Jay Tholen // Celestial Archive

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7.8

self-released / 2017

"You don't suck, you don't suck, you don't suck..."

Such is the backing refrain on "You Are Someone Special", the upbeat encouragement-anthem from Jay Tholen's new record. You could miss it on the first pass if you're not listening for it, but the line is everything great about Tholen and his music in microcosm - giggle-inducing, weirdly uplifting, and as earnest as a kid's picture drawn just to tell you they love you.

Sincerity pervades everything about Celestial Archive - you can practically feel Tholen straining to reach through your headphones with a big, squishy hug like Dropsy, the main character of his recent computer game. Tholen's parallel career as a game designer has become his main jam over the last few years, but Celestial Archive is the first time he's bent his programming skills to serve his music, rather than the other way around. Enter the "Celestial Archive Multimedia Experience". A charming webpage partner to the album clad in late-'90s internet flair, it gives background on each song and even lets listeners play along with the tunes using a built-in synthesizer. Reading tidbits about Tholen's adoration of breakfast (“the greatest non-divine meal”), or his "slime socks", it's impossible to experience Celestial Archive as anything but a labor of pure love.

Of course, even without the Multimedia Experience, Celestial Archive is a resoundingly successful endeavor. Compulsively singable melodies appear, disappear, and reappear transmogrified at later points amid piles of sound that smack of everything from retro electronica to vaporwave to chillwave to Eno-style ambient. The way-too-short, Neon Indian-esque cyclone of noise "Do I Deserve This?" manages to be deeply thought-provoking with just a few vocal samples, while the joyous prog-rock boogaloo that ends "You Are Someone Special" is the perfect culmination of the track's radiant positivity.

Tholen spends much of Celestial Archive marveling at God's intricate design and care for his creation, down to the finest details. Tholen got married last year and moved to Germany after a long international courtship, and that sense of wonder at God’s master plan encompasses his relationship with his wife. While lots of googly-eyed lovers attribute the way they met to some vague cosmic destiny, on "Celestial Archive of Divinely Authored Plans", he traces God's sovereign orchestration all the way back to the foundation of the planet: "When the plan was made, the boundaries were laid, and the landforms were raised/I think he knew this would be the place/Where you'd meet me and I would meet you". 

The level of micromanagment that he describes - stacks of heavenly file cabinets stuffed with papers outlining everything you’ve ever done or will do - can get slagged as an existential straightjacket, but for Tholen, it’s the source of deep comfort and security. That’s because it’s grounded by an even deeper belief in God’s radical goodness. Those axioms shape everything about the wonderful Celestial Archive, whose simple thesis is summed up in the middle of the track “He Wrote It All Down”: "It's good to know that all you've been through was carefully arranged/By a God who really loves you".

Kesha has a new video and it might actually give you chills

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Yep, that Kesha.

Over the last several years, the creative output by The Artist Formerly Known as Ke$ha has been eclipsed by her high-profile legal battle with her producer Dr. Luke, whom she has accused of continuous sexual, physical, and emotional abuse. Multiple lawsuits from both sides concluded with no convictions, but Kesha has by no means let it go.

Or, maybe, she has. On her new single, "Praying", Kesha directly addresses Luke with a message that is shocking for the audacious grace it displays. After stating that "You brought the flames and you put me through hell", she sings that, "I hope you're somewhere prayin'/I hope your soul is changin'". 

She said this about the song: "I've found what I had thought was an unobtainable place of peace. This song is about coming to feel empathy for someone else even if they hurt you or scare you. It's a song about learning to be proud of the person you are even during low moments when you feel alone. It's also about hoping everyone, even someone who hurt you, can heal."

The song's music video, directed by Jonas Åkerlund, features stunning visuals, many of which come courtesy of on-location shooting at the late Leonard Knight's incredible, wonderful folk/outsider art landmark Salvation Mountain in the Colorado Desert. Check out "Praying" below. 

