An old school house in the rural flatlands of Southern Norway might not be the first place you go looking for new music, yet that’s exactly where you’ll find Juni Habel. It’s a house she shares with her close-knit family, and it was there that she recorded her recently released album, Carvings. The classroom became Juni’s live room, the hallway of the second floor a vocal booth, and her bedroom a makeshift studio where Juni and co-producer Stian Skaaden brought her crackling slices of family history to life. The record is an attempt to make sense of the world, as Juni puts it, “I wanted to write about the course of nature, and the people in it – life and death, beauty and tragedy”.
Released via Basin Rock, Carvings is an exercise in simplicity, songs are stripped back to their bare bones, as finger-picked guitars accompany Juni’s fireside musings. Nodding to the likes of Adrianne Lenker or Julie Byrne, her songs play out like quietly glowing odes to life, death and the intangible link between humans and nature. She speaks excitedly on the power of making mistakes, and embracing the joys of what happens when you don’t fear them, “it takes courage to do things ‘wrong’ with uncertainty, record lyrics which are strange but feel right, on crappy mics, it can be good to fumble a bit”. From the record’s wistful first single Chicory through to Rhythm of the Tides, a celebration of lakes and weird dreams, Juni’s music offers something wonderfully personal, as if she’s been playing these songs forever, just waiting for anyone to stumble in and realise just how magical they are.
A five-piece band hailing from Bristol, Dwell have gone through something of an evolution as a band, with each new recording there seems to be a certain shift, a restlessness born from a desire to always improve what came before. They are a band uninhabited by genres, fusing the worlds of shoegaze and post-punk to almost orchestral production where violin and saxophone hold equal billing with guitar and drums. For their latest offering, they teamed up with Fire Talk Records’ Open Tab series, sharing the excellent single, So Slow.
Citing the influence of slowcore artists like deathcrash or Knifeplay, So Slow is a song that lives up to its title, Dwell slowly unfurling the song’s charms as the elongated guitar rhythms are adorned with the smoky fury of saxophones and a clattering post-rock drum beat. The track follows previous singles, the angular Drahla-like gothic post-punk of Consider Me Blind and Can’t Go Back a grungy fuzz Sonic Youth would be proud of. Listening to Dwell there’s a sense of a band with an enormous repertoire of ideas, just working out what they want to do with them, a thrilling fizz of ideas with the potential to take Dwell as far as their imagination dares to dream.
Oropendola is the musical project of New York-based artist, Joanna Schubert who has been a touring musician for the likes of Half Waif and Barrie. After spending last year sharing a collection of increasingly intriguing singles, Oropendola recently announced details of her debut album, Waiting for the Sky to Speak, which will see the light of day in March as a co-release between Spirit House Records and Wilbur & Moore Records.
Alongside news of the upcoming album, Oropendola also shared the first single from the record, Knocking Down Flowers. The track took the rather unusual inspiration of a construction site, a place Joanna and her on-again-off-again partner used to pretend was their future home, “we would peer through the diamond-shaped opening at the stunted barren landscape beyond and imagine the possibilities…our weird little insular paradise“. One day they actually made it in, ran around taking photos, dancing with beer-induced abandon, like the relationship as a whole it was a moment of limbo, “not quite here, not quite there, you don’t have to choose. If you don’t have to choose, you don’t have to make the wrong choice. If you knock down the flowers before they bloom, you don’t have to watch them wilt”. Recorded, as with all of Waiting for the Sky to Speak, with co-producer Zubin Hensler, Knocking Down Flowers exists at a suitable music cross-road, like the lyrical content it’s at the meeting point between arms in the air pop perfection and something altogether more jarring and intriguing. Initially, it’s all echoing percussion and eerily distant vocals, yet it slowly swells, the melodies begin to emerge via piano and strings, the lyrics shift into focus and the whole thing becomes a rich cut-and-paste musical collage. With Joanna promising a record that incorporates, “the off-kilter humor of Miranda July; the surrealism of Alice in Wonderland; and the melodic core of my childhood”, Waiting for the Sky to Speak promises to be a compelling introduction to an artist who seems to see the world just a little differently from everyone around her.
Whitney’s Playland were born out of a pandemic-induced desire for creativity, when two long-term friends and veterans of the San Francisco scene, Inna Showalter and George Tarlson, decided to form a new band. Previously members of the likes of Grandma’s Boyfriend, Blades of Joy, and Modern Charms, the pair set out to make music that reflected their shared experiences of Californian living, touching on classic themes like love and loss with an often wry worldview. Teaming up with Meritorio Records and Paisley Shirt, this March the band will release their debut album, Sunset Sea Breeze.
