Friday, February 27, 2009

Chillin' with the Rip - A Ripple Guide to Calming the Noise

I played some poker last night. Don't ask me how I did, but let's just say next time I may just give my money at the door and save the time and embarrassment of actually playing the game. But I digress, that's not the subject of this review. What is, is the fact that this morning, I'm broke, tired, slightly hung-over, and moving too slowly to listen to anything that's going to hurt. I'm sure you know what I mean. Hung over, broke, or not, some days you just want to chill. The fact that today is a cloudy, cold, overcast, totally grey day, just adds to that snuggle under the covers, drink some tea, and relax mode.

So, with that introduction, what sounds should we spin today? Although we cover a lot of metal, rock and punk here at the Ripple, the truth is we also dig a cool chill vibe when the time is right. So today, we're going to peruse through some of the nice downtempo that's been coming into the Ripple Office.

Matt Pond - The Free EP

I've been blessed enough to have this EP sitting on my computer for a while now, and believe me, it's gotten it's share of spins. Matt has an angelic voice, tinged with just the right amount of emotion; perfect to bring out the texture of his sparse, evocative indy pop. Acoustic-based, but not afraid to add layers of sound into the sonic mix, Matt Pond creating a dreamy, ambient at times, soundscape. Think The Uglysuit or Shuteye Unison in execution and intent, laced with just a touch of drone rock. This is music to make you just want to lie back and wonder, losing yourself on floating clouds sweeping you away to some far off, slightly melancholy land where Matt hangs out under a weeping willow, strumming his guitar, birds fluttering by, fish swimming at this feet.

Each song here weaves through the same ethereal sky, lushly played and absolutely mesmerizing. "Hearts and Minds," starts us off on our journey to chill land, intoxicating and sumptuous. Acoustic guitars sprinkled with some electric tones and bright synth washes. As everywhere, Matt's voice is achingly lovely, perfectly blended with the music to begin our transportation away from hangoversville. And lest you think this is a one-dimensional visitation, Matt's breaks it up with some sparse percussion and a steadier beat on songs like "Imperfect." A smattering of gorgeously constructed instrumentals break up the beefier songs, all in all, creating an effect of gentleness, while still not abandoning the rock vibe. A beautiful way to begin the morning and gently begin accustoming my eyes to the morning's light. This one has, and will continue to get played often. And lest you missed it in the title, the whole nine-song EP is available for free download on Matt's site. Trust me, it's a journey worth taking.

Get EP here: Matt Pond - The Free EP

My Sleeping Karma - Satya

Two years ago, my wife and I went on a trek across Tibet. Flying into Lhasa, we spent a few weeks acclimatizing to the altitude, then, just the two of us, started off on a trek towards the Everest region. If any of you have ever been over to my Myspace page, you've seen a picture of what this journey was like. Just the two of us, alone, walking through the unimaginable vastness of the Himalayas. Never in my life have I seen so much open space. It seemed to have a life all it's own, a peace, a purpose. The feeling of connectedness with all that was around me was stunning.

Now for that journey, we didn't play any music, but if we had, My Sleeping Karma would've been it. Released on the Elektrohasch Label, this is a mesmerizing, near-ambient, but captivating blend of psychedelic stoner rock. If I could put the barren spaces of the Himalayas to music, this is what it would sound like, spiritually tinged, deeply organic, swirling in melody. The band doesn't eschew the rockier moments, but rather they sublimate them into the mix. The rocking is gentle, subtle, layered in the mix rather than the focus.

My Sleeping Karma explore worlds of Buddhist teachings with songs crafted around repetitive, fluid guitars, huge looping bass lines and intricate, intoxicating percussion. This is a rich ocean of deeply meditative, wholly evocative instrumentals (except for one track which features the ethereal vocal textures of Katrin Wiessler), that loses itself in it's own mantra of groove, carrying the listener through expansive pieces of spiritual discovery. Occasionally, the gang dip into a little crunchier Kyuss-edged material, but for the most part this is the sound of four guys sitting in a room laden with incense, candles burning underneath the Buddhas on the alter, instruments in hand, getting in touch with their inner God. Losing themselves in the moment of creation. Beautiful stuff.

Buy here: My Sleeping Karma

Elsiane - Hybrid

I've seen many reviews of this disc that tout it as a "Bjork-doing-trip-hop" kinda thing. Nothing personal against those reviewers, but I think they all missed the boat on this one. Singing with a nasally inflected-tone with gobs of vocal hiccups doesn't qualify the vocals as Bjork-esque, and thriving to a slow vibe doesn't mean this is trip-hop. Instead, I see this album as something totally different. Elsiane Caplette's vocals, clearly distinctive, remind me most of Billie Holiday or even a Erykah Badu, and I don't see this as trip-hop, but rather the cool jazz lounge music of a future time and place. Imagine a dark, intimate room, beautiful woman, gorgeously dressed, cigarette smoke lilting in the air. A band enters, laying down the chill. That's Elsiane.

When it comes to this sort of downtempo, I love my bass lines huge and looping, filled with dub effects. Sprinkle in some synth textures, layers of melody and a touch of melancholy and we got a winner. Despite the mostly somber tone, Elsiane's voice manages to mix with the music creating a shimmering, sparkling album, like the stars shinning through a cloudy night. Pinpoints of light against the dark sky. Songs like "Vaporous," add gentle violin moments, while on "Prosaic" percussion takes over for the intro before the deep wavering bass drops in. In the end, your enjoyment of the album will rest on your comfort with Elsiane's coquettish vocals, which may take some getting used to for some, but for me were instantly transporting to that futuristic Billie Holiday bar. A place I can't wait to revisit. Often.

Buy here: Hybrid

Matt Pond - So Much Trouble (not on the EP)

My Sleeping Karma - Asteya

Elsiane - Vaporous

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