Noxroy - Cotyledon Observatory (R+N006)

Cascading guitar notes swirl and plunge through the opening moments of ‘Cotyledon Observatory,’ introducing a wholly immersive soundworld that alternately shimmers, loops, and surges. It is a fitting first moment for Andrew Fitzpatrick’s debut full-length as Noxroy, an album that derives much of its material from solo improvisations with guitar, effect pedals, and digital software. From this simple set-up Noxroy’s processed guitar layers phase and shift in abstraction (‘Alchemists’), dance and glisten on a seemingly placid bed of texture (‘Wyoming’), and generally carry great force in its small gestures.

At this point, Fitzpatrick is best known for his exacting guitar-work in All Tiny Creatures (Hometapes), but his list of collaborators and guest roles also include Collections of Colonies of Bees, Yellow Ostrich, and Sparklehorse/Death Cab for Cutie engineer Beau Sorenson. For this reason, ‘Cotyledon Observatory’ does not feel like a beginning. Noxroy is confident and clear in its vision, with each of the seven pieces appearing like different shades of the same vibrant color.

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Billy Gomberg - Quiet Barrier (R+N005)

The formation of a different language takes place on ‘Quiet Barrier’: flickering rhythms, receding walls of electronic sound, and warped melodic figures occupy the space where words and terminology once stood.  It’s a process that Brooklyn-based Billy Gomberg has inhabited before with releases on such labels as Experimedia, and/OAR, and The Land Of.  Here, with synthesizers and custom digital processing, Gomberg arrives at a complex album of shifting tones, kaleidoscopic hues, and crackling debris that flows with a clear, exacting vision.

Though wholly electronic in execution, ‘Quiet Barrier’ is not designed, sequenced, or digitally overwrought.  It is music that is played and constructed in real-time, relying on a moment to moment interaction between musician and instrument.  Such an approach explains in part why ‘Quiet Barrier’ unfolds with an unmitigated motion, propelling itself forward in a linear manner.  The outcome, like any good narrative, is a sound that can’t be rushed or interrupted, only followed and absorbed.  ‘Quiet Barrier’ follows the 2009 collaboration with Offthesky, ‘Flyover Sound,’ which was nominated for the Paris-based Qwartz electronic music award in experimentation and research. 

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Oriel - Repetition for a Motion (R+N004)

Brandon Wiarda can light up and embolden a song in innumerable ways, but rarely has his music been as focused and exuberant as it is here.  Of course, there would be no way anyone would know that: after a dozen years of recording songs, melodies, and soundscapes for no one but himself and a few close friends arrives 'Repetition for a Motion,' his first official album. 

Recorded among farms, apartments, and bedrooms throughout Minnesota, Wiarda, working under the name Oriel, borrows a basic template of folk music from lost and forgotten masters of the craft.  Though his songs begin with this broad form, a series of evolutionary jumps take place as his acoustic guitar is spun through effect pedals and field recordings while comingling with more instruments than there are words in this paragraph.  The palette of sources is wide and varied throughout: a swarm of percussion floods ‘Come by Morning,’ a blend of acoustic shoegaze clings to ‘Hold in Tongues,’ and a thick flourish of bells and electronics dominate ‘Repetition/Wedding Bells.’  A vast understanding of the multi-track recording studio is palpable, with the end result being a vibrant tapestry of song and sound.

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Zoo Animal - Zoo Animal (R+N003 & R+N003LP)

A paradox is not an impossibility.  ‘Zoo Animal,’ the band’s self-titled second record, reveals itself to uphold such a maxim with a sharp yet subdued sound that is informed by equal measures of classical minimalism and ‘90s grunge.  This contrast is just one of many as Zoo Animal’s stark, articulate pop music vacillates between gentle and aggressive, volatile and peaceful, light and dark.  It’s graceful, hushed, soul-stirring music, yet it rests atop traditional rock instrumentation – simply guitar, drums, bass – that can turn visceral at the drop of a drumstick.

The Minneapolis, Minnesota, trio formed in the winter of 2008 as songwriter Holly Newsom shifted her reclusive solo work into a rock lexicon that now includes bassist Tim Abramson’s melodic counterpoint and the taut structures from drummer Thom Burton.  Newsom gives her songs a heightened sense of conviction as her pensive words and private thoughts fold over and drape around warped pop styles and abolished rock band stereotypes.  The lyrics pour out in a variety of ways – sometimes gushing forth in torrents, often crawling out in little more than a whisper – but they are always tethered to melodies that emotionally and elementally guide each song.  These particular contrasts and disparities have been wrought into a definitive album which, fittingly, left the band no option but to name it after themselves.

Produced by Tom Herbers (Low).

Photograph by Emily Utne.

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Aquarelle - Slow Circles (R+N001)

 After three years of multiple revisions and complete deletions, 'Slow Circles' was engendered as much by the music that adheres to it than by what does not. Meaning at this point in the history of recorded music – where any- and everything can be and is available – what you leave out and avoid is just as critical as what few things remain. Still, there is much to be heard by Aquarelle (the aural moniker of Ryan Potts) on 'Slow Circles.' Tempered with static and distortion, the five extended tracks hold an illusion of stasis sourced from dozens of layers of acoustic, electric, and electronic instruments. Filtered loops overlap and repeat, erecting a pattern that links pure minimalism to an oblique and layered pop approach that unfurls with acoustic guitar, bells, and bits of percussion.

Aquarelle's influences are teeming – and include various forms of photography, films by Terrence Malick, and the presence of family – but perhaps nothing inspires more than the ardor for sound itself, from hissing electronic abstraction to four-part vocal harmonies. 'Slow Circles' is his first widely available album after a handful of limited run CDR releases.

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Northern Howl - All That's Under the Night's Sky (R+N002)

A debut is often a lesson in getting lost in the things you love. It is no surprise that some songs from Northern Howl's first full-length arrive with the melodic ease of the Shins, others in the shape of vintage Zombies tracks, a few with the orchestral scope of Sufjan Stevens. But each moment from 'All That's Under the Night's Sky' carries the exuberance of seven young people brimming with creativity and enthusiasm for music and the world surrounding them. A palpable atmosphere of rustic Minnesota is threaded through 'All That's Under the Night's Sky' - clinging to lyrics, sounds, and instruments Northern Howl employ to create their distinct brand of folk-derived pop. Aided by producer Kenyon Rosewall (The Wars of 1812), 'Night's Sky' contains an instrumental depth and prowess that outstrips their young age, naturally raising words like earnest, anthemic, and vibrant to relevance.

Yet, it is hard to say that Northern Howl set out to sound like such adjectives or approximate the above bands. Instead they chose to make sense of the world on their own terms, in turn locating influences in the adoration of everyday objects: the canvas of a tent, the faded sepia of old photographs, road trips with good friends, and large fauna distinct to their home state.

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