Wrinkles and All

“I’m troubled by the industry convention that would require me to summarize my creative process in a dozen ‘fully baked’ songs,” explains Lizzy Ross, speaking to the “guts” of her still-expanding Naked in My Living Room release. “As if an album were a thesis to defend or a product with a warranty to uphold.” At the time of this article’s publication, Living Room is five songs deep, each track a single-take performance, capturing a “creative growth spurt” as it continues to unfold. “Most of all, it disturbs me when the need to present a perfect finished product gets in the way of continued creative expression, growth, and risk-taking,” she continues. “When the wrinkles are spared, they’re often my favorite part of a song.”

Born in Annapolis, Maryland (“perhaps the place where music goes to die”), Ross later relocated to Chapel Hill to study at the University of North Carolina. There she joined the short-lived twangy indie rock band Lafcadio in 2008, before forming the Lizzy Ross Band the following year. In 2010 she released a solo acoustic album called Traces, before hitting full stride with the group’s debut, Read Me Out Loud, in 2011. That year (and in 2012) Ross was nominated for Best Rock Female at the Carolina Music Awards, winning the honor the first time through. “They’re wonderful and fantastic,” she said of her bandmates last September, on the eve of both the break-up of the group and her departure from the state. “[T]his is definitely a band of people who are good to the core.” This past November she moved to Nashville.

“I released my most recent album over two years ago [and] at this point,” says Ross, “I’m feeling Ive quite outgrown it.” With Living Room she hasn’t abandoned her band’s “country, blues, soul, and jazz-inflected Americana” sound, she’s just taken a filter off, letting the music of the moment flow from within and through her electric rig and RC-300 loop pedal. “I love the immediacy of a live performance,” she says. “I love the wholeness of a single take recording.”

They might only appear a series of rugged demos, but the weekly sessions do show the singer finding her footing, both in her new surroundings and once again as a solo artist. Whether compared to past solo recordings from a few months ago, or a few years ago, they exhibit an edge that seems to be getting sharper with time. There’s a comfort Ross seems to find in this evolution.

“Once a week, I come to terms with the disparity between how I sound and how I wish I sounded,” she says. “I find things to love about the way I play a song in that particular moment in time. I give a song my undivided attention and energy, we grow into each other, and I show the world our best collaboration of the moment.”

A Place to Call Home

The accompanying notes for Tri AnglesMUSIC CITY release are sparse, relating the music to “this traveller’s current headspace, an EP filled with twilight psychedelic jams.” But that doesn’t mean the songs aren’t meant to represent something more. Self-described as an intersection between drum and bass and trip hop, the three tracks serve as a platform for wordless storytelling, a form of creating that the producer says “plays into the way we understand our experiences subconsciously.”

Born just outside of L.A., David Angles’ parents moved to China when he was a year old. He spent his next 18 years traveling Asia. “Such a very different life,” he says. “Come 2008 or so,” he continues, “I end up at Belmont, of all places. I started writing a lot of electronic music, albeit terrible, and slowly worked my way to an understanding of how music works.”

He dropped out of school in 2010 and began embodying the “wandering artist” label he uses to describe Tri Angles. “I’ve been on that road ever since. I’ve been homeless so many times now. So many buses. I’ve spent time in so many cities traveling, meeting new people and expanding myself.” He continued to pursue music as he explored the country, “A cosmic tumbleweed, letting myself be pulled wherever I thought I needed to be, following a feeling.”

Seven years ago Angles adopted the SMILETRON moniker and quickly became absorbed in a niche community, incorporating 8-bit sounds into the creation of chiptune music. The ChipWIN Blog would call him “one of the most beloved and prolific artists in chipmusic,” but 20-plus releases into his journey, he found himself at a creative crossroads. Mainly I felt like SMILETRON was a finished story, he said in an interview last December. I wanted to start a new journey, but in a completely different direction while still retaining everything I had learned and accomplished on the last one.

This creative closure coincided with a return to a familiar setting. “I guess that was just about a year ago that I ended up back here,” Angles says of his return to Nashville. “I’ve been hiding out ever since, writing music and getting by.” After bookending SMILETRON with a performance at the chiptune-focused BRKFest, Angles further shifted his sound away from the genre with Tri Angles’ FARSIGHT release this past February. Octal Blog called it “a drum and bass epic.”

Speaking with The Waveform Generators last year, Angles explained that one of the best ways he’s found to explore the nature of the universe is through “creating fantastic sounds.” In this sense, Tri Angles provides him an avenue to share his stories without having to draw any hard conclusions around what he’s experienced. The sounds merely represent a step into the unknown. And with MUSIC CITY theres a sense that — at least for now — Angles feels at home with himself, his music, and his urge to explore. “Over time I’ve developed a very surreal attachment to the city. For someone with no home, this is the closest thing I’ve got. I’ll undoubtedly wander away sometimes, but I always come back.”

Super Dank III

“My last three tapes I put out were made for smoking […] filled with bong sounds and things. The tracks are all 10-15 minutes long and made to be extra blunted.” While looking out for herbal connoisseurs with his last few productions, JOTA ESE’s Super Dank III isn’t strictly for the smokers. “Despite the name,” he says, “the videos and samples don’t have that much to do with smoking.”

As JOTA explains, most of the project “was done very late at night after I get off work, so it reflects a late night vibe.” The resulting mix drifts in and out of frictionless samples and instrumentals, all of which serves as a relaxed soundtrack for the accompanying Super Dank III video (which repurposes arctic exploration footage documenting Jacques Cousteau and the crew of The Calypso).

