Dance The Mutation is a monthly column from Ears to Feed contributor Jesse Locke, highlighting the most exciting new music releases and archival reissues that come across his radar. Dance the Mutation was formerly a radio show on KPISS FM, and before that it was a song by Simply Saucer, the band that Jesse wrote an entire book about.
Elevator To Hell – Parts 1-3 Extra (Blue Fog Recordings)
Midway through the existence of Eric’s Trip, Moncton home recording hero Rick White began releasing music as Elevator To Hell, before evolving to Elevator Through Hell, and eventually just Elevator. His earliest solo efforts were released by Sub Pop in 1995, and have long been out of print until this expanded 2LP reissue made them available again, tacking on 10 more songs from a rare demo tape. White’s sound from this era is gloriously lo-fi, whether accompanied by preset rhythms or the powerhouse drumming of bandmate Mark Gaudet, while Tara Landry’s sundazed vocals provide a welcome counterpart to downcast lyrics about drugs and sex. By avoiding the outside, Elevator To Hell created a vast inner world.
Beast Nest – Sicko (Ratskin Records)
Sicko is an album meant for healing, even if it might not sound like it at first blush. As a survivor of the Oakland Ghost Ship fire, Beast Nest’s Sharmi Basu has been working on this collection of squelchy, lo-fi beatscapes since the tragic incident occurred in 2016. There are moments of darkness, but by the time they reach the chirping arpeggios of “Ur Doing Great Sweaty” (one of the year’s best song titles), the light streams in from all directions.
Raum – Daughter (Yellow Electric)
Grouper’s Liz Harris and drone artist Jefre Cantu-Ledesma returned in February with the surprise release of a second collaborative album from their duo, Raum. Daughter was initially recorded in 2016 at the Marfa Myths festival, where they were joined by the late filmmaker Paul Clipson for an audiovisual performance. The whir of Clipson’s projector can be briefly heard near the beginning of this ambient elegy, before it is softly subsumed into the watery pianos and wordless vocals we can now expect from Grouper. “Revolving Door” enters new territory, using intimate sounds like a squishy walk into a life beyond this one.
Etran de L’Aïr – Agadez (Sahel Sounds)
Etran de L’Aïr formed 27 years ago, performing at weddings in their hometown of Agadez, Niger. Now led by a frontline of three guitarists, the group descended from the nomadic Tuareg people play a free-flowing style of the Saharan rock sound popularized by Tinariwen, Les Filles de Illighadad and Mdou Moctar. Etran’s latest album pays tribute to the city where this music was born with endless solos flanked by call-and-response vocals. If it doesn’t get your toes tapping, you might want to check on your feet.
Provincial Parcs – Scenic Equilibrium (Safe Sounds)
One-man electronic jazz unit Rob Nicholls (a.k.a. Provincial Parcs) attempts to channel Headhunters-era Herbie Hancock on this gently fried audiovisual release. Wistful woodwinds and cycling Rhodes pianos are layered over with mellotron moodiness while the songs surf laid back grooves occasionally cresting into thumping beats. Meanwhile, the visuals in the accompanying DVD, VHS tape, or interactive website have a neon-hued soft psych aesthetic reminiscent of mid-aughts hypnagogic pop. Time traveling has rarely felt this blissful.
Kee Avil – Crease (Constellation Records)
Vicky Mettler is a veteran of the Montréal experimental music community, playing with Sam Shalabi’s Land of Kush orchestra among many other projects. As Kee Avil, she deconstructs post-punky chamber-pop into its composite parts before stitching the sounds back together. Breathy, barely there vocals are layered over twitchy electroacoustic collages and spindly This Heat-style guitars. The spookiest moments recall Gazelle Twin, but Kee Avil’s avant-pop gestures are more careful, like a tarantula stepping tenderly over broken glass.
Modern Nature – Island Of Noise (Bella Union)
In a podcast interview, Modern Nature saxophonist Jeff Tobias compared founding member Jack Cooper to Howard Stern during the release of Private Parts. The soft-spoken British musician is the furthest thing from a shock jock, but Cooper has mastered multiple mediums with this ambitious box set. Alongside vocal and instrumental versions of the album, there’s a book of poems and illustrations, and even an accompanying film. Cooper’s whispered vocals and Tobias’s rippling tone are accompanied by guests such as free-jazz legend Evan Parker, as the ensemble sways toward the pastoral post-rock of Talk Talk.
Darto – Tolting (Slow Thrive)
If you’ve never heard of Darto, don’t fret. This retrospective compilation highlights various eras of the noisy Seattle group’s recordings from 2009-2019. The swooning vocals of first single “Fundamental and Slyme” feel like a Trojan Horse as the hour-long release switches into feedback-drenched pigfuck, Unwound-style post-hardcore, and soaring Dinosaur Jr. inspired solos. Whatever flavour of American underground rock is your favourite, Darto have you covered.
Tony Price – Mark VI (Telephone Explosion)
As a producer, Anthony Nemet’s fingerprints can be found on recordings from U.S. Girls, Ice Cream, and Badge Époque Ensemble. The latest release from his solo alias Tony Price began with a bag of mixtapes found in the trunk of a Lincoln Continental Mark IV, purchased from a former radio DJ. Nemet used this source material to create a blown-out collage of thumping beats, disembodied vocals, and snippets of commercials, with the buzzy sounds of the street bleeding in. Listening feels like cruising late at night in a stretched out luxury car with nowhere to go and the stereo on full blast.
Wayne McGhie – Wayne ‘76 (Voluntary In Nature)
In the early 2000s, Jamaican-Canadian musician Wayne McGhie connected with historian Kevin “Sipreano” Howes for the reissues of his 1970 album Wayne McGhie & The Sounds of Joy and the Jamaica to Toronto compilation, both released by Light in the Attic. Howes has now continued this essential work with the launch of a Bandcamp page for his long-running archival project, Voluntary In Nature. One of several releases available is McGhie’s 1976 sophomore album, preserved from tape reels that have never seen the light of day until now. Silky soul, strutting disco grooves, and easygoing reggae tunes about the power of music make it clear that joy was still the sound McGhie had in mind.