ALBUM: Naoko Sakata – ‘Dancing Spirits’

Sweden is better known to most for being home to the beating heart of quality pop music than for its long legacy of experimental and improvisational composers. But what a legacy it is! Women have been at the forefront of this extraordinary scene for decades and in recent years have become increasingly visible. It’s possible, for example, to draw a direct line from artists like 1970s drone pioneer Catherine Christer Hennix through to current critical favourites Ellen Arkbro, Maria w Horn and Anna von Hausswolff.

Since moving to Sweden in 2008, Japanese-born Naoko Sakata has established herself as a major talent. First with her eponymous jazz trio and lately as a soloist of fierce intuition. Dancing Spirits is her second album of solo piano improvs, following last year’s impressive Inner Planets, and the first to be released through von Hausswolff’s own label, Pomperipossa Records.

Recorded in a Gothenburg church over two evenings in August 2020, these seven highly expressive improvisations are the sound of an artist pulling threads of composition not out of thin air – there is no such thing in a church – but from some other unknowable source of energy and emotions. Sometimes those threads unravel wildly, yanking something portentous into focus before resolving into musical dust motes that settle on the floor. At other times, the drama is more gently prescribed and the directionless journeying feels in thrall to something distant and tidal.

Sakata believes in the hidden influence of planetary alignment and in creating sacred spaces where peace and chaos are allowed to coexist and to channel ideas and emotions. As with astrology, part of the enjoyment of Sakata’s music comes from the ability to project one’s own imaginations and stories onto each composition. Anna von Hausswolff’s striking photography suggests a strong folkloric element at play. Dancing spirits, often women, have been referenced in popular stories dating as far back as Neolithic times. These spirits go by many names, from the tragic rusalka of central Europe to the dawn goddess Ame-no-Uzume and other dancing kami of Japanese mythology, and their stories are often linked with fertility, of the earth and of the people.

Whatever their rhyme or reason, Sakata does not discriminate in opening herself up to these dynamic energies and others. Her unobstructed playing gives body to whomever or whatever is drawn into the music, at the mic’d place at the mic’d time. Dancing Spirits, then, functions as a non-canonical window into a cosmic choreography of player, piano and what lies beyond the limits of scientific detection. It’s a challenging listen in that it makes a ritual of fearlessness, but admirable, too, for the very same reason.

Follow Naoko Sakata on bandcamp, Spotify, Twitter, Instagram & Facebook

Artwork: Gianluca Grasselli

Alan Pedder
@_neverdoneing

ALBUM: ĠENN – ‘Liminal’

Made for playing loud, Brighton-based genre-blenders ĠENN have released Liminal, an extended play that takes us on an audible journey of post-punky psychedelia. Following the release of their debut record, 2018’s Titty Monster (released under their previous name, Cryptic Street), ĠENN left their Maltese archipelago in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea to shoegaze at the British seaside, crafting six tracks that clearly define their transition to a more free-flowing sound, whilst still staying intrinsically true to their DIY punk-rock ethos.

Opening with ‘Feel’, Leanne Zammit’s funky basslines and Leona Farrugia’s ethereal vocals build to a hypnotic hazy, wavy kaleidoscopic conclusion of psychedelic instrumentation; perfectly encapsulating all the elements of seventies acid rock such as The Doors. Next up, Janelle Borg hooks us in (pun intended) with a cacophony of melodic guitar riffs on ‘Mackerel’s Funky Mission’, whilst Leona’s seductive spoken word escapism is steeped in mesmerising, rolling percussion, courtesy of Sofia Rosa Cooper. It’s fun to pretend you’re something else, so why not pretend to be a fish?

’23rd March’ – a date we here in the UK will not reflect upon with any warmth – forces us back to reality with passionate lyrics concerning the current political landscape, written in the style of Maltese expression. Leona prays for the souls of an inept Government and their failure in handling Covid-19, Brexit and Black Lives Matter. “I’m just gonna say a lil’ prayer for your soul / Yeah, we ain’t gonna stop ’cause you told us so!”

