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 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.
Cheri Knight – American Rituals (Freedom to Spend)
In late ’70s Olympia, years before the city became indie rock and riot grrrl ground zero, Cheri Knight studied experimental music composition at the interdisciplinary art school Evergreen State College. Inspired by the teachings of Pauline Oliveros (who she worked with as an apprentice), Knight created a series of vocal-based sound collages. Layering words, numbers, and syllables into polyrhythmic arrays, her music has the mesmerizing qualities of minimalist works by Steve Reich or Meredith Monk, despite being made with only one voice. Pieces in this archival collection are accompanied by synths, chiming percussion, and even a deconstructed post-punk groove on the stunning “Breathe.” Knight’s works have previously been scattered across hyper-obscure cassettes from the PNW avant-garde scene, so it’s a testament to Freedom to Spend that they were able to compile recordings so rare that the artist herself hadn’t heard them in decades. After leaving school, Knight joined alt-country band Blood Oranges, produced by Steve Earle. She would go on to greatness, but her early vocal experiments are so otherworldly and beautiful that they feel like they emerged from the ether.
Moor Mother – Jazz Codes (ANTI-)
You can toss a rock and hit five artists who claim to defy genres, but few interrogate the boundaries between like Camae Ayewa (a.k.a. Moor Mother). Jazz Codes has a gauzy, dreamlike vibe in comparison to the scorch of her band Irreversible Entanglements, yet its words feel just as urgent. Looking back at Black musical innovators and the many ways they have been written out of the history books, the album nods to heroes like Outkast, Dizzy Gillespie, and Mary Lou Williams. “UMZANSI”, featuring harpist Mary Lattimore, imagines what it might have sounded like if Alice Coltrane got into Chicago footwork.
Puppet Wipes – The Stones Are Watching And They Can Be A Handful (Siltbreeze)
I’ve been a fan of Calgarian punk weirdo Arielle McCuaig (Janitor Scum, Hairnet, Pee Blood Records) for a dog’s age, so it’s a thrill to see her latest project released by Siltbreeze. On Puppet Wipes’ debut LP, the duo of McCuaig and her Vacuum Rebuilders bandmate Kayla McNeill spontaneously composed cracked pop songs with ramshackle arrangements of guitar, synth, and clarinet tucked under a blanket of hiss. Puppet Wipes aren’t as full-bore punk as you might expect, but they’re just as playfully bizarre as their Tin Huey namesake.
Christina Vantzou, Michael Harrison, and John Also Bennet – S/T (Séance Centre)
After years of working as La Monte Young’s piano tuner and studying as Pandit Pran Nath’s disciple, composer Michael Harrison developed his own systems of tuning. This sweeping double album emerged from Harrison’s daily raga practices under the direction of ambient artist Christina Vantzou. John Also Bennett then contributed humming synth drones and pirouetting piano improvisations on Harrison’s custom Steinway concert grand. Listening to four sides of instruments in just intonation is a blissful escape from the standard sounds of Western music as we know it.
Westside Gunn – Peace “Fly” God (Griselda)
Griselda Records founder Westside Gunn has downplayed this mixtape as a “teaser” for his upcoming collab with A$AP Rocky. Even if the project feels tossed off, Gunn rapping over Madlib beats is always worth hearing, and producer Don Carerra’s “Jesus Crack” is a bona fide epic. Across eight minutes of syrupy soul warble, Estee Nack gruffly sets the table before Gunn hypes things up like Flavor Flav. After zooming in on a few of Grand Puba’s bars from Brand Nubian’s “Slow Down”, Stove God Cooks turns the heat up with a chanted refrain about the world’s devotion to the dope man. Listening to the whole thing straight sounds like a crate of records melting on the sidewalk as your mind sizzles.
Fiver – Soundtrack to A More Radiant Sphere: The Joe Wallace Mixtape (You’ve Changed)
Fiver returns with a soundtrack for the film A More Radiant Sphere, featuring interpretations of five poems written by director Sara Wylie’s great uncle, the communist political prisoner Joe Wallace. Joined by musicians including fiddle player John Showman, the mixtape concludes with a series of drippy instrumental jams based on the song-poems’ melodic themes. Singer-guitarist Simone Schmidt describes “Song of the Mournful Millionaire” (written by Wallace in 1950) as “the most prescient of all”, dedicating it to “the space exploring perverts” Elon Musk and Richard Branson. Their voice sounds resolute as they inhabit the poem’s subject, pitching up to alien frequencies while gleefully announcing the next location of their galactic colonization: “My only market is Mars!”
Lawn – Bigger Sprout (Born Yesterday)
New Orleans’ Lawn are a band with two distinct personalities. The songs written by guitarist Mac Folger (“Down,” “Running My Luck”) sail on strummy jangle-pop melodies with high, gliding vocals in the vein of Heaven For Real’s quieter numbers. Meanwhile, the ripping tunes by bassist Rui de Magalhães (“Medicine Forever”, “Night Life”, “Prefect”) have a shouty, frenetic sound with the sugar rush of Uranium Club. The duo’s contrasting approaches turn this collection of EPs into a zig-zagging whiplash of hooks. Fun stuff!
C. Ross – Skull Creator (Echodelick / NoiseAgonyMayhem / Ramble)
Toronto’s Chad Ross is best known as the frontman of heavy psych bands Comet Control and Quest for Fire, making this solo diversion into country-fried dad rock feel like a surprising slowdown. With production and instrumental contributions from Vancouver indie-rock mainstay Joshua Wells (Lightning Dust, Destroyer, Black Mountain), the album sounds as spotless as a CD copy of Pink Floyd’s Meddle. “Wrong Side of the Sky”, featuring Aaron Goldstein on pedal steel, is a melancholy, introspective coast through the clouds.
Mush – Down Tools (Memphis Industries)
A little over a year since their last album, Leeds post-punks Mush have reinvented themselves. 2021’s Lines Redacted was packed with political commentary, while also paying tribute to their late guitarist Steven Tyson, who passed away shortly before it was released. Down Tools casts the spotlight on new guitarist Myles Kirk, who improvised his solos to give the band a loose, twangy feel that’s closer to Pavement or Blur than the Go4ish sound Mush are known for. I’m a big fan of the clopping cowbells and melted Velvets riffs of “Get On Yer Soapbox.” Good tunes, lads!
Biluka Y Los Canibales – Leaf Playing in Quito, 1960-1965 (Honest Jon’s)
This compilation captures the joyful sound of a singular talent from the golden age of Ecuadorian jazz. The instrument played by Dilson de Souza (a.k.a. Biluka) was a single leaf from a Fica tree, which he used to dance around the sounds of the pan flute, organ, and xylophone with astonishing skill. According to the liner notes, “Dilson played the leaf open, resting on his tongue, hands free, with his mouth as the resonator. Though a leaf can also be played rolled or folded in half, this method allowed for more precision, a tethered brilliance.” His jaunty trills on an instrument plucked from a tree must be heard to be believed.