In this week’s Listening Post, I take a look at some records from Calidonia County, Ender Belongs to Me, Empathy Test and The Vitamin B12. From expressionist electronic rhythms to experimental pop melodies and synth pop exuberance, these records swing easily between minimalist and maximalist aesthetics, pausing only briefly to allow the listener to catch their breath. Which records are you looking forward to hearing this week?
Calidonia County, “The Ghosted Years”
The music that Brooklyn noisemaker Ian Ferguson creates as Calidonia County feels simultaneously grand and intimate, as if the smallest details of our lives have been blown up to gargantuan proportions and the enormous things that crowd our view have been shrunk down to a more manageable size. Through his ambient concoctions, the world seems a bit easier to navigate and our footsteps seem to have more of an effect. The gentle rhythms and interlocking melodies have an almost primordial sense to them, as if these sounds were ageless and instinctual.
On his latest release, “The Ghosted Years,” Ferguson wraps his minimalist electronic aesthetic in sheaths of glistening keys and ethereal vocalizations. Some people might classify this as “headphone music,” but that would be a limiting classification. And these songs have no intention of being easily compartmentalized and filed away. The music rolls along like sunlight on an open field, creating pockets of light on whatever they touch. This music is infatuated with the idea that our world is more than just metal, brick and pavement-it’s made up of tangible experiences, sunlight and the sounds of crickets in the evening. These songs might be the closest to an aural representation of what a spring evening sounds like-and that’s the highest praise that I can give.
Ender Belongs to Me, “Artifacts”
According to its Facebook description, Ender Belongs to Me is “the experimental pop sound art of Andrew Alexander,” and that’s really all I know about the band. But after spending some time with their/his latest release, “Artifacts,” that’s all I needed to know. Featuring a slew of guest musicians, the songs tumble and collide in various genres, all marching toward some finite point in the distance that never quite comes within reach. There’s definitely a DIY bedroom pop feel to the music, but there’s also a weighted motion of determination-a sense that Alexander didn’t simply wait around for these songs to appear but that he actively sought them out.
Acting as a collage of influences and noise, “Artifacts” is exactly what it purports to be. It is a documentation of history, of rhythmic memory. And in these songs, Alexander spreads out his musical lineage in broken lines and curved melodies. There’s some brittle electronic pop and dusty bedroom orchestrations on this record, but even these labels don’t do the music justice. Guitars slink and saunter alongside motorik beats and slithering keys, and never quite end up where you expect them to-but that’s also the genius of these songs. That spontaneity and wide-eyed impulsiveness give the music a rather personal and communal touch. The songs become an open invitation from Alexander to do whatever you want, no matter what that might be.
Empathy Test, “Throwing Stones”
London electro pop duo Empathy Test makes music that is wonderfully, ecstatically jubilant. Taking their cues from more modern bands like CHRVCHES and Purity Ring (but not forgetting the masters such as Depeche Mode and The Cure), Empathy Test swirls these sounds together in a mass of synths, throbbing percussion and soaring melodies, and watches as it cascades out in never-ending waves of euphoria. But their songs are also tinged by a soft and gentle melancholy that builds and threatens to overwhelm anything in its path.
On their sophomore EP, “Throwing Stones,” the duo builds on what made their debut so memorable, namely the insistent rhythms and glorious synth melodies, which are here in droves. Full of emotional upheavals and major chord progressions, the music ebbs and flows in wildly elastic loops and carries you along in its bright, expansive wake. There is no sense of lost identity here-Empathy Test makes pop music that fills the sky with rocketing sound and more than a fair measure of cathartic release. The band isn’t afraid to let their music be what it is and isn’t trying to cram anything more than what they need into each song. If you aren’t up and dancing by the time you hit the second chorus on the title track, something is definitely broken.
The Vitamin B12, “Winter City Patterns 1-4”
The Vitamin B12 is a collective known for their unusual vinyl releases and experimental performances. But for their latest release, “Winter City Patterns 1-4,” the band has dropped all the way down to one person, that being multi-instrumentalist Alasdair Willis. And through the versatile rhythms of his piano and keyboard, Willis has created four long-form tracks that constitute four singular “winter patterns.” But far from any sort of classical piano rigidity that may come to mind, these songs are full of unpredictable turns and minimalist inclinations. They’re solemn but occasionally excitable and prone to brief bursts of unbridled momentum.
Drawing from both an improvisational and structured aesthetic, Willis crafts and shapes these sounds into something that feels inclusive and affable, music that doesn’t want you standing at an arm’s distance. And although he’s dealing with repetitive rhythms and cyclical melodies, there is never a point where things become redundant or boring. The sounds merely double-back on themselves, slowly recycling the previous section into something slightly different and vaguely amorphous. After a time, you begin to see the movement hidden beneath the repetition, a sort of cadence that keeps the surface noise moving along. And it’s here, in the inner parts of these songs, that Willis discovers the true nature of these deceptively simple and remarkable sounds.
Joshua Pickard covers local and national music, film and other aspects of pop culture. You can contact him on Facebook, Twitter or by email. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.