From New Sounds: “Weekly Music Roundup: Balún, Kamasi Washington, & Jenny Hval”

New Sounds
Hand-picked music, genre free. 24/7 radio from New York City.

John Schaefer

Week of April 16: This week, new works by Kamasi Washington and Jenny Hval; a new video from Brooklyn-via-San Juan group Balún, and some musical advice on Making America Great Again.


I’ve become a fan of the Puerto Rican-born, NY-based composer Angélica Negrón in recent years.

Angélica Negrón

She’s written chamber music and orchestral works that have an element of whimsy and a sense of fun – not things we often associate with “serious” music. (For example, her piece Me He Perdido (I’ve Gotten Lost) used robotic sound-making contraptions along with the American Composers Orchestra, and her recent piece Turistas, written for the Bang On A Can All-Stars, was built on the rhythms of reggaeton, bomba, and other Puerto Rican popular sounds.) Angelica is also one of the three core members of Balún, a band that has just released a new single called El Espanto (The Fright, or The Ghost). It’s mostly a languid, sunny number, but just when you think you have the song pegged – “oh, it’s Caribbean-tinged electro-pop” – it changes, as the saxes add a bit of Downtown skronk and the whole thing ends with a breakbeat-driven excursion into what sounds like IDM (intelligent dance music – the style associated with Aphex Twin or Squarepusher). That’s a lot of ground to cover, but then this band has already covered a lot of geographic ground, as they’ve all left Puerto Rico and taken up residence in Brooklyn.

Prisma Tropical is due to be released on July 20. Watch for a live Soundcheck podcast around that time, too.

Now It’s Frank Turner’s Turn To Make America Great Again.

The folk/rocker Frank Turner is not nearly as well known here in the States as he is back home in Britain. Which is a shame, because he really loves this country, and if more people knew songs like I Am Disappeared, they might love him right back. Turner’s music often responds to social and political situations, and you won’t be surprised to learn that his next album does just that. It will be called Be More Kind, and while the album doesn’t come out until May 4, the single Make America Great Again has just been released, along with a simply wonderful video made by Turner in Austin, TX. From the title, you might be expecting something sardonic, or ironic, but instead you get something as genuine and funny and moving as the people who take part in it. Frank sets up the video himself – then just enjoy a reminder of what made America great to begin with: Americans.

A Musical Left Turn From Jenny Hval.

Norwegian singer, songwriter, and soon-to-be novelist Jenny Hval has made her reputation on the back of several albums that take the pop song format and twist, distort, and otherwise disrupt it. She’s become known for her frank and challenging sexual imagery, and her last album, Blood Bitch, made for bracing listening. So her new single comes as a bit of a surprise. Spells is a slice of electro-pop that may have a hint of Pink Floyd in it; its repeated line “you will not be awake for long” could, in almost any other Jenny Hval song, evoke a strong feeling of dread. But here, it might just be an invitation to dream. It’s from the forthcoming EP called The Long Sleep, which is due on May 25.

Then in October, she reverts to her usual form, if the blurb for her debut novel is any indication: Paradise Rot “presents a heady and hyper-sensual portrayal of sexual awakening and queer desire. A complex, poetic and strange novel about bodies, sexuality and the female gender.” The book will be published on October 2.

Kamasi Washington Drops Two New Singles

Sax player and composer Kamasi Washington has achieved a level of visibility that is unusual for a jazz musician these days. Much of that is down to his collaboration with Kendrick Lamar on the rapper’s last two albums, To Pimp A Butterfly and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Damn. But he also received rave reviews for his 3-disc album called, appropriately, The Epic. Washington is part of a lineage of jazz musicians aiming for a cosmic, spiritual sound (see John Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, and Sun Ra, for starters), and has been a regular on festival stages, including Coachella in 2016. Now, he’s preparing to release a new album, called Heaven and Earth, and has released two songs, of which Fists of Fury seems to be the A-side, and The Space Traveler’s Lullaby the B-side. The latter track, as the title indicates, might be of a piece with his earlier work – a sprawling, yes, epic example of orchestral/big band jazz, with wordless chorus and strings and long passages that seem to nod at minimalism, film music, and more. But Fists of Fury has a harder edge to it, at least lyrically. The image of helping hands, friendly hands, caressing hands, turning to fists of fury is a poetic response to the persistent racial divide in our country; the music, with its classic Latin rhythmic underpinning, is just as poetic.

Heaven and Earth comes out on June 22.

Damien Jurado’s New Song Stirs Up a Quiet Storm.

Damien Jurado’s new single tempers his usual folk/rock leanings with some quiet R&B. Allocate sees Jurado surrounding his velvety vocals with bowed strings and a slowly unfolding rhythm section of keyboard and percussion. Allocate is a strange title; it’s a word suggesting logical assignments of things, but the song is full of wisps of often melancholy thoughts – “once I was lost and I never came back,” he sings at one point. The song comes from Jurado’s forthcoming album, The Horizon Just Laughed, which comes out on May 4.

Damien Jurado plays at Brooklyn’s Murmrr Theatre on May 24.

New Sounds is New York Public Radio’s home for the musically curious. Free your listening from the limits of genre and algorithm.

See the full article here . infuses the eclectic spirit of the radio show into a full online and live event experience. Combining the New Sounds radio show, WNYC’s Soundcheck podcast and the adventurous spirit of WQXR’s Q2 Music, will be a place for discovery, conversation, insights into the creative process, and of course 24/7 music.
The centerpiece is New Sounds Radio, an online station hosted by New Sounds founder and long-running host John Schaefer, but infused with new, emerging voices including experimental musicians Kelly Moran, Eliza Bagg and Lora-Faye Åshuvud, and tastemakers Gamall Awad and Matt Werth, along with WQXR’s Helga Davis and Terrance McKnight, and composer-guitarist Phil Kline. The station will feature an array of styles and genres – from singer Courtney Barnett to contemporary classical music ensemble Kronos Quartet, from jazz icon Henry Threadgill to the Nordic folk music of Wardruna, from electronic composer and bandleader Anna Meredith to the stunning vocals of Puerto Rico’s Ileana Cabra.
“With almost everything ever recorded anywhere now available online, where do you start? New Sounds might be the place,” said John Schaefer. “We try to be friendly and jargon free, and gleefully oblivious of genre. Our goal is to find the artists, the songs, and the sounds that you might love – if only you get a chance to hear them. And we believe that algorithms won’t give you the same experience as a set of recommendations from real people. A friendly guide is the best way to discover new music, or music that defies easy categorization; and some of that music just might change your life.”
“For three decades, New Sounds was one of the last bastions of free form FM programming; completely genre-free and dictated solely by the impeccable and irresistible tastes of its host,” said Alex Ambrose, Senior Producer, New Sounds. “ will usher that sense of discovery and unpredictability into the digital age, drawing on the best of New York’s curatorial and taste-making power.”

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John Schaefer

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