FIVE FAVOURITES: Ora Cogan

Ora Cogan is not easily categorised. Since releasing her 2007 debut, Tatter, the Canadian artist has continued to evolve in intriguing ways, not only as a musician but as an activist, filmmaker, photographer and writer. Her new EP, Dyed, follows 2020’s shapeshifting album, Bells in the Ruins, and finds her exploring gradations of shoegaze and experimental folk succoured through shadows and light. As well as the high and airy title track, described as “a cryptic rumination on awkward love,” there’s a cloudy, ephemerally anxious mood piece (‘Diver’) and a tantalising cover of PJ Harvey’s ‘To Bring You My Love’, completely reimagined within Ora’s rapt soundworld.

We think one of the best ways to get to know an artist is by asking what music inspires them. To celebrate the release of Dyed, we caught up with Ora to ask about the music that has inspired her the most. See below for their choices of her five favourite albums, and be sure to catch her on tour with Aoife Nessa Frances in November. Full list of headline and support dates here.

 

1. Buffy Sainte-Marie – Coincidence and Likely Stories
One of my favourite memories of this record is from when I was a kid. My mum and I had picked up my godmother on the side of a highway for a roadtrip. I think my godmum had just finished doing some kind of farm work, but I’m not sure. She’d click her rings on the dashboard, singing along to every song on this record at the top of her lungs as we drove through the desert. Buffy Sainte-Marie is a legend, she’s one of the greatest songwriters alive and has many mind-blowing albums of course, but Coincidence and Likely Stories was the first record of hers I heard that I fell in love with. I keep going back to these songs. Her work continues to inspire me to write honestly, to try to use songwriting as a way of finding understanding in life, in politics, in love. She inspires me to write songs that speak truth to power.

2. Fiver – Audible Songs from Rockwood
Audible Songs from Rockwood is a monumental piece of work. This record is comprised of songs Fiver (Simone Schmidt) wrote after of years of research on inmates incarcerated in the Rockwood Asylum for “the criminally insane” in Kingston, Ontario, between 1856 and 1881. The songs speak of these women’s lives and dig into matters of the heart, the justice system, colonialism, ableism. This record is more than a record, with 30 pages of liner notes featuring illustrations, history, and context for the songs. I first heard Fiver when I opened for them at one of the stops on their tour in support of this album, and they had the whole audience spellbound. I look up to them as an artist so much, and this project was such generous work.

3. Marika Papagika – The Further the Flame, The Worse It Burns Me
Marika Papagika moved to New York City from Greece and became a prolific recording artist there. She eventually opened a club with her husband in the ‘20s and had a successful music career, but that ended abruptly with the Wall Street Crash of 1929. I fell in love with Marika Papagika after Eric Isaacson at Mississippi Records introduced me to her work. Rumbetiko feels vital and familiar as I grew up listening to Jewish folk music that can sometimes have similar vocal lines. Marika’s voice felt relatable, and this record will always hold so much magic for me. Marika inspires me endlessly to be a better singer.

4. Nina Simone – Sings the Blues
The opening track, ‘Do I Move You’, kills me every time. You can hear people yelling in the recording, they were feeling it so much. I first heard this album when my friend Jeremy from Shearing Pinx was DJing a bush party a few hours north of Nanaimo. The song was echoing across a lake, and I swear I could feel the whole natural world saying, ‘Yes, Nina Simone, you move us, you move everything. The whole universe bends towards you.’ I might have been high, but it’s still the truth. She was truly the best.

5. White Magic – Through the Sun Door
White Magic (Mira Billotte) has been one of my favorite musicians forever. I first heard her when she was a part of the Washington D.C. group Quix*o*tic; their song ‘The Breeze’ stopped me dead in my tracks. My friends and I used to stay up all night crafting or painting with Through the Sun Door on repeat. For us, I think, this album was our touchstone, like a secret passageway to an alternate reality. Some music opens up entire worlds, and for me this was a teleportation device. This record is intimate but spacious. Some of it feels like tavern music, punk, psychedelic folk and experimental music at the same time. I love the unique arrangements. I don’t know any other music that breathes like this does.

Thanks to Ora Cogan for sharing her Five Favourites with us!

Watch her video for ‘Diver’ below.

Dyed, the new EP from Ora Cogan, is out now via her own label Prism Tongue Records.

Photo Credit: Journey Meyerhoff

Alan Pedder
@alanthology

Track Of The Day: Josephine Oniyama – ‘Tears Will Never Be Mine’

New music from Josephine Oniyama doesn’t come along often, but it’s always worth the wait. The Liverpool-based singer-songwriter has one of the most distinctive voices in British pop – a soulful, complex contralto steeped in the musical heritage of her Manchester upbringing and influences ranging from Joni Mitchell to Motown to Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti.

