Alternate Routes: Miley On Acid, Desert Blues, And More


Alternate Routes is a column from Flavorwire contributor and WFMU DJ Jesse Jarnow, in which he explores music solely distributed outside the Big 3 of Spotify, iTunes, and Amazon.

Soundcloud, seemingly forever in peril of falling into the clutches of a new fun-blocking regime, continues to constitute the music world’s closest equivalent to Twitter. Firing in single-song (or mix-length) bursts, offering direct and semi-equal access to musicians and labels and DJs and listeners alike, its capacity for surprise remains undiminished. Lately, it’s become a mainstream tool for artists to get around Amazon/iTunes/Spotify and physical product distribution hurdles. Most lately, Kanye West used it to bypass his own Tidal streaming service to post some new/old music. More significantly, Miley Cyrus used it for her hey-at-least-the-kids-are-tripping full-length collaboration with the Flaming Lips, launching a hard-to-process but authentic new sub-genre of 21st century psychedelia. Though high on melodrama and other substances, most of the album isn’t as weird as it makes itself out to be, except when it is — and (coupled with the A$AP Rocky’s recent “LSD”), it heralds the hope for a return of actually psychedelic pop. The chopped-up swirl of “Milky Milk Milk” suggests much more than Miley Cyrus and Her Dead Petz delivers, but it’s rare that musicians have produced less interesting music after discovering acid. At the very least, she might be worth the Soundcloud follow, in case she decides to take control of that, too.

One dependable source for as new sounds in the Soundcloud stream is the British label Activia Benz and their digital-only I Love Singles! “club.” They have a snazzy website, but the 31 tracks and counting are perfectly served inside a feed, too. Building a Discogs page with listings for “(File, MP3, Single, 320),” the label’s ears are a connection point between the joyously banging South African Shangaan Electro of Mualusie‘s “Malamulele Sukubeza” (SC025) and the exquisite blipped-up whatever-you-call-it “Teva Suite” (SC026) by Holly Waxwing, the nom-de-bloop for Birmingham, UK electronic musician Garrett Crosby. Sometimes, the electronics are dancefloor-ready, but every track remains almost mindbendingly playful, like the breathless, theatrical, and overloaded sugar-pop of Diveo’s “Ferris Wheel (SC022), and all come with their own cover art that pops in colors even at thumbnail size. At least in terms of their content presented, Activia Benz is a new label for new times.

While the Northern African desert blues musicians haven’t quite hit Soundcloud yet, the U.S. based Sahel Sounds has become an American outlet for their music from Mauritania, Mali, and Niger. And though American labels might be compared to those that chronicled the music of the American south in the early 20th century, it might be more accurate to say that African musicians are simply field recording themselves. While previous Sahel Sound import Mdou Moctar (lately the star of the Tuareg remake of Purple Rain) reveled in Auto-Tune, the label’s newest full-length release, by Abba Gargando, makes its musical fingerprint with blurred keyboard production that is so warm and lo-fi that it almost sounds acoustic, like the synth-accordion of “Zinizjimogh Dim,” the blocky marimba-like tones making a grid beneath “Kal Tamacheq,” and the maybe-electric guitar of “Mategh Id Chat Megh.” Though Gargando has been documented before as a proper acoustic guitarist documented in better fidelity on an earlier Sahel Sounds compilation (2010’s Ishilan n-Tenere, issued on vinyl by Mississippi Records), his self-titled full-length pulls right from the cell phone recordings that are his natural musical habitat, which isn’t to say that the layered African smart-pop might not be better served in a proper studio, but it carries magic in its current iteration.

Following Myriam Gendron‘s 2014 debut, Not So Deep As A Well, which set Dorothy Parker poems to music in ways both wry and devastating, the Montreal guitarist continues with four new recordings dabbled amid the five two-hour episodes of a freeform radio show she hosts with associate Benoît Chaput on Montreal’s KCUT. Archived via Chaput’s French/English publishing house, L’Oie de Cravan, the four acoustic songs — three covers and what is billed as Gendron’s first original — are easy extensions of the work started with her album. Delivered in a bell-clear voice, the tunes by Elliot Smith (“Between the Bars”), fellow guitar-wielding Canadian Leonard Cohen (“Avalanche”), and the chanson “Marcoux Labonté,” each somehow seem deliberate and perfectly casual, connecting dots towards her own quietly intoned “31-10-2011.” Though consisting of barely three lines in two-and-a-half minutes, the song’s slow, purposeful movement turns quiet changes into dramatic shifts, and a spare concluding guitar break becomes a verse of its own.

There are seemingly infinite albums like Easy, the DIY solo debut by Magik Markers and Spectre Folk member Pete Nolan, filled with layered homemade arrangements and self-harmonies and overlaid jams, and yet there are very few like it all. Deceptively lo-fi, Easy employs all-too-simply-abused bedroom recording tropes, but comes out rich and full. Like The Immoralist, last year’s solo debut from Nolan’s Magik Markers bandmate Elisa Ambrogio, Easy is perhaps the most straight-forward and unobscured music of Nolan’s career. The vocals are still washed-out (“Sound of the Bees”) and there’s still room for big Spectre Folk-like guitar chugs (“Marshmallow Moon”), but the music is filled with warmth and hummable melodies, including the irresistible “Sunshine Ocean Disguise.” Anchored by Nolan’s slightly-off drumming, the music falls just on the inside of out, primally satisfying and thoroughly gnarly, and generally nice to listen to.