by dave heaton
An ongoing series, pondering 2022 music, five releases at a time.
Flowertown – Half Yesterday
Half Yesterday is an on-brand title for a Flowertown record; time and its haziness are at the forefront in the DIY dream-conversation pop music made by the duo (Karina Gill of Cindy and Michael Ramos of Tony Jay). In the title song, the phrase “half yesterday” refers to the moon – how can it look so full today, when it was a half-moon yesterday? Observations, questions, intimate conversations flow in natural harmony with the measured melodies and whispery vocals. Magic is real.
The Growth Eternal – Parasail-18
LA-based artist Byron Crenshaw, aka The Growth Eternal, plays progressive spaced-out soul music reflective of the inner whirlwind of a life. “Within Me”, one song is called, and the album seems to live there. Vocoder-heavy, moody songs shift in and out of melodies, memories and dreams, blurring through both the weight of life and varied personal attempts to escape that weight (the metaphorical parasails of the title). The vinyl and cassette versions add six songs and switch around the tracklist, adding some more directly hip-hop elements, while heightening the feeling of an artistic shape-shift, perpetual change.
John Carroll Kirby – Dance Ancestral
Renaissance man with ever-flowing locks (featured in painted form on the album cover), L.A. producer/musician John Carroll Kirby has a broad approach to ambient/jazz fusion/mellow soul/New Age-leaning instrumental music. Highly collaborative in his approach, Kirby this time teams with Yu Su (see her 2021 debut Yellow River Blue) for a metaphysical exploration of the moods of a day, in the form of enveloping fantasy vibes with lush grooves and soft-funk elevator jams.
Kendrick Lamar – Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers
Epic therapy session, chronicle of internal conflict, angsty exploration of grief/confusion/family legacy, purposeful disruption of any expectations we have for him as a social leader/positive force…the lyrics have been dissected to death over the last few months. So, can we talk about the music for a moment? Damn’s richly textured R&B, with an abundance of deep hip-hop allusions and light flirting with current-day hardcore beats, hasn’t been set aside. At times it’s doubled down on in rewarding ways (“Die Hard”, album-closer “Mirror”, and “Purple Hearts” with its inspired, lightning-in-a-bottle Ghostface Killah verse and playful Summer Walker appearance). For most of the album that sound is present but more skeletal and strange – it’s a minimalist extension and twisting of the last album’s sound, with abrasive moments and creepy ones. Percussion is a constant, partly through the stepper sounds alluded to in the title. Piano adds both emotion and strangeness. The album has been treated like either memoir or op-ed piece but there’s a musical theatre side to much of it, from the intro through “We Cry Together” (a song, resonating with classic hip-hop of the past, but easily mistaken for a skit, with an actress as duet partner) and beyond. Kendrick’s always had a theatrical side but here it’s part of the structure. Fitting for an album trying to tell a personal story in a big-statement way; the music just as capably, sometimes maybe more capably, tells a story of healing and conflict.
The Reds, Pinks & Purples – Summer at Land’s End
Is there a descriptor for when a musician with their own distinctive sound finds a way to take it in an even melancholier direction? Because if there is, that’s my favorite kind of music! Prolific creator Glenn Donaldson has played in many indie bands over the years – including overtly atmosphere-focused projects. As The Reds, Pinks & Purples, he’s released a few albums and a scattering of other songs – all swoony San Franciscan guitar-pop with a bittersweet air (think ‘jangly’ guitars, simple drums or drum machine, soft, matter-of-fact vocals filled with longing). Sometimes it’s like the melodic version of the thoughts a lonely city dweller has while going about day-to-day life; other times like a gentler one-man version of The Smiths with less “woe is me” drama. Summer at Land’s End has blown me away for how it takes that sound and one-ups it, on the lush sadness afloat, the brittleness of the singing, the way everything hangs on a precipice. Its gorgeous apocalyptic vibe pairs well with ‘our times’, it’s my soundtrack for 2022.