Current Listening

After working in-house at Intelligentsia Coffee for the past 4 years, I’ve recently struck out on my own again to pursue a freelance career. With extra bonus time saved from commuting, I’m now afforded the sweet luxuries of things like finding new inspiration and updating this long-neglected blog.

In June, I was invited to speak to the Minnesota chapter of AIGA, via the fantastic folks at Smartpress and WeWork, for their collaborative Behind the Print series. We discussed my personal path to becoming a designer and the confluence of graphic design and fine art. I met a lot of great people there who share my profession, some of whom wrote to me afterwards. One thing that excited me was a recurring piece of feedback on my website: appreciation for discussing new musical finds and interests. So, with my new-found freedom, I’m going to do my best to get back into that. And I’ll begin here with my favorite releases, starting in late 2017.

In the past year, nearly all of my go-to bands have released incredible records. I’ll just go chronologically since last fall and start with:

The Clientele - Music For the Age of Miracles 
The music of The Clientele, if you are not familiar, speaks in autumnal tones. There is always, even when uplifting, a sense of fading nostalgia, but also one of arcane wonder. It’s as if they stand, beckoning, at the shimmering threshold of some mystical realm that you must leave behind your most precious possessions in order to enter. Miracles was released at a time of existential upheaval in my life and I can’t listen to it without having those days come to mind. And I love it. I love that feeling, even though it’s sad. The music helps me appreciate that sadness, makes it something tangible and understandable, which in turn makes me happy. It’s pastoral psychedelia for long walks in the woods, early morning autumn sunlit coffee, and general reflection. And it’s definitely the band’s best record. Stand out tracks are “Falling Asleep” and “The Age of Miracles”, but, honestly, they’re all amazing.


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Jefre Cantu-Ledesma - On the Echoing Green JC-L’s most recent (2017) offering presents a sumptuous melding of styles he’s worked in throughout his career. Here, layers of white noise over sweet, summer harmonies evoke hazy sun-dappled park outings and blissful beach excursions. Influences that come to mind are William Basinsky, Fennez, and My Bloody Valentine. Definitely more enjoyable on vinyl, with the digital download you get an epic collection of extras, titled Hermanutics, whose quality certainly warrant a full release on their own.

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Disasterpeace - Hyperlight Drifter OST Admittedly, I came to this a bit late, as it was initially released in 2016. You may know Disasterpeace’s work from his score to the popular horror/suspense film It Follows. This is another excellent soundtrack, not the first of which he has written for a video game. As a video game score, it works perfectly, adding a compelling and unique layer of atmosphere to the game’s mysterious, post-apocalyptic landscape that somehow manages to conjure the worlds of The Legend of Zelda and Bladerunner simultaneously. It’s a fantastic game, but the this score stands perfectly on its own. It’s an excellent blend of of Koji Kondo’s groundbreaking work for the original Zelda and Vangelis’ dense Bladerunner score (specifically the Esper Edition). Personal favorite tracks are “The Midnight Wood” and the full version of “Panacea”, which heavily references Vangelis’ “Memories of Green” from Bladerunner.

the Ratiofarm's favorite albums of 2016

If nothing else, this past year was great for music, and a banner year for metal. It's hard to whittle it down to just a handful of favorites, but it's impossible to deny that our attentions tend to gravitate to specific influences, so here is a general list of my favorites from the year:

 

My favorite reissue of the year is Joanna Brouk's Hearing Music. Beautiful minimalist pieces, bordering on New Age, but mostly too off-center or melancholy to fit in to that often saccharine genre. Many different approaches to ambient minimalism, each track is most frequently only one or two instruments, from which Ms. Brouk coaxes the most alluring landscapes.

 

Shirley Collins - Lodestar. Long ago, Ms Collins had a high, delicate voice that brought to mind youthful days spent in sun dappled forests and golden meadows. She sang traditional British folk songs that were simultaneously naive and full of ancient wisdom. After a lengthy period of withdrawal from the musical life, she has returned to sing the ancient songs of her land anew. Her voice is a different instrument now, and casts an intriguing light upon the themes of these fables. If you are fan of The Pentangle, Vashti Bunyan and the like, or the more recent crop of psych-folk and dark-folk, this record is not to be missed.  