The record was previewed by the antithesis of a classic Californian soundtrack, Rain Song. Described by the band as, “an expedition through dark corridors to consider big questions under the backdrop of a parched and rainless California”. The track combined loose wiry guitars and pounding processed beats, fittingly neatly into a lineage of fuzzy janglers, from Yo La Tengo and Lush through to contemporaries like Blushing or Artsick. That release was followed by the band sharing the indie-pop gem that is the record’s title track, Sunset Sea Breeze. Described as, “a grey day at the beach, the fog rolling in, the waves pounding relentlessly, and a chance meeting with an old friend“, it had a transatlantic quality, nodding to both UK indie-originals like The Weather Prophets and American lo-fi heroes Guided By Voices. The sound of the timeless guitar-led underground, Whitney’s Playland take the best of the past and add enough of themselves to keep it fresh and exciting, a perfect soundtrack for a coastal walk whether you’re in California wondering if it’ll ever rain again or in Yorkshire wondering if it’ll ever stop.
Originally based out of Los Angeles, Erika Levy is a classically trained pianist, who has been performing songs for so long that her first audience was a collection of cuddly toys in her childhood bedroom. After going through a heart-wrenching divorce in 2018, Erika decided it was time to pursue a dream that had always been calling her, she went East, and dove headfirst into the New York music scene, became a regular at the city’s late-night venues, performing for audiences of, “clanking glasses and eclectic strangers”. Last year Erika released her first collection of songs, The Bedstuy Tapes, an assortment of demos recorded to tape in a studio apartment off the M train in Brooklyn.
More recently, Erika shared her most ambitious record to date in the shape of her single, Chicken and Rice, where she expanded on her piano and vocal routine with the addition of a full band creating an ambitious slice of retro-pop perfection. The track hinted at a newfound confidence, an artist stepping outside of her self-imposed boundaries and into a world where anything is possible. While the obvious comparisons like Regina Spektor or Tori Amos aren’t without merit, Erika showed like those artists she’s capable of stretching the piano(wo)man clichés and creating something that pushes the genre forward. While plans for 2023 remain a closely guarded secret, there are plenty of reasons to think Erika Levy might just end up as one of the year’s breakout stars.
Formerly known as Living Island, Wonderbug are a London-based quartet, built around the vocal duo of Edie Chesters and Ollie McDaid. Having decided to rip it up and start again, the band came crashing to the musical world’s attention in November of last year with their debut single, Hiding In Plain Sight. The track was the first taster of their upcoming EP, Wait What?, which was created with the help of producer, Yuri Shibuchi of Honeyglaze.
Hiding In Plain Sight was a fine introduction to Wonderbug’s new musical confidence, the track clocking in at over five minutes and showcasing a love for similarly ambitious loosely-indie bands like English Teacher or Penelope Isles. Ollie took much of the vocal lead, his world-weary delivery a perfect foil for a song about struggling with imposter syndrome, as he sings, “I’m walking home, without much direction. Assuming you’re fine, while I’m killing time. It’s just my perception.” Having already supported the likes of Tugboat Captain and Maripool, Wonderbug are quickly establishing themselves as one of the London-scenes most exciting new acts, a reputation they’re sure to cement across 2023.
L. T. Leif
A Glasgow-based Canadian, L.T. Leif is by no means new to the music game. They first appeared as a member of Calgary’s The Consonant C, and after they called it a day in 2011, has spent the subsequent years turning their hand to pretty much everything from experimental noise to singing in a Witch choir. Alongside their work in other bands, L.T. Leif has released a number of, “solo-with-friends” projects, catching the ear of Lost Map, who last year released the Lost Cat limited edition cassette compilation of live and unreleased tracks, improvisations and deep cuts Introducing L.T. Leif. Last week saw L.T. release their first collection of new material for the Isle Of Eigg-based label, in the shape of their new album, Come Back To Me, But Lightly.
Originally demoed in a room on Glasgow’s Great Western Road, Come Back To Me, But Lightly was recorded internationally, with contributions remote and in person from a series of friends from across the globe including the likes of Bill Well, Clea Anaïs and Mark Hamilton aka Woodpigeon. The record was heavily inspired by life in Northern latitudes, be it Glasgow, Canada or Finland and Iceland, where L.T. has lived previously. As well as the idea of place, the record also leans on more personal themes, exploring a shift from, “a life I was living as someone afraid of my own brain and body, into someone a lot more openly unshiney“. The resultant record is an eclectic affair, at times delicate and almost fragile, and at others, considerably more knowingly noisy. Take the stomping, squalling Synesthetics, a playful romp through technicolour-pop, it’s a world away from the subtle keys and keening vocals of No Birds. Particularly wonderful is the recent single, Pass Back Through, coming across like the middle ground of Grouper and Wolf Parade as a choir of voices sing out on the quiet triumph of “finding ways through, again and again, how ever we are able“. Whether it’s minimalist writers, painters, thinkers, a striking landscape or their own body, L.T. Leif has a knack for taking the world around them and funnelling it into sound, Come Back To Me, But Lightly feels like a remarkably alive record, an album bristling with the energy of its creator and quite possibly one of 2023’s first great albums.
If you’ve missed any of the rest of my 23 For 2023, you can check them out HERE.
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