This Year’s Hidden Music Gems

Updated: Jul 11, 2019

Author: Sam Seliger

A ton of great music comes out every week, and even with the ease that streaming services bring, lots of albums can still slip under the radar. Halfway through the year, we’ve collected a few worthwhile albums you might have missed at first.

Ian Noe, “Between the Country”

Ian Noe is currently finishing up a stint opening for western revivalist Colter Wall and country-folk legend John Prine. With his debut album “Between the Country,” Noe creates a similarly old-school feel, hearkening back to the early 1970s, when artists like Gram Parsons, Neil Young, and Bob Dylan were syncretizing country, folk and rock into one. On “Barbara’s Song,” warm guitar and gently chugging electric bass set the backdrop for Noe to sing in the first person of a deadly turn-of-the-century train crash.

The production remains minimalist throughout, as producer David Cobb (Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell, Brandie Carlile) lets Noe’s songwriting carry most of the weight. When yearning backup singers and fuzzy electric guitar are added on “Letter to Madeline,” they only deepen the despair as Noe inhabits the persona of an apprehended wild west bank robber singing to his lover.

Most of the lyrics, however, take a more modern bent, telling of the collapse of small towns (“That Kind of Life”) or the scourge of drug addiction and mental illness (“Methhead,” “Irene”). Noe’s beyond-his-years singing and thick Kentucky accent further the emotional pull, as he draws maximum misery out of each note with his honest and understated delivery. “Between the Country” is an absolutely beautiful album, and it will be amazing to see what Noe does next.

Alfa Mist, “Structuralism”

A number of great musicians are coming out of the UK, such as Nubya Garcia, Shabaka Hutchings and Moses Boyd, who are all moving jazz forward by blending it with grime, hip-hop, R&B and more. Pianist Alfa Mist may not yet have earned the same press as his aforementioned contemporaries, but he certainly deserves it.

On “Structuralism,” his third full-length, he delves deeper into his mellow style that is familiar enough to please many jazz traditionalists yet innovative enough to interest the new wave as well. Mist began his career as a hip-hop producer (he grew interested in jazz through his search for obscure samples), and “Structuralism” continues to bear that imprint, even as he moves further away from the rapping that appeared on his early releases.

Dilla grooves meander throughout, giving the album a contemporary feel similar to Robert Glasper or “chill lo-fi hip-hop beats to study to.” However, the album is still grounded in traditional jazz; songs are driven by chord progressions that, although minimalist, move between keys with frequency and ease. Songs open with relaxed melodies that find horns playing in unison, and long notes are held for full effect.

Mist and his band take long solos that fit the mellow vibe yet demonstrate first-rate musicianship: On “Naiyti,” guitarist Jamie Leeming underscores his superb melodicism with brilliant use of space, while trumpeter Johnny Woodham’s bluesy lines on “.44” lull the listener into the head-nodding groove. Throughout the album, Mist and company push jazz forward by looking to its past, and its present.

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, “Fishing for Fishies”

After taking a year off from releasing music following five studio albums in 2017, everybody’s favorite assonance-named Australian psychedelic rock septet, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, returned for their 14th full-length album since their 2010 conception, “Fishing for Fishies.” The group, which in the past has made everything from fuzzed-out garage rock to post-apocalyptic prog-metal to jazzy psych-pop, this time set its sights on late-’60s style blues rock.

The resulting album sounds like Canned Heat meets Tame Impala--and it works. Ambrose Kenny-Smith’s honking harmonica cuddles up against swirling synths over a backdrop of grinding guitars. Lyrically, the album has an environmentalist focus, as lead vocalist Stu Mackenzie maligns unnecessary fishing (the aptly-named title track) and overreliance on plastics (“Plastic Boogie”). However, any lyrical focus takes a backseat to the boogie.

Mackenzie intended to make the album a “blues-boogie-shuffle-kinda-thing,” and the group’s 15 different instruments work together to form low-down, psyched-out grooves that are sure to keep heads nodding and feet tapping for the album’s whole 42 minutes.

Yves Jarvis, “The Same But By Different Means”

If you find yourself in the sizeable group of individuals who like Frank Ocean’s 2016 album “Blond,” you may very well like this release from Montreal-based songwriter Jean-Sebastial Audet, his first under this new moniker (he released his 2017 album “Good Will Come to You” under the name Un Blonde).

Audet blends folksy Americana instrumentation and contemporary indie-pop stylings with experimental production to create a unique sound and singular aesthetic. The album is gentle, as a reverb-drenched guitars and harmonica swirl together, and relaxed multi-tracked vocals caress the ears. Much like Ocean’s masterpiece, “The Same But By Different Means” creates a distinct and personal emotional experience, comforting in its slow pace and melancholy melodies.

Audet’s voice serves as the primary instrument, but he does more with less, taking the listener on emotional journeys with just a few words, such when he sings “That song in the wind, just slamming on the brick, it carries a familiar tune,” on “Out of the Blue, Into Both Hands.” Much like that song itself, “The Same But By Different Means” is a mellow emotional journey, far reaching yet surprisingly concise.

#SamSeliger #YvesJarvis #KingGizzardandtheLizzardWizard #AlfaMist #IanNoe


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