounds a competitor to, but more hopeful, and less self pitying than, Adele's minor key tragic love lost songs. Allison Russell’s voice captures like the sound of faltering, hesitant recovering from love lost, the French reprise, and slow fade, a walk on the wave brushed sunset bathed beach, where lovers once walked. Intimate and sincere, low key and sparse music, heart wrenching. I'd buy it ahead of Adele’s "271/2"  or whatever, and I'd get a gig buddyette - but I'm just an old romantic.  --Toon Traveler


Oh Noname art thou just the very greatest of all without a given name? YES! Rainforest is the first piece in a while from the finest of the Chicago rap set. The mesmerizing and deceptive urgency here, atop the smoothie bossanova beats and beautiful vocal layers, has you immersed in that way great pop records do, before kicking your ass for being a lazy ass and pretending that you’re doing something to make yourself seem real, mighty real. Noname is the greatest. I love everything she does. --Ancient Champion

Bear The Cold
Mitch Davis’ debut single Bear The Cold, proffers very happy bass lines coupled with his soft and playful voice. I just love that fat lazy bass, the hints of clap along a slow grove, feels good, love to hear it slinking and seeping out of cafes. That’s just a dream of course in our corporate pub and cafe culture - 'Star - *ucks' will never allow this. A skip along, a trip along, headphone hugging, soul warming, heart lifting song, one that'll sound great on mixcloud or sat on park benches in shared ear buds, heads nodding in syncopation, hands fluttering - so catchy- shouldn't like it but for many it'll be a guilty pleasure. --Toon Traveler

Everything In Its Right Place
Sounds of Saving (SoS) releases a new installment in their “Song that Found Me At The Right Time” series with Madison McFerrin’s Everything In Its Right Place which is simply a revelation, a mashup between the Icey chilled Jazz of Scandinavia, and far across the boundaries of Laurie Anderson-land, and stripped down art rock of Siouxsie and the Banshees. I love the darkness, the haunting, shadows and shadows of flickering light. The range of Madison McFerrin’s voice, oooohh, something else! ove Her range, the hints of fear and mystery, the sense of something out there, and the sense that whatever it is may be good or bad, the slow decay at the ends, means you have to decide and that's really speaks to life in these times, good and bad, mingled and mixed, confused and frustrating. We all know these feelings --Toon Traveler

High Heels
(Brace Yourself)
Peeping Drexels are a London based 5-piece, who have been together since they were kids. Their previous singles for labels like Fierce Panda got the attention of 6Music’s, Steve Lamacq . This is their first release for Brace Yourself Recordsfrom their EP, Bad Time, due in May. The right on edge rhythm and great bass intro, redolent of Funkadelic is so far so good.  But the words, what I’m hearing is... sounds like an INXS-ive celebration of bad boy culture, a list of fantasies. Maybe that’s their life. Mixed dime bag for me. --Toon Traveler

Be Sweet
(Dead Oceans)
Don’t tell any of the other reviews, but burying this review at the bottom of the bunch and calling Japanese Breakfast’s lead-off single to Jubilee the single of the week. Sometimes danceable ’80s synth-pop with breezy, optimistic vocals is all it takes.  --Alarcon


How to Move
(Brace Yourself Records)
Avant-Punk artist Nuha Ruby Ra unveils a seven track EP with dense, difficult, progressive event music following and including her single Erase Me. Tracks are alternately loud, soft and disorienting, with graphic lyrical imagery, following cinematic and narrative unconventions, illustrating the singer’s own manic episodes and depression, and produced by Erin Tonkin (Bowie’s Blackstar). The video (which may bring to mind The Lawnmower Man if you are of a certain vintage) is here. --John Robinson


