Zen Mother, “Mantra” (Illuminasty). Over several live shows and many listens to the forthcoming I Was Made to Be Like Her debut album, Zen Mother have proven themselves to be perhaps Seattle's most exciting rock group. Led by Adam Wolcott Smith and Monika Khot (aka Nordra), Zen Mother capture our time's pressure-cooker angst and impending doom with steely determination and clear-eyed artistry. They figure that the best way to combat thoughts of catastrophe is with songs of unbearable beauty and tumultuous melodies and moods. “Mantra” sounds like a hymn that could accompany the final scene from Lars von Trier's Melancholia. It's no surprise that Northwest Film Forum tapped Zen Mother to do a live score to Alejandro Jodorowsky's The Holy Mountain (performance is August 25). (Zen Mother's album-release party for I Was Made to Be Like Her happens July 6 at Chop Suey.)
Laurel Halo, “Moontalk” (Hyperdub). Laurel Halo's new album, Dust, sounds like a paragon of pop music circa 2017: Cubist yet danceable, strange yet catchy, timbrally enticing yet not relying on the off-the-rack library of tones from the most common software programs. “Moontalk” has vocals and a memorable tune, but it also exudes a hard-to-place otherness. It's club music, but not geared for spots populated by normies who find Björk too weird. On “Moontalk,” bamboo-textured percussion, undulating rhythms, and a sonorous busy signal buttress Halo's understated, pretty vocals for a track that makes Dirty Projectors seem like overly fussy try-hards. It's a highlight from one of 2017's best albums.
Amy O, “History Walking” (Winspear). I knew nothing of Bloomington, Indiana singer/songwriter Amy O before my colleague Amber Cortes tossed me a link to “History Walking.” But it didn't take long for the song to insinuate itself into the part of my brain that craves instantly infectious melodies that sound like they've been loitering in the ether forever. What Amy O's doing here has been done thousands of times before, but among today's crop of singer/songwriters, she's one of the most enjoyable in a crowded field, up there with Cate Le Bon and Angel Olsen. Ms. O's preternatural grasp of swerving dynamics, absurdly jaunty tunesmithing, and quirky keyboard tones is going to take her far, if I have any say in the matter. (I don't, really, but it's the thought that counts.) “History Walking” appears on Elastic, out August 4.
Greg Fox, “Catching an L” (RVNG Intl.). Greg Fox's contributions to boundary-pushing outfits like Guardian Alien, Zs, Liturgy, and Ex Eye make him one of the crucial drummer/composers working today. This track from the album The Gradual Progression (out September 8) finds Fox reimagining Herbie Hancock/Headhunters-style fusion for 21st-century ears. If you dig rugged, spacey jazz funk that respects the past while soaring into the future, “Catching an L” will give you satori.
qualchan, vera’s dream (Aescape). Seattle has a whole stratum of musicians who rarely play out, but rather quietly create music in their bedrooms and humbly hustle their own work on social media, with little hope of blowing up... or even playing one of our many festivals. And that's okay. These musicians realize that they're a niche proposition and that keeps their art pure and sincere—and often sublime. One such producer is qualchan, a local dude named Ryan Durfee who's a voracious appreciator of many kinds of excellent music and who also makes tracks on the sly. Via the wonders of Twitter, I came across “vera's dream,” and it was beatific calm at first listen. Influenced by Ernest Callenbach's 1975 utopian novel Ecotopia, this is ambient music that has plenty going on: emotional intimacy, varied movements that enable rewarding escapism, impeccable dream logic, and a sense of grandeur devoid of bombast. I want to take ac*d and drift away to what qualchan has brewing here, but it's Friday morning and these pesky deadlines won't allow that. Maybe next time.
Noteworthy June 30 album releases: Jay-Z, 4:44 (Tidal visual album); Floating Points, Reflections - Mojave Desert (Luaka Bop); Washed Out, Mister Mellow (Stones Throw); Doldrums, Esc (Dead Oceans); Lapalux, Ruinism (Brainfeeder); Beach House, B-Sides and Rarities (Sub Pop); The Beach Boys, 1967: Sunshine Tomorrow (Capitol); Peter Perrett, How the West Was Won (Domino); Roscoe Mitchell, Bells for the South Side (ECM); James Elkington, Wintres Woma (Paradise of Bachelors); Stone Sour, Hydrograd (Roadrunner).