STREAKING IN TONGUES debuts video for the tenderhearted lament "Baby Bird"

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In 2016, songwriter Ronnie Ferguson shut himself in a remote cabin in northern Michigan to sit, pray, read a pile of spiritual books, and face the grief that had lingered since his father's death when Ronnie was only a teenager. STREAKING IN TONGUES' Life Support was the eventual product, a raw document of Ferguson's depression and grieving process. Like similarly-themed records, Sufjan Stevens' Carrie and Lowell and this year's A Crow Looked at Me by Mount Eerie, it's a gauntlet of a listen, but a work of sterling quality.

Today, Spirit You All is proud to premiere the music video for one of Life Support's most beautifully melancholic tracks. The visuals for "Baby Bird" come directly from the 1935 Dave Fleischer cartoon Song of the Birds, and somehow the film clip syncs perfectly with the song's tragic themes of guilt and isolation (as well as, you know... birds). Watch it below.

Watch John Coltrane's stunning elegy for the victims of the 1963 Birmingham church bombing

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54 years ago today, four members of the Ku Klux Klan planted dynamite beneath the front steps of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Four young African-American girls were killed in the explosion, and many others attending the Sunday morning service were injured.

Jazz legend John Coltrane wrote "Alabama" in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, and he modeled his tenor sax playing on the cadence of Dr. Martin Luther King's eulogy for the four girls, delivered at their funeral in the bombed church's sanctuary only three days after the attack. On December 7, 1963, Coltrane and his quartet played the piece on the television program Jazz Casual. It's a singularly powerful, gut-wrenching dirge, one that evokes a bottomless sorrow, but also, as Dr. King says in his speech, "God is able to lift you from the fatigue of despair to the buoyancy of hope, and transform dark and desolate valleys into sunlit paths of inner peace." Watch it below.

Nathan Partain // A Lovely Wait

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6.1

self-released / 2016

Two years ago, Indianapolis musician Nathan Partain gave us one of recent memory's best worship records with Jaywalker, an LP that mixed rollicking Creedence Clearwater Revival-style roots rock with the wide-eyed urgency of a revival tent preacher. Now Partain is back with another set of songs, though with a decidedly different tack. While Jaywalker channeled CCR and Sweetheart of the Rodeo-era Byrds, A Lovely Wait is a more modest, acoustic affair that fits snugly with folk-worship contemporaries like Sandra McCracken and Cardiphonia/The Liturgy Fellowship, of which Partain is a co-founder. His version of Psalm 136, "The Lord Is All That Is Good" was one of the standouts on Cardiphonia's Psalms release a few years back, and these eleven devotional songs have roots sunk similarly deep into Scripture.

Case in point: opener "You Were Not My People" traces the Biblical metanarrative of a God in relentless pursuit of a people who spurn him again and again. The verses initially echo the Law and Prophets, but culminate in the Incarnation and Crucifixion: "You spit on me, even as I kissed you... You crucified, and I let you".

Two other songs highlight different aspects of the anticipation implicit in the name of the album. One is the title track, where an the beat of an anxious snare throughout mirrors the longing of the chorus, "So I eat the dust, I wear the ash/I bear the hunger, I keep the fast". Album closer "We Shall Sing", on the other hand, practically shivers with joyful expectation - the celebratory guitar riff swings through the song like a wedding bell, and Partain echoes the Apostle Paul in Romans, singing, "The whole world of despair is not worth being compared/To what we shall see". A lovely wait indeed!

Bjéar // Bjéar

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7.3

self-released / 2017

It's a common thing for artists to look to far-flung cultures for inspiration, but Brae McKee, chief member of South Australian band Bjéar, found his in Iceland, on precisely the opposite side of the planet. And while the influence of the island nation's musical acts (most notably Sigur Rós) is certainly perceptible in Bjéar's sound, it's Icelandic folklore about elves or "huldufólk" that serves as the aesthetic touchstone for the group's debut record. The "hidden people" themselves never show up lyrically, but Bjéar's ethereal atmosphere manages to be evocative of the volcanic, otherwordly landscape where stories about them arose.

