New music round-up (for w/e 16 February 2024)

Our selection of the best new music across a range of genres from the week ending 16 February 2024.

Psych-rock gurus Levitation Room have released their third full-length record Strange Weather. For the last decade, Levitation Room has been known for their self-produced, otherworldly music that’s connected with fellow travelers in the hallucinogenic world of outré rock. With Strange Weather, the band takes a conscious shift into all the other sub-pockets within the rock space. Collaborating with former Brian Jonestown Massacre keyboardist Rob Campanella, Jason Kick (Mild High Club), and The Black Crowes’ Joel Robinow, Levitation Room take a new step in their story with this album.


One of the foremost musicians of his generation, James Ehnes continues to dazzle audiences around the world. Here he joins the BBC Philharmonic and Sir Andrew Davis in a recording of Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto. Written for the Polish virtuoso Samuel Dushkin, the four-movement work takes the music of Bach as its inspiration, and is built around a chord of the notes D, E, and A, which Stravinsky described as his ‘passport to the concerto’ and with which the solo violin part opens each movement. Dushkin gave the première, conducted by Stravinsky, in Berlin in 1932. Apollon musagète, a ballet in two parts for string orchestra, was written in 1927 – 28, and demonstrates the composer’s complete rejection of the Russian folk music and idioms that had been so instrumental in his previous ballets (The Firebird, Petrushka). They are replaced by a concentration on ‘pure form’, which became known as his neo-classical style. The album is completed by his two orchestral suites – light-hearted music arranged from piano duets he had written in the 1910s – and Scherzo à la russe, a showpiece for the Paul Whiteman band that he composed in the early 1940s when newly arrived in California.


Big Scary was put on pause mid-2017, following their best successes to date. In the break that followed, Tom Iansek made two albums with No Mono (his project with haunting vocalist/songwriter Tom Snowdon), and his third #1 Dads album Golden Repair. Jo Syme started a second label imprint, Hotel Motel Records, with a roster including Cool Sounds, Quivers, and Nat Vazer; as well as launching new artists Maple Glider and Tom Snowdon on Pieater. This pause provided the breathing room Iansek and Syme needed for an honest “re-union”, that helped define what Big Scary really is within the fabric of many creative projects for each member. And what it is is simply “the music made by Tom and Jo, together”. This simple idea blossomed into a more equal collaboration – sharing songwriting and lyrics more than before, and just the two of them recording the albums in Pieater’s Collingwood studio BellBird – Tom showed Jo how to engineer using ProTools so that they could track each other’s parts. This became the foundation for a great creative outpouring that brought forth Daisy (2021), Me and You (2022), and now the new album Wing – the final limb that enfolds the trio.


For its 10th anniversary release, the Black Art Jazz Collective, hailed by DownBeat Magazine as “a powerhouse of contemporary jazz talent”, has shared Truth to Power. The album offers ten exciting and unique works that speak to both artistic freedom and musical sensibility relative to the tenor of our times. The band features an all-star line-up, including founding members Wayne Escoffery, Jeremy Pelt, James Burton III, Xavier Davis and Johnathan Blake who are joined by current members Victor Gould, Rashaan Carter and Mark Whitfield Jr. Wayne Escoffery says, “I formed Black Art Jazz Collective as an ensemble of African American musicians, celebrating Black culture and the origins of the music through original compositions with unapologetic pride.”


On June 29th, 2023, Jeremiah Chiu walked into the Vintage Synthesizer Museum (VSM) in Highland Park, Los Angeles, with no plan more specific than “let’s fire this stuff up and see what happens.” Exploring the VSM’s vast collection of classic, rare and staple synthesizers, he would sequence, trigger, and layer the machines together with help from VSM founder/curator Lance Hill. The resulting album – In Electric Time – was recorded in just two days, and edited to completion in the two days following. It was captured fully analog by engineer Ben Lumsdaine, who ​​contributes performances on a few tracks himself. Cooper Crain (of Bitchin Bajas) makes an appearance as well; but ultimately the collection is an intuitive expression of organic electronic music conceptualized and created in-context by Chiu alone, as he calls on a lifetime of work in sound synthesis to paint a fulgent, refreshingly undercut sequence of cinematic sketches and in-process themes.


Nouvelle Vague, the renowned bossa nova project founded by Marc Collin and the late Olivier Libaux in 2003, has become a musical phenomenon over the past decades. Initially conceived as a one-off tribute to post-punk songwriting in a bossa nova style, Nouvelle Vague’s debut album unexpectedly soared to global acclaim. The band’s singular fusion of melancholic post-punk and bossa nova, coupled with their daring French reinterpretation approach, set them apart. The new album, Should I Stay Or Should I Go, was inspired by vocalist Alonya’s rendition of The Clash’s track of the same title, continues Nouvelle Vague’s tradition of reinventing classics. It amplifies the timeless significance and continued impact of Nouvelle Vague’s musical legacy.


A musical force since Against Me!’s debut in the late 90’s, Laura Jane Grace has never shied away from themes of political commentary, environmentalism, social critique, and candid self-exploration. The new album Hole In My Head was recorded at Native Sound in St. Louis with David Beeman and mixed & mastered by Matt Allison (engineer for acts such as Lawrence Arms and Rise Against). The record is a sonic curio cabinet containing multitudes. Hole In My Head features warm 50s-rock-influenced guitar riffs, saved-for-later lyrics, love letters to St. Louis, dysphoria apparel, and thoughtful reflections on a punk life lived.

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