 

Crystal Castles - Amnesty. I wanted to hate this too, but it's fucking great. Perhaps the most cohesive CC album to date. 

 

Com Truise - Silicon Tare. The Com Truise take on 80's style synth music is continually the standard, as far as I'm concerned. Each track on this 5 song EP is densely layered and far beyond the typical style that simply apes the origins without adding any new or creative concepts. If you enjoyed the music of that ubiquitous show about pre-teen, D&D kids that came out over the summer, do yourself a solid and listen to this guy's full catalogue.    

 

Courtney Marie Andrews - Honest LifeLyrically, CMA needs a little bit more development, but when she nails it she nails it. "How Quickly Your Heart Mends" and 'Rookie Dreaming" are a couple of my favorite "pop" songs of the year, and her voice is Emmy Lou Harris reborn.

 

Huerco S. -  For Those Of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have). Soft blankets of bittersweet nostalgia, woven from simple ambient loops.

 

Ulaan Markhor - Detritus 2010-2016 & Ulaan PasserineThe Great Unwinding & Moss Cathedral. Steven R. Smith makes more soundtracks to the (encroaching) end and the barren landscape we are each doomed to walk alone. He's without a doubt my favorite musician of the past 15 years. Devastating and beautiful music for existential musing.

 

Darkthrone - Arctic Thunder. It seems like Metal is a genre that frequently has little sense of humor, or maybe I'm just not well versed enough to pick up on the subtleties. That said, there's no way these guys aren't having a great time. Arctic Thunder is equal parts horrifically intimidating and utterly hilarious, all while being catchy as fuck.

 

Vektor - Terminal ReduxFuck, this album is the definition of intense. I'm not usually into the calculated pretense of prog-influenced music, but this is like five albums playing all at once and making perfect sense. I also love a solid concept album (which is something that's honestly hard to find) and Vektor's "Sci-fi or Die" approach is just uber-satisfying. I've probably listened to this record more than any other in 2016, beacuse there's so much to hear and unpack. Some people have told me that it's too much, but I just want more. Lots of fantastic metal was released this year, but this was without a doubt my favorite. And they absolutely destroyed live, too.

 

Vinyl Williams - Brunei. Super trippy, laid back psych-rock for when you want to forget about all the bullshit and feel like you're in a parallel dimension made of good vibes and kaleidoscopic crystal laser-beams.  

 

Morgan Delt - Phase Zero. Brunei's psych-pop foil. This is Vinyl Williams' paranoid older brother who just escaped some secret, government-funded LSD cult. He's seen some shit and, while you might not believe it, there's probably more truth to his stories than there seems. Absolutely addictive songs that are seething just under the surface. Closer "Some Sunsick Day" is one of my favorite tracks of the year.    

 

Debo band - Ere Gobez. Imagine if the Budos Band veered into moments of psychedelic improvisation and New Orleans street brass, while being fronted by an amazing Ethiopian singer.  This is a vast and inspired album that gives more and more with each listen. Debo Band deftly careens through genres without ever once sounding contrived or unoriginal. This album is super exciting, and if you get the chance, see them live. They will blow you away.   

 

Euvium - False Readings On. Grandiose-ambient, is that an oxymoron? Matthew Robert Cooper continues to evolve his sound. Boarding on twee melodrama at times, this is still an overwhelming listen that will leave have you enwrapped from start to finish. 

 

 

Dungen - Häxan. Wow! I've been wishing for this album since I first discovered Dungen. Strange instrumentals have always been their strong suit as far as I'm concerned, and this album finally fully realizes that. I've listened to Häxan on repeat and I still can't get enough. My only complaint is that it's too brief.  