“This is a more classic style tape,” JOTA continues, which isn’t to say that the music stands on its own, separate from the series’ first two mixes. “I had help from the same people who helped with the beats and videos for parts one and two.” “One of the big differences,” he says, “is that the new release was produced as a continuous recording before being broken down into the album’s 14 tracks.” “Super Dank III was one track but I cut it up,” says JOTA. “So some echoes and things carry over to the next track, which I really really like.”

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Shake and Bake

“I know this is somewhat cliché, but I still enjoy smoking to a lot of original dub reggae and original ska records. Those records have always had an impact on me musically.” KDSML’s five-track Nug Life EP is hardly a throwback to the days of King Tubby and Super Ape, but it does reflect the same stripped-down aesthetic of those early influences. “I tried not to over complicate, he continues, giving the sounds and the tracks more room to breathe.

Released via Future Everything, Nug Life bears little smokiness to its sound despite the EPs obvious theme: “Bong Hit” opens to an “energetic but still laid back feel” that characterizes the entire recording; “High Flier” is a washed out daydream of ethereal samples; “Now-A-Daze” is boosted by crisp pitched-down horn stomps; “The Reefer” warps woodwinds over a deep wobble; and “Gangsta” provides a bass-heavy close to the set.

KDSML promises more music later this year including “a couple of 100BPM joints,” but don’t expect him to trail off too far into the woods. “I am planning on putting out a lot more of my productions,” he says. “But all of the new material stays true to the general style I started developing on Nug Life.”

Turtles All The Way Down

Much has been made of the unorthodox lyrical themes that run throughout Sturgill Simpson’s Metamodern Sounds of Country Music. “It’s a very psychedelic country record about the human experience and love,” explained the singer to WFPK recently. While “love” hardly seems like absurd subject matter, we are talking about country music here, where women being “accepted” somehow counts as an application of progressive ideals. Then again, in the album’s lead single, “Turtles All the Way Down,” the pursuit of love does include the discovery of “reptile aliens made of light” who “cut you open” and “pull out all your pain,” so maybe there’s something to the unconventional label, after all.

Not unlike how the word “god” has been co-opted by religion though, using the word “love” as a placeholder for fleeting human emotion merely stands as a pornographic reduction of its limitless dynamic. Strip the word of its superficial associations and you’ll begin to understand what the music is about: that “love” is all there really is.

Utilizing psychedelics in the pursuit of understanding, “Turtles” follows the singer as he’s faced with Jesus, The Devil, and Buddha, who shows him “a glowing light within.” “There’s a gateway in our minds that leads somewhere out there, far beyond this place,” he sings. Musically, the track is about as traditional country-sounding a song as you’ll ever hear, which makes it all the more enchanting when Simpson recalls seeing the spirit of the universe in the eyes of his best friend or questions why dimethyltryptamine is a Schedule I drug (despite literally being present in each and every one of us… and our lawns).

“Honestly,” continued Simpson to WFPK, “I just kinda woke up and felt like I couldn’t write any more songs about broken hearts and drinking […] People are going to make a lot more out of it than it is.” Despite the astronomical divide between honky tonk clichés and infinite recursion, this modest sincerity rings true through to the end of the song, where a heartwarming glaze of cosmic echo bleeds over a lyrical resolve to abandon fear in favor of love’s everlasting nature. “Don’t waste your mind on nursery rhymes, fairy tales, blood and wine, it’s turtles all the way down the line.”

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Super Duper

“There was just a lot of noise to sort through,” says Josh Hawkins, speaking to the time he spent living in New York City. “I think the best thing about Nashville is the country music overload. I’m not a country music fan, but in New York it was hard to meet people who were really doing interesting electronic music because everyone was doing electronic music.” The producer, who records as Super Duper, has an interesting perspective that almost welcomes the artistic whitewashing of his hometown that many others hold in contempt. “When I moved back to Nashville it was so refreshing to find just a handful of electronic acts starting to bubble up, and they all stand out here,” he continues. “The city’s stereotype filters out a lot of the noise and makes it easier to meet and collaborate with other truly talented artists.”

Growing up in Nashville, Hawkins moved to New York to work at a music house after he graduated from MTSU. Returning home a little over a year ago, he says the city now “feels like a perfect fit.” Despite feeling at home, he hasn’t felt entirely secure with his music, especially his new release, Diamonds & Doubt. “I’ve been finished with this album for almost a year, so I was getting worried that the songs wouldn’t be relevant with people anymore.” An unlikely blessing came when Diplo hand-picked a remix of “Diamond” for a recent episode of his BBC Radio 1 show. “It was such a huge boost! Having that kind of support gave me a lot of reassurance that not just fans, but also artists, would really dig these songs.”

Having previously drawn influence from electronic acts the likes of M83 and Air, Hawkins has likened the sound of his last EP to TNGHT, though he says he’s focused his direction since then. “That album was a lot of experimenting and I had no real concepts in mind. With Diamonds & Doubt I tried to simplify my use of sounds [to] give each song more personality to stand on its own.” Simplified doesn’t mean simplistic though, as is evidenced by XLR8R’s description of “Circus Bird,” which transitions “a low-pitched brass loop that resembles baleful laughter” into “wonky, decaying synths.”

“With this new release I’m trying to mold trap foundations with a lot more emphasis on electronic sounds.” Beyond the music, Hawkins is trying something else new in releasing the set physically… on cassette. “It’s been fun to tell people the album will be released on tape because I always get a positive reaction, even if I’m talking to my grandparents. Everyone likes tapes! It’s also really nice to have a tangible piece of music for my songs to live on. Vinyl is great, but cassettes definitely speak more to my generation.”