Despite that definite Sigur Rós influence, Bjéar owes its biggest stylistic debt to pre-22, a Million Bon Iver, whose sound is all over the first track, "Sierra". Opening the album with a gentle shiver of strings, the song sketches a picture of a northbound drive in the snow, and McKee's clipped falsetto refrain couldn't be more Vernonian when he sings, "I don't wanna waste my time/I don't wanna lay my line", giving way to sublimely triumphant trumpets.

Bjéar was recorded and produced entirely in McKee's home studio, but it's lushly appointed nevertheless, with some lovely instrumental flourishes; that the band is able to pull off moments like the breathtaking violin coda of "Firefall" is a testament to his considerable talent as a producer and arranger. On top of that, each of its nine tracks flow seamlessly into one another, strengthening the impression of a unified aesthetic whole - there's a assured coherence to Bjéar that's uncommon to debut records.

Nevertheless, "Cold", which centers on the arresting image of a mysterious inferno in a darkened wood, stands as the LP's cathartic high point. "It's a cold dark forest where we found the fire/And it burned me down and consumed my heart", sings McKee as the snare drum intones martially, before altering the line on the next verse: "It's a cold dark forest where we found desire". The song's got a reverent, numinous quality to it - it's almost a burning-bush moment - with its protagonist stripped existentially bare before something fearful and awesome. Though it's bound to remain ineffable, Bjéar is chasing that wonder through their music, and wherever the chase takes them in the future, it will certainly be worth following.

Loud Harp shares lyric video for "Immanuel" from upcoming record

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Post-rock-influenced worship duo Loud Harp recently announced a new album, and as part of the record's Kickstarter campaign they've shared a brand new track with a fetching lyric video to boot. From the sound of "Immanuel", Hope Where There Was None is picking up stylistically where 2014's Asaph left off, with shoegaze-y tones and punchy drums that slowly swell around a resolutely sanguine piano melody. Check out the lyric video below, and support the band by pre-ordering on Kickstarter here.

Hear Wilder Adkins's tribute to the Civil Rights Movement "Side by Side"

Last year's Hope & Sorrow by Wilder Adkins was a record aglow with a Wendell Berrian affection for nature, as well as for the unique charms of the Southern lifestyle. His newest single, however, released on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, reflects on Southern history, specifically that of his home city of Birmingham, Alabama. "Side by Side" is a tribute to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, and a somber nod the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing. According to Adkins, it's "an anthem for peace and a call to keep hoping and never give up fighting darkness with the power of light." (Side note: the Greek words at the top of the icon-like art mean "hope" and "sorrow")

Listen to "Side by Side" below.

Folksinger Seth Martin on protest and the power of roots music in a rootless age

Many experienced the political turmoil of the last year as a nauseating, all-consuming blitz, but for American folk artist Seth Martin, the turmoil was particularly inescapable. Not only was his home country in a state of upheaval, but so too was his adopted home of South Korea, where a stranger-than-fiction scandal led to massive demonstrations that drew over a million protesters and eventually resulted in President Park Geun-hye's removal from power.

Brought up near the mountains of Toledo, Washington, Martin has been recording music for over a decade and performing for even longer, often with a crew of musical comrades dubbed the Menders. Among the Menders's former tour companions are the legendary anarcho-Christian collective Psalters, four members of which can be heard on Martin's most recently released record, This Mountain. The album marks something of a turning point for Martin - not only has his songwriting shifted from a barefoot pastoralism to anxious, Guthrie-like woe-betides, but the newly-married musician has settled in South Korea long-term with his wife, visual artist Nan Young Lee. He's even adopted a parallel moniker (이산 - literally meaning "this mountain") for when he performs in Korean-language settings.

