Lionmilk, “Shaneen” (Leaving Records)
The blissful music of Lionmilk—Los Angeles pianist/composer/producer Moki Kawaguchi—makes you reassess your skepticism toward “healing music.” Now, it's a stretch to say that music can relieve your shin splints or bone spurs, but I can verify that it can alter and calm your mind and slow your pulse. And that's not nothing.
Lionmilk wasn't always laser-focused on music's restorative powers. Much of his early output, such as 2018's Depths of Madness and 2019's Visions in Paraíso, veered toward vibrant ambient, whimsical trip-hop, and electro exotica, with complex, sometimes funky rhythms and glassy textures evocative of Luke Vibert and µ-Ziq's madcap '90s IDM productions.
With 2020's Healing for a New Tomorrow, Lionmilk became serious about the therapeutic benefits of sound. He furthered that pursuit with 2021's I Hope You Are Well, which featured his jazzy, Joe Zawinul-esque inclinations in its 16 compositions. This album was originally self-released during the pandemic's early days on a home-dubbed cassette, which Kawaguchi dropped into beloved friends' and family members' mailboxes as a way to ameliorate the alienation that people were feeling during lockdown.
Lionmilk's new album, Intergalactic Warp Terminal 222 (out March 17), continues his exploration of soothing tones for mental well-being. It's not an easy feat to keep this approach from becoming a snooze, and, gratefully, Lionmilk is keenly aware of the importance of interesting dynamics and fascinating timbres.
An apparent immersion in Miles Davis's chill fusion classic In a Silent Way informs Intergalactic Warp Terminal 222, especially in the keyboards emit a gentle glow and the melodies tend to dip into a blue warmth. The epitome of this approach may be “Shaneen,” which twinkles and dawdles with a spectral charm and dignity that would impress Ahmad Jamal and Seattle's own Noel Brass Jr. Listen and feel better already.
Sound Cipher, “Grid Incursion” (Royal Potato Family)
I'll never forget Sound Cipher's live debut in 2017—it happened on the same day as my first colonoscopy. Feeling spaced-out and in an existential quagmire, I nevertheless attended Sound Cipher's Sunset Tavern show, excited by the prospect of this oddball power trio: the busiest man in local underground music, Skerik, on sax, synth, and electronics, bassist/synthesist Timm Mason (ex-Midday Veil, Master Musicians of Bukkake), and Primus/A Perfect Circle percussionist Tim Alexander. It turned out to be one of the most mind-blowing live performances I'd seen in my 15 years of living in this city, up to that point. You can read more about that gig here.
Fast-forward nearly six years and Sound Cipher finally have their first release in the can for the respected Royal Potato Family label. Released on April 24, All That Syncs Must Diverge captures a band at the summit of their potent capabilities.
The tone throughout remains fairly consistent: eventful, spacious, and pugnacious. Most of these six tracks are as cold as ice and twice as hard. “Church Turing” exemplifies the album's stark contrast between the soft and the hard and the quiet and the loud, with its eerie atmosphere rammed to the gills with bulbous, tom-heavy beats. On “Permissive Action Link,” aggressive rhythms, militant sax wails, and scathing synths give the sense of inexorable, punishing movement over rugged terrain. As a bonus, the glowering influence of krautrock outliers Moebius/Plank/Neumeier's Zero Set looms large.
Only the 12-minute closer “Entropy Pool” deviates from the pervasive sci-fi battle-scene vibes. Here, a beautiful desolation reigns, with Skerik at his most mellow and tender. You listen on tenterhooks waiting for an explosion that never comes. The track's a moving, tranquil farewell after so much turmoil.
The first single and lead-off song, “Grid Incursion,” though, is bellicose electronic music that projects an air of invulnerability. Sound Cipher form a weaponized drone over which robust, swift beats pummel, the bass growls like an infernal beast, and flagrant synth rays zing. Cinematic sounds with a killer instinct that whip you into a frenzy? It's what the GI doctor ordered.
Sound Cipher perform April 21 at Clock-Out Lounge.