 

 

It seems that only once every ten years or so, a game changing record is released, frequently without much fanfare. Something that really pushes the boundaries of what is acceptable on a broadly popular scale, and is maybe overlooked for it's first few years of existence. But then, when enough momentum has gathered, it swells like a great tsunami wave and the face of music is altered for at least another decade. R.E.M.'s Murmur, My Bloody Valentine's Loveless, Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane, Joanna Newsome's The Milk Eyed Mender all come to mind. Personally, I am frequently never ready for these milestones myself, and often find my first reaction to be one of shock in that someone would want to listen to the sound that is coming through the speakers. But, usually, there's a new and unusual hook that snags me, be it lyrically or musically, and then my eyes are opened like god himself has illuminated the path before me. With out a doubt, Adam Torres' Pearls to Swine is that album of the 20-teens. Sung from the perspective of some anchorite wandering the fringes, yet achingly personal, Pearls touches a universal nerve that only music's greatest mystics are capable of. Torres' voice is like the Aurora Borealis; ghostly, shimmering above our heads in some beautiful, untouchable liminal space. His words concisely convey the human condition in an utterly unique and poetic way that is somewhat like reliving your happiest and saddest memories simultaneously. And the music is the perfect, unseen companion to his journey, sometimes gently guiding, sometimes circling, sometimes calling out from behind, or perhaps it's more the landscape that each song walks us through. It's music like this that makes me grateful to be alive.   

 

Bryn Mawr Breakfast Club, North Park, Chicago IL

Another project I was involved in over the summer was creating the logo and signage for a new brunch spot in Chicago's North Park neighborhood at Bryn Mawr and Kedzie. The owner and head chef Manny Mejia has cooked for M Henry and Jin Ju in Andersonville, and worked on the interior with Daniel Malone of Roost.

I primarily worked with Mr. Malone on this project to ensure the aesthetic continuity. His approach is generally a rustic, mid-century farm house feel, which is reflected in other projects he's worked on, but most notably his interiors store Roost, also located in Andersonville.  He wanted imagery to tie his shop together with the Bryn Mawr Breakfast Club (BBC), which he also named. I drew the dandy rooster, a thematic element at Roost, and utilized a few fonts inspired by mid-century typefaces. 

My next step for the restaurant is making the website and shooting photos. In the meantime, here's the yelp page for BBC. Interior and exterior shots to come...

BBC logo and sign

BBC logo and sign

Update Interiors, Oak Park IL

Back at the beginning of the year I was working on a branding project with friend frequent collaborator Bryn McCoy of Technofisch. After going through quite a few great ideas, we settled on this logo with the client. It happened kind of accidentally. As I was making this typeface and trying some different stroke widths, I ended up stacking them to compare. I thought it looked as if the bottom "Update" was gradually emerging and taking its full form from the top. This idea of emergence speaks to the identity of the store, so I decided to send it along to the client as it was. 

A mention in Time Out Chicago

A shot of the interior

Exterior signage

RECENT EXCURSIONS

In October, we at the Ratiofarm travelled to Covington Kentucky to see Elf Power and Neutral Milk Hotel perform. I, personally, have seen Elf Power more times than I can remember, and always look forward to seeing them. Andrew Reiger is like some melancholic shaman with a vast musical palate to draw from. 

Elf Power

 It was really great to finally see Neutral Milk as a complete entity, and they seemed ecstatic to be performing again.

Neutral Milk Hotel

However, it would have been nice if everyone had let him sing his songs.

Jeff Mangum, with beard disguise

The next day we explored Covington, looking for plaques about the underground railroad, which famously paused there just before ending across the Ohio River in Cincinnati. We were struck by how beautiful the town was. I also had one of the best cups of coffee I've ever had the pleasure to experience, this Ethiopian single origin from Deeper Roots coffee roasters at Left Bank Coffee

A few pictures of Covington:

an old carriage house beside Left Bank.

 

Additionally, the day before the Neutral Milk show, a friend took me to see Goblin perform at the Metro in Chicago. It was their very first tour in America and they were so excited it was hilarious.

Goblin at the Metro, Oct 13

Sick shredding adorned by devil horns galore as they rocked all of their classic tunes. 

Goblin at the Metro, Oct 13

Goblin at the Metro, Oct 13

Added bonus! Got to see the remastered final cut of The Wicker Man at the Music Box.

A classic horror/psychedelic masterpiece. It gets better with every viewing.