When Spirit You All met with Martin at the couple's home on a recent March evening in Seoul, (Editor's note: Spirit You All is based in Seoul, too, if you're wondering. We don't have the funds for globe-hopping interviews) it was only days since South Korea's highest court had approved President Park Geun-hye's impeachment and formally removed her from power (but weeks before military tensions started to ratchet up on the peninsula thanks to provocations from... people who should know better). We talked with Martin about he and his wife's involvement in the protests that led to the removal, as well as his new record and the enduring relevance of folk music:

SYA: What has your involvement in the recent, nationwide protest movement against (now-former) President Park Geun-hye been like?

SM: The short of it is that almost every weekend for the last several months, Nan Young and I have been at [historic city center] Gwanghwamun together, singing and marching and crying and yelling and laughing. On my personal end, everything I'm learning I'm trying to share through music and through writing. Sometimes actual published articles, but usually through online updates to whoever's reading, whoever's listening to me.

I feel a burden, or a responsibility, to use my voice as a writer and a musician in a different way than I did before. When I was in the States, I focused much more on spiritual and environmental "mending" and seeking peaceable relations. That's still what drives me now - the "mending" concept of seeking whatever brings us closer to home and to each other and to God. But being an American who mostly speaks English in a modernized South Korea, how that plays out is very different. 

I'm trying to learn to listen more. It sounds obvious, but with a long tradition of racism, colonialism and Orientalism, it still needs to be said: Koreans know more about Korea than a Westerner like me. My job is to lend support to whatever seems good, in whatever way I can. I believe there is a communication gap or a communication twist that happens when [information] comes through the pipeline back to the States. So I do have a valuable voice. I don't say so much my own opinion as I validate and say in English that what's going on here isn't what you're hearing in the news. Like any other place, this is an amazing, complicated place full of people who are doing hard work and are trying to make their lives better.

I start with the premise that I know very little. But the majority of my friends being Korean, I try to soak up everything I can, and when I have a chance to express or say something to a non-Korean audience, I try to reflect what they say. And almost always, it's counter to what everyone expects.

SYA: Apart from maybe your first album, The Iraqistan War and Other Stories, this is your most topical collection of songs. What motivated that shift?

SM: Time and place. I feel like the last two years, I've found a much more concentrated voice. It's not necessarily a voice I'll keep for future albums, but it definitely came about during the year before I came back to Korea [permanently] with Nan Young. There were similar things happening in the States and in Korea. One of them was poverty. (laughs) I should say, I am privileged and lucky, but it was always living to the last dollar and uncertain.

Also, I think, getting more involved than I ever had been in solidarity actions here. More direct things, like going on anti-nuclear, anti-militarization peace walks and stands, moving away from the abstract to focusing on concrete controversies and issues right now. And then I also have been studying so much of the art and the legacy of topical songwriters, and learning to hone and change some of my skills to communicate more clearly about specific things. So those things all mixed together.

Then on a personal level, I'm in a different culture and trying to ask questions like What kind of American am I? and What do I identify with? In this historical moment, my own country and my own heritage and my own religious foundation all seem to be in the death throes. Or maybe committing some kind of weird prolonged suicide and taking everyone else down with them. Yet I'm still in love with my homeland. I'm still in love with the people who raised me. I'm still a Christian. And I'm still in love with the legacy of American music and labor. So trying to distinguish those things in my own identity, while being in a different culture and seeing my home from the outside really sharpened my focus and my desire to communicate in a way that linked directly to these specific older traditions.

Every song on the album is not just influenced by but lives directly within the older songs. I intentionally used the old melodies, and that was almost a meditative, therapeutic practice. Like, when I'm walking or taking my commute, I'd listen to these older songs - hymns, labor songs, protest songs - that moved me, reminded me about what I love about home, and also made me nostalgic and touched me and gave me something to be proud of in my own heritage. At some point the concept emerged to make a whole batch of songs that speak to now the way those songs originally spoke to their time.

I tried to match the tone or the voice of the old song, to continue believing that the song is alive, all the culture connected to it is still alive, and then add my voice to it. It's something that's simultaneously humbling and also probably requires a lot of ego because you're putting yourself under a tradition - but also claiming that. So you're simultaneously honoring it, saying, "I'm incomplete without you, tradition." But also, "I'm ready to break and change you because I'm the most current form of you." You know what I mean? (laughs)

SYA: Can you provide some background for the track "Gureombi Norae"?

