Meditations on Music: Recent album reviews

Jake Victor 5tet’s “Twisted Heads”

 

“Twisted Heads” is the debut album from the Jake Victor 5tet, created while senior Victor was abroad studying at Conservatorium van Amsterdam. Despite being away from Lawrence, he was still able to work with senior guitarist Jack Kilkelly-Schmidt, a close collaborator who was also studying there. Rounding out the band were three Conservatorium students who the two Lawrentians met there and immediately felt a deep connection with, and this is shown throughout the music on the album. Had I listened and not known the musicians met each other, wrote, arranged, played and recorded all within the fall, I would have not even considered that to be a possibility. There is a bond here that some jazz bands strive for throughout their careers, but where this comes from, I have no clue—sometimes it is just about being in the right place at the right time.

A lot of the clear focus the band has can be attributed to the leader. Victor, who played piano and keyboards, was also the voice behind the compositions, taking ideas and adapting them to this group. This gave the group a unified drive and solid parameters to work with, but it was easy to hear that this did not box the musicians in or hinder them in the slightest. The wayward, wonky track, “Theologians” showcased intense listening and grooving from all the members as well as soloists who freely worked over broken and fluctuating feels before flowing to the next solo or coalescing into the scheming head. “Call to Prayer,” the following track, contrasted but still drew from a similar spirit, pulsing and brooding before building up via writing and soloists to a huge, bone-shaking power that broke into the head, subsequently dissolving into a haunting, ballad-esque piano outro. While it is the fervor on these tracks that most caught my ear, other moments like Jason Koth ’17’s electronic palettes and a poppy cover of Coltrane’s “Naima” kept me hooked. It is tough to make a band knowing that its time as a whole will be very limited, but the five musicians made the most of their fall together; “Twisted Heads” is indicative of that.

You can purchase the album at jakevictor.bandcamp.com.

 

The Living Strange’s “Baby On Cement”

 

I started reviewing The Living Strange with their debut EP, “2 AM Freak Show,” and since that 2015 release, I have heard them evolve and mature quickly and impressively for a rock band this young. “Baby On Cement,” their longest release to date clocking in at about 30 minutes, is undoubtedly my favorite. While their first EP and second EP, 2017’s “Home?,” certainly provided enjoyable and energetic listens, it was this EP that truly showed me what The Living Strange is capable of.

“Baby On Cement” is by far the most emotionally-charged music they have put out, and this was emphasized by the transparency that front man Elijah Sokolow allowed. Sokolow also played everything but drums, although he programmed a bit of those too. Through social media posts and an invitation to send in questions on their Bandcamp, the creative process and Sokolow’s often cryptic lyrics had little light shed on them. Whether a similar approach to past releases would have significantly changed them is unclear, but with this EP in specific, the cathartic nature of their music was prominent. The juxtaposition of lyrics that looked back, inward and outward with sonic experimentation created a stretch of music that is an animated, ever-changing trip at the surface, but also has great depth, as far as both subject and sound are concerned. The EP is a hodgepodge with intention behind every gesture—whether that gesture was live sounds, a recording approach or anything else. But despite this collage nature, the 11 songs have clean structure, allowing all of these twitchy and wild ideas to be heard. With everything that went into it, “Baby On Cement” was a risk for The Living Strange. To be so open about struggles stemming back to childhood while also embracing many new approaches to writing, playing and recording is a tough combination, and even though the band was ambitious and went for both, they landed it with aplomb and momentum.

“Baby On Cement” and past releases are available at thelivingstrange.bandcamp.com. There are many upcoming releases, so make sure to follow them.

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