Chants for revolution see ĠENN exploring darker territories with the more politically direct and raw ‘Catalyst’; a furious combination of scuzzy guitar riffs, rumbling beats, and anthemic, indignant Riot Grrrl lyrics rallying for change: “We’re aware now / Stay awake now!”

‘Just Another Sad Song’ follows with a slow burn of emotionally-driven melody, making way for Janelle’s guitar to flourish – a tender moment further showcasing the versatility of the band – before ‘Falling Out’ concludes Liminal with an upbeat fusion of fuzzy basslines, grungy guitar licks, disco-influenced percussion, and a catchy Warpaint-esque chorus that will stay with you long after the needle is lifted.

With Liminal, ĠENN have produced an infectious record that frequently flirts with psychedelia and flows with pop sensibilities; 22 minutes of raw, escapism-fuelled post-punk – worthy of repeat spins – that displays the passion and confidence of a band not afraid to experiment with their sound without compromise. “Take me to my destination / You know where I wanna go!”

Liminal is out now via Everything Sucks Music.

Ken Wynne
@ken_wynne

Photo Credit: Bridie Florence

EP: Gold Baby – ‘Rabbits’

Gold Baby’s debut EP, Rabbits, is a real treat for the ears and soul. The band – fronted by singer-songwriter Siân Alex – show their versatility with this accomplished and assured collection of lush, folk-infused dream pop.

Opener ‘Bodie’ is the soothing soundtrack we all need right now. With retro, woozy guitars and drums that thump like a heartbeat, it has echoes of ’60s girl groups. And like those glorious, bittersweet ballads that bands like The Ronettes or The Shangri-Las sang back then, ‘Bodie’’s lyrics dwell on loneliness and longing. It’s a real standout.

The band show their playful, experimental side with ‘2041’ – a punk-inspired number with jerky spiky guitars and a lo-fi, shouty chorus (“And I said NO!”) that act as the perfect foil to Siân’s pure, calming voice. It’s brave and brilliant; the sound of a band who refuse to be pigeon-holed and are keen to grow and evolve.

Closing tracks ‘Betty’ and recent single, ‘Captain Dorego’, are quieter, deeper and more confessional, reminiscent of Sufjan Stevens and The Unthanks – very much in the folk storytelling tradition. ‘Captain Dorego’ is particularly affecting, dealing with Siân’s experiences of being overstimulated by modern life. Something that, in these crazy times, we can all relate to.

Ultimately, with Rabbits, Gold Baby show that they can both soothe you and make you shimmy (check out the video for ‘Captain Dorego’ for more of the latter!). The band’s confidence and chemistry, coupled with Siân’s raw, self-revelatory songwriting and beautiful vocals, come together on this release to create something that’s pure magic. Listen if you want something pretty that packs a real punch!

Rabbits is out now. Download via Gold Baby’s bandcamp

Vic Conway

Track Of The Day: Julia-Sophie – ‘and you know it’

Gothic tones swirl in a bath of glimmering synths as haunting vocals sing in Julia-Sophie’s second shimmering single, ‘and you know it‘. Dark, heavyweight pads modulate downwards and spiral into delays that descend with a cathartic grace. As the track begins to rise, it spins elegantly and captivates listeners from the very start with the art of juxtaposition.

It is with avant-pop artist Julia-Sophie’s vocal delivery that we first fully catch a true breath of her deeply emotional, electronic track that lives within a similar realm as pop artist/creator FKA Twigs. With recoiling chorus tones, ‘and you know it’ features a reflexive mix that triggers sonic elements interpersonally, emulating the ricochet of an overwhelmed mind. 

Crisp, echoing percussion and melodic synths keep the deep track mobile, never overstaying their welcome with each purging section. As articulate as the instrumentation and effects are throughout, Julia-Sophie’s lyrics take no step back in the stakes of embodying a raw, emotive spectacle. Themes of grief, fear of abandonment and the heartbreak of being misunderstood define Julia-Sophie’s story in a genuine, stirring way.

</3, the upcoming new EP from Julia-Sophie, is set for release 22nd April.

Jill Goyeau
@jillybxxn