SM: I tried to tell the narrative as best I understood it from my Korean friends. Gureombi is the name of a volcanic rock formation that was almost completely obliterated - dynamited - in 2012 to lay the groundwork for the Gangjeong Naval Base, which is a joint South Korea-US naval base that docks warships that will be part of the war with China, if needs be. And hundreds of villagers and activists have been arrested trying to stop that base from happening. When one group was arrested, one of the police leaders said to them, "I'm not arresting you - Samsung is." It's a terrible story of local, small, not-very-powerful people getting wiped out by modern business contracts and the war machine.

Gureombi is the name of the main rock which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. But it was dynamited, and I tried to tell the story through the eyes of a long-time villager, watching it, wanting to stop it, not knowing what to do. It's connected to the melody of the old American hymn "Farther Along", and that hymn is also referenced by the Woody Guthrie classic "I've Got to Know". So ["Goreombi Norae"] connects that spiritual tradition and that activist tradition together. Legend says "I've Got to Know" was Woody Guthrie's almost-last or last song he wrote before he died. According to Utah Phillips and others in the folk tradition who have updated the lyrics, he was writing mostly about the bombing of Korea. "Farther Along" is a church song that's talking to someone who's depressed and sad, and basically says, "Why do the evil people not suffer? Why do they get on?" And the great spiritual truth that is so powerful for those who are suffering is, "Cheer up, we'll understand it farther along." But Woody Guthrie felt that that sentiment sometimes kept people from fighting back. So his version takes a similar lyrical bent, but he says, "I've got to know now." So I took that, with the history of those two songs, and made it about Gureombi.

This Mountain is available now on Bandcamp

*All photos by Grace Hilton*

Best of 2016 (Part 3)

Behold! The internet's final Best-of-2016 list - published a quarter of the way into 2017! Spirit You All has been on a necessary hiatus the last several months but is rising back to life and ready to tackle all the great music 2017 has already offered. But first, we need to acknowledge the trove of releases from last year we didn't have time to cover. Like 2015's list, these three posts (here Part 1 and Part 2) aren't a conventional ranked Best-Of, but rather thirty quality records that deserve your ears' attention. Enjoy, and a incredibly belated Happy New Year to you.

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Sho Baraka // The Narrative

Sho Baraka's incredible new record The Narrative could not have come at a more urgent time - anyone left feeling homeless by the prevailing, Manichaean political and religious dichotomies of our day will inhale it like oxygen. Based in Atlanta, the rapper has three ambitious albums under his belt already, and The Narrative broadens the scope even further, bristling with ideas and historical references that literally cross millenia. Like several of his Humble Beast labelmates, Baraka isn't bound by hoary conservative/progressive labels - he's preaching the Gospel here, with all its attendant implications, and his candor and wisdom are electrifying. It's not the Sho Show the whole time, though - producer Jamie Portee avails himself admirably with James Brown-channeling horns on "Soul, 1971", and Jackie Hill Perry and Lecrae contribute blistering verses to "Kanye, 2009" and "Here, 2016", respectively. For the politically alienated and the spiritually frustrated, for music fans in general, The Narrative is manna from heaven, and a bona fide masterpiece.

 

Harrison Lemke // Fertile Crescent Blues

The Mountain Goats didn't release any new music in 2016, but John Darnielle's musical progeny had a banner year. Whereas The Chairman Dances's wonderful Time Without Measure took strong cues from more recent, full-band incarnations of Darnielle's Mountain Goats, Harrison Lemke's new LP harkens back to the lo-fi era of The Coroner's Gambit or All Hail West Texas, when it was just Darnielle recording on his Panasonic boombox. A concept album about "the generations of Adam & Eve", Fertile Crescent Blues reads between the lines of Genesis, offering midrashic takes on the familiar narratives. Some of the most striking are Lemke's epilogues: the title track is a portrait of the post-Fall couple eking out subsistence in a newly broken world, while "Postdiluvian Homesick Blues" has Noah digging up drowned flood victims in his vineyard, "Skulls still adorned for their last festivals/So cruel but so beautiful/When last they sang with life". Songs like this always have to navigate between the rote and the irreverent, but Lemke nails it on Fertile Crescent Blues not because of a lack of fidelity or imagination, but a surplus of both.