In Quiet Moments
(Bella Union)
We all know certain record labels bring certain expectations with them and Bella Union is no exception. So with In Quiet Moments by Lost Horizons (made up of the Cocteau Twins’ Simon Raymonde and Richard Thomas of Dif Juz) one sort of knows what to expect. Lush guitars, layers of synthesizers, gothy vocals, etc. While some of the songs on In Quiet Moments sounds like old 4AD tracks, others like the “I Woke Up With An Open Heart” sound like a beautiful Amy Winehouse outtake. Then other tracks go nowhere. It’s a real mixed bag, In Quiet Moments, but worth rummaging around the tracklist. --Alarcon

As Days Get Dark
(Rock Action)
“We’ve had enough distance from our earlier work to reappraise and dissect the good and bad elements of what we did,” Aidean Moffat, the singing half of Arab Strap said in a statement about the band’s new LP, As Days Get Dark -- their first in 16 years. Translation: “This new album is going to miff our old fans because it sounds nothing like our previous slowcore stuff.” --Alarcon

Detroit Stories
(Ear Music)
It’s either coincidence or Alice Cooper’s macabre sense of timing that his latest album kicks off his interpretation of The Velvet Underground’s “Rock & Roll” on the same week as Lou Reed’s birthday. It’s the only un-Alice Coopery song on the LP. After that, it’s back to the same old campy Alice that we’ve grown to love over 28 studio albums. That said, it seems Alice has really polished all the sharp, jagged edges from his sound. Many of these songs wouldn’t sound out of place over the PA of a Tommy Bahama retail shop. --Alarcon

The American Negro
(Jazz is Dead)
The American Negro is Adrian Younge’s supremely ambitious and audacious multimedia project consisting of a lot of constituent parts investigating, reporting on, and offering change for the racism he witnesses and endures in America. Is not so much a great eclectic jazzy record it's a media event. (Full review here)

Smiling With No Teeth
(House Anxiety)
Ghanian-Australian, Genesis Owuso, is a big wow from me! A bit of shock in the morning before breakfast when I put this on. Lovely over the place rhyme, hits of 90's electro and the driving bass lines, wow, Sooooo AAAAAAHHHLLLLIIIIIVEEE! The rhymes -  a snow storm of emotions, not one for waiting for the sun to go down-LA freeway dreaming, more for the sound of club stepping. Great, great backing tracks, anxious and lawn seed scattered with ideas, in a kicking way. Echoes of 80's UK electro, OMG with a hint of OMD!!  Fantastic! --Toon Traveler


Any Other City
(Tugboat Records)
First the boys: they keep at it with the one-two-three-four magic. There are no faux crescendos. They’ve scraped the fuzz off the sound so you can hear them hitting the strings with fingers. It must have hurt. The songs are going on forever somewhere in space. Tompkin’s whole sprechgesang thing, at times speech patterns going against the band’s unflash bright assertions, is the true pull. There’s an enviable joy in her voice. it never snags on any boring tune and makes for unmanaged smiles. Words are everyday like Prévert is every day. This repress is not for dumb boy-rock types --Duncan Jones
(LP available on April 22nd)

Quiet Life (Deluxe edition)
Forty years on from the umpteenth re-release of the single ‘Quiet Life’ (the one that got them on to Top of the Pops) this meticulously assembled reissue of its parent album (a half-speed remastering of the original album as well as all singles, b-sides, remixes, and an entire 'lost' live album), allows for reappraisal of the record.

After the two ill-judged long players that preceded it, the bands one-off single with producer Giorgio Moroder (‘Life in Tokyo’), seemed to change everything. On ‘Quiet Life’ Barbieri’s keyboards move to the fore and Sylvian adopts a more reflective tone. Karn adds saxophone to his repertoire on the lonely and lovely ‘Despair’ (Sylvian even gets away with singing in French), and they’re confident enough to compose the cinematic ‘The Other Side of Life,’ with a sublime orchestral arrangement. They even turned in a genuinely brilliant cover with the VU’s ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’.
(see the full outsideleft review here)--Jason Lewis

Main Image: Lauffey by Blythe Thomas

Alex V. Cook
Music Editor

Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v
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