Tony Stamp scours the pastoral folk of Naima Bock, a raucous pop lynchpin from Hurray to the Riff Raff, and new soundscapes courtesy of Wellington producer Jet Jaguar.
giant palm tree by Naima Bock
Naima Bock was once known as Naima Jelly, when she was a member of South London hit band Goat Girl, which she co-founded as a teenager. This outfit traffics in nervous post-punk, and Bock found herself exhausted by the analytical nature of it all, wanting to do something detached from politics and self-analysis.
There’s a reverie floating through his solo debut giant palm tree, about as far from punk as it gets. If anything, the focus is on slowing down. Artists respond to our planet’s various problems in various ways, and Bock’s response appears to be a happy surrender.
Around the time Naima Bock left Goat Girl, another musician from London called Joel Burton also left her band. He fell in love with guitars and studied classical piano, investing himself in experimental improvisation and orchestral music.
He and Bock became aware of each other and ended up collaborating on this album. Burton said, “I was doing a lot of things that were very diffuse, and Naima had all these songs that were fixed and could act as a really good anchor”.
Burton’s sense of when to intrude on Bock’s tiny bits is expertly judged, and the London lockdown became something of a blessing, as many of their friends were free to join them in the studio. Over 30 musicians contributed. Burton told The Quietus he asked himself “why not be as ambitious as possible?”
However, every contribution feels intentional, and it still comes across as a solo album, just an album that occasionally morphs into something more communal.
Bock was born in Scotland and spent her early childhood in Brazil. Her stepfather was a folk enthusiast and she developed a fascination with the standards of the genre, researching earlier interpretations as far back as possible.
His affinity for British folk is obvious, but sometimes elements of Brazilian genres like bossa nova can be found in his songs, such as on “Working”.
After leaving Goat Girl, she studied archeology and started working as a gardener, two things that seem very fitting – her music evokes a sense of history and a love of nature.
She wrote many songs about Giant Palm while taking long walks, which she talks about in the album’s PR, saying “there’s a stripping that takes place” as she heads to a “fixed” destination. but distant.
This tranquility and calmness of thought are apparent everywhere. Her distinctive voice acts as a solid barometer, while Joel Burton’s diverse contributions surge around her like gusts of hilltop wind.
life on earth by Hooray for the Riff Raff
Many artists change their style, but they usually don’t change as much as Hurray did for the Riff Raff, who started his career doing folk Americana, and continued in that vein for a while, only to later switch to the electronic pop and rock modes. And it’s not just about changing producers and putting a fresh coat of paint on familiar songs, it’s about changing from scratch – new types of the song who often feels like a completely new artist. There’s a sense of liberation that runs through their latest album.
Hooray for the Riff Raff is the project of Alynda Segarra, who was born in the Bronx and moved to New Orleans after an adolescence of hopping freight trains