Everybody keeps talking about Maria Minerva these days, and of course there’s a reason for that. 2011 has clearly been her year, especially after her latest 12” Sacred & Profane Love, which is out now on Amanda Brown’s 100% SILK. It’s arguably her best work to date, though for me her music remains “beyond beats”, insofar as no matter how many flickering grooves Maria puts on, I still don’t see myself actually dancing to this:
Stream: Maria Minerva – Gloria:
Anyway, I wanted to talk about another artist, who’s been tirelessly prolific lately. I think, it was early this year when Emmanuel Ducret, author of the sadly defunct/sleeping blogs Delicious Scopitone and Grrrizzly, predicted that 2011 would become the year of Ela Orleans. And really, he was right, or rather he should have been, as her work continues to be criminally overlooked and underappreciated. Her new album Mars Is Heaven is a wonderful piece of disparate, sublime chamber pop, an LP, I can’t recommend enough.
Maria and Ela actually have quite a few things in common, though I’m aware that one should be careful with comparisons and generalizations here, as EB’s own Daniel Jones has rightly pointed out last week. Still, I didn’t want to point to a common ground as regards instrumentation – or the choice of musical styles more generally for that matter. Yet I think, it’s worthwhile to take a brief look at the similarities regarding their biographies, not only both being UK transplants, but also having been brought up behind the Iron Curtain, in Estonia and Poland, respectively. This fact at least may explain the unashamed enthusiasm towards the forbidden or at least untraceable Western music, that was en vogue during their childhoods, and that today heavily informs their own musical output – be it early rave/Eurotrash for Maria or punk/post punk for Ela. So it’s probably no surprise, that on Mars Is Heaven, Ela has paid tribute to Brygada Kryzys by covering their song ‘Take My Hand’, as it was one of the few Polish bands that even during the 80s “played and sang as well as my favorite western bands”, as she’s told me recently .
Video: Ela Orleans – Take My Hand:
Apart from this rather pop-embracing stuff, November has brought quite a few excellent releases in the more experimental realm as well. In particular the French psychedelic scene has gotten very exciting as of late, a fact, that has recently compelled French imprints Hands In The Dark and Ruralfaune to issue a roundup of some of the most interesting local psych acts. Travel Expop Series #1: France features contributions from Holy Strays, Cankun, Voodoo Mount Sister, and Je Suis Le Petit Chevalier, and serves as a commendable introduction to French experimental pop.
As for the latter, Je Suis Le Petit Chevalier aka Félicia Atkinson has also just put out an LP via Belgian label Aguirre. L’Enfant Sauvage is made up of slow-burning, massive layers of synth washes and noise loops that are only sparsely supported by any kind of rhythm, with a result that’s both eerie and deeply entrancing. At times the music is faintly reminiscent of Grouper’s introspective drone, in particular on ‘Love’, which you can listen to below.
Stream: Je Suis Le Petit Chevalier – Love (excerpt):
Probably the most well-known exponent of the French scene is the Parisian Max aka High Wolf, whose Not Not Fun release Ascension put him on everyone’s radar last year. Despite also being featured on Travel Expop with Voodoo Mount Sister, one of his numerous other projects (this one’s with the “French psych diva” Chicaloyoh), there’s a new High Wolf LP out on Holy Mountain. “Atlas Nation” could be called his excursion into world music tropes, as the album was inspired by a trip to India and Nepal, and some of the tracks get mystified by way of giving them exotic names like “Fuji Descent”, “Haiti”, and “Kenya Sunset”, that curiously all have nothing to do with either India or Nepal. In any case, the global influences show throughout the record and, though I’ve recently been told, that “Atlas Nation” does not at all represent High Wolf’s current artistic interests due to an unexpectedly long delay in releasing the LP, it is a powerful reminder of why Max is the undisputed master in the contemporary French underground.
Stream: High Wolf – Kenya Sunset
In particular after dropping Ascension via NNF, Max’s output has been likened to the work of LA psych god Cameron Stallones aka Sun Araw, indeed with some justification (they’ve even collaborated recently. Now while Stallones has embarked to explore antique myths on his latest full-length Ancient Romans, long-standing Sun Araw touring guitarist Alex Gray has progressed to further develop his very own style of guitar-based psychedelia with his solo project Deep Magic. Not so much travelling on the hypnagogic bandwagon, Gray’s latest effort is a masterpiece of immersion. The six untitled séances on Altars of Veneration, out now on Moon Glyph, let your mind travel along his gentle, heavily processed chord progressions, building up colourful soundscapes that’ll leave you all calm and pacified.
Stream: Deep Magic – Untitled II:
Apart from his own musical projects, Alex Gray also runs Deep Tapes, and coming to an end I’d like to briefly point to the cassette imprint’s latest release: Yod is the first work by Gross Bite, which is the trans-continental collaboration between Boulder, Colorado’s Nathan Wheeler and – quite elegantly bringing us back to France – Paris-based project kikiilimikilii. The tape is a rather demanding affair, noise and drone-heavy and focused on the percussive possibilities of seemingly all kinds of analogue devices, but above all it’s also a deeply satisfying work as it manages to provide a surprisingly coherent and tight effort.
Stream: Gross Bite – Ruby