‘Tears Will Never Be Mine’ is the first taste of her new EP, Human, with a long-awaited follow-up to her 2012 album Portrait scheduled for the autumn. Oniyama steps into new territory here, giving the song an airy electro backdrop that makes way for a strident, string- heavy chorus that she says represents “the elevation possible when healing happens and you’ve worked out of trauma and pain to a place of freedom and hope.”

Oniyama has always been an intriguing artist, often popping up in surprising places. Her 2015 collaboration with producer/trumpeter Matthew Halsall showed off her sophisticated jazz side, while her inspired pairing with Travis on ‘Idlewild’ was appealingly noir-ish and spooky. Her commissioned work for Manchester contemporary arts centre, HOME, adds another layer of interest. Broadening her scope as a songwriter and sound artist, Oniyama worked on composing new, contemporary soundtracks to silent films, including an ambitious electro-acoustic score for the 1922 Swedish/Danish witchcraft documentary ‘Häxan’, together with students from the University of Salford.

With all this activity – as well as completing a Master’s degree and having her first child – Oniyama is bringing a whole new set of influences and perspectives to her forthcoming releases. Due next month, the Human EP promises to “celebrate bonds”, exploring the ties that bind people from all backgrounds in the current era of political division and cynical culture wars. As the old saying goes, change starts from within, and ‘Tears Will Never Be Mine’ is Oniyama’s “call to self-forgiveness and self-healing, as a way to be better to ourselves and others.”

Listen to ‘Tears Will Never Be Mine’ below.

 

Follow Josephine Oniyama on bandcamp, Spotify, Twitter, Facebook & Instagram

Alan Pedder
@alanthology

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

EP: Deap Vally – ‘Digital Dream’

It’s often repeated that the enemy of art is the absence of limitations, but limitations can eventually outlive their usefulness – as Deap Vally discovered when cracks began to show in the band’s creative partnership. With two acclaimed albums of maximalist blues-rock behind them, Lindsey Troy and Julie Edwards began to feel the strain of working democratically as a duo. The ‘enemy’, it turns out, could in fact be the absence of a deciding vote.

Going through a form of couples therapy helped them to re-evaluate and open up their process and, feeling rejuvenated, they set out to make an album of collaborations. Digital Dream is not that album, but it features four songs originally planned for it – each one distinct from the other and pointing in several interesting directions for Troy and Edwards to progress in.

For a band named Deap Vally, they certainly have a few friends in high places. The guestlist for Digital Dream reads like a page from the Who’s Who of the L.A. music scene: Peaches, KT Tunstall, Soko, Jenny Lee Lindberg of Warpaint and Jamie Hince of The Kills all contribute. Behind-the-scenes videos from the recording process offer a glimpse into how these songs were pieced together, with experimentation, a little frustration and heaps of mutual respect. Those sessions took place way back in 2018, but ‘Look Away’ and, especially, ‘Digital Dream’ feel strangely relevant to our current situation. That Lindberg co-write ‘Look Away’, with its lovely three-way harmonies, is – by Deap Vally’s own standards – almost shockingly sedate. Vulnerability creeps into the framework of the song but a steely resistance remains at its core, driven by the confident, repetitive rhythm and the insistent command to not gaze too long at the past.

‘Digital Dream’ is something else altogether. Soko’s star turn here is as narrator from the year 2068 where human interaction is all but extinct and resistance to the post-apocalyptic technocracy is less than futile (think E.M. Forster’s The Machine Stops, without the redemptive arc). Together, the three women successfully build a Stockholm syndrome song-world, complete with atmospheric bleeps and blops, zeroing in on illusions of pleasure within the vividly dystopian context. Then, as the extended outro fades, we’re jolted back into the present with the cocksure swagger of ‘High Horse’. Tunstall, Troy and Edwards grandstand from the get-go – “I could be fucking anything I want / Yes, I’m driven, I use what I’m given” – and the chorus is close to euphoric. Things take a turn for the gloriously absurd when Peaches comes in with a typically audacious rap. Who else could rhyme ‘Devil Wears Prada’ with ‘boys on Truvada’ and ‘douche with java’ with ‘been to Bratislava’? It’s good, unpolished fun.

Finale ‘Shock Easy’ is less instantly attention-grabbing but reveals itself over several listens to be quite revelatory in its own right, with some masterful guitar work from Hince. A chilling reflection on the very American epidemic of mass shootings, it has the sort of detached, observational insight that made Sheryl Crow’s early albums so refreshing. “It was all too easy, now it’s all too heavy,” they rasp over blown-out drums and a starkly contrasting, almost-gospel backdrop that elevates and punctuates the song. It’s four for four, then, in terms of breaking all the Deap Vally ‘rules’ – and to largely great effect.

By following their instincts rather than self-imposed red lines, Troy and Edwards have discovered new doors where once they saw only walls. With more music promised later in the year, we won’t have to wait long to find out where they lead.

Listen to Deap Vally’s Digital Dream EP here.

Photo Credit: Kelsey Hart

Alan Pedder
@_neverdoneing