 

Hiss Golden Messenger // Heart Like a Levee

M.C. Taylor has worked his fingers to the bone over six Hiss Golden Messenger releases, and his newest comes just as the years of toil have begun to pay off, a full-time music career beginning to seem viable. But the fruit of success is bittersweet - with an emphasis on the bitter - and Heart Like a Levee has Taylor dealing with the crushing guilt of a father who has to tour for long stretches of the year, asking if the career of his dreams is worth the cost to his family. Friends and collaborators from Megafaun and Bon Iver help with the arrangements on Heart Like a Levee, and Taylor's music has never sounded as lush or enchanting as in the gorgeous polyphony of strings and saxophone that closes "Ace of Cups Hung Low Band". There are no clear-cut solutions on Heart Like a Levee, but Taylor finds a way through the anguish on "Highland Grace", where he repents of being a "fool of the rule", and lets grace have its way with him, finding that "loving her was the easiest thing in the world".

 

Civilian // You Wouldn't Believe What Privilege Costs

A four-piece based in Nashville that hawks a cerebral brand of razor-sharp indie rock, Civilian makes a good impression on their debut LP for Tooth and Nail Records. Civilian's sound strongly recalls Death Cab for Cutie, though Civilian's sound hits a bit harder than Death Cab. And although frontman Ryan Alexander allows himself a Gibbardian romantic rumination or two, You Wouldn't Believe What Privilege Costs finds him venting societal and political anxieties for most of its runtime. "Reasons" voices skepticism at power grabs couched in religious language (There's reason to believe/We're a gun in the hand of a conman"), while "I Told You" is a stinging critique of rapture-ready theology: "They say, 'This beautiful garden is just a burial plot'/They couldn't be more wrong". Privilege is a solid intro to a talented band, and an effective appetite-wheter for more from them in the future.

 

Damien Jurado // Visions of Us on the Land

Dreamlike is the first word that comes to mind when trying to describe Damien Jurado's latest record, but that would be redundant - Jurado's entire Maraqopa trilogy, of which Visions of Us on the Land is the final installment, unfolds within a vision or a dream. The "plot"; as it were, is opaque (astute commentators say that's not really the point anyway), but Jurado's shining, liquid mercury voice, coupled with the textured, psychedelic soundscapes he crafts with producer Richard Swift, conjures a fantastical alternate reality that it's a pleasure to return to again and again. Visions' songs are pregnant with meaning, but it's a meaning that is only apprehensible through experience - or, as he sings, musing on what, if anything, lies beyond death: "There's only one way in/And it's through".

 

Joseph // I'm Alone, No You're Not

The late 90s were the Age of Hanson, but with the emergence of acts like First Aid Kit, Haim, and now Joseph, the late 2010s are apparently the Age of the Sister Group. Allison, Meegan, and Natalie Closner hail from Portland, Oregon, and their "genetically perfected harmonies" went a long way toward making their debut, 2014's Native Dreamer Kin, a memorable one. Their sophomore effort, I'm Alone, No You're Not, recruits famous Saddle Creek alum and Monsters of Folk member Mike Mogis as producer, and it pays off in spades, adding layers of studio polish to the sisters' songs, which swing effortlessly between delicate refrains and full-throated anthems. The Job-inspired "Whirlwind" is a terrific Florence and the Machine impression, but it's on the fantastic "Blood & Tears" where the sisters perfectly triangulate their adrenaline-shot sound, a declaration of love that's less romantic confessional than bellowing war cry.

 

David Åhlén // Hidden Light

Swedish musician David Åhlén's lovely 2016 record Hidden Light is the elusive, unicorn-like heir to a rarified musical tradition, one with no agreed-upon name, but which we can informally dub "Difficult Worship Music". Devotional music is commonly (and not without reason) accommodated to the lowest-common-denominator, and so the pantheon of Difficult Worship Music - which could alienate the listener with left-field musical choices, strange sonics, or a lack of resolution to its melodies - is small indeed (Glen Galaxy's 2011 album Thankyou probably stands as this miniscule genre's masterwork). Hidden Light is far less abrasive than Thankyou, however, with ethereal harmonies that float, fog-like, through Åhlén's sparsely-orchestrated compositions. The opening track "Morning Prayer" is a nuanced meditation where Åhlén's invitation to "invade my heart" is backed by a trumpet as gentle and delicate as spun gold. Despite its total lack of chorus, you're likely to hear its tones drifting on the liminal edges of your mind after the first few times you hear it. The album's other songs diverge from that sound significantly, but all have the same experimental DNA, earning Hidden Light a well-deserved place in the DWM Hall of Fame - hopefully Åhlén will contribute again soon.

 

The Gray Havens // Ghost of a King

Husband-and-wife duo David and Licia Radford have had quite the meteoric career over the last few years. As The Gray Havens, they released a well-received EP, followed by an accomplished debut LP in 2015, both of which were grounded by strong songwriting fundamentals and a direct and sweeping folk-pop sound. 2016's Ghost of a King ups the sonic ante once again, with frequent Andrew Peterson collaborator Ben Shive on the boards, putting a shellack of gleaming studio polish on the Radfords' messianic visions. But the aspect of Ghost of a King the Gray Havens deserve the most credit for is "Diamonds and Gold", a CHVRCHES-style electropop track that couldn't seem more ill-advised but somehow turns out goofily fun. Kudos to David Radford for the attitude he puts on those half-rapped vocals - that's true bravery right there.

 

Bill Mallonee // Slow Trauma

Bill Mallonee's electric guitar was part of what made Vigilantes of Love such a revelation to listeners in the 90s, but in the years since, his heavily acoustic solo records have turned deeply poetic lyricism and classic Americana atmosphere into the hallmarks of what we think of when we think Bill Mallonee. Slow Trauma puts the spotlight back on Mallonee's electric guitar chops in a big way, and they don't disappoint. The songwriter has a tragedian streak a mile wide, and Slow Trauma is packed with tales of aimless, heartbroken wanderers of the American West. Take the depressed, melancholic "Doldrums in Denver", where every instrument sounds mired in molasses, or the phenomenal, layered weave of guitars in the last minute or so of "Only Time Will Tell". It's a song you wish would just roll on and on, like the train tracks that bear Slow Trauma's weary passengers onward, into the slowly setting sun.

 

STREAKING IN TONGUES // Life Support

It's appropriate that the trailer for the new record from STREAKING IN TONGUES is a clip from The Exorcist III; Life Support is the sound of a man fighting off the devil. Ronnie Ferguson's father died when Ronnie was in high school, and when the 34-year-old songwriter and bandleader of STREAKING IN TONGUES relocated to the backwoods of northern Michigan - hours away from friends and bandmates - his long-submerged depression and grief returned with a vengeance. Life Support is a harrowing chronicle of the period, played and recorded almost entirely by Ferguson himself in his bedroom, and the 12 ramshackle, experimental tracks recall both Elliott Smith and Daniel Johnston in their raw interiority and desperation. This is staring-into-the-abyss stuff, and on songs like "Devil in My Ear", the abyss has grown teeth and claws and is beating down the bedroom door. And though it's an album that's swollen with pain, it's gilded with a hope against hope that God is actually real. Ronnie Ferguson has made an incredibly intimate, idiosyncratic record in Life Support, but on the heartbreaking, out-of-joint lament "Born to Bruise", he's getting at something universal when he sings, "I've gotta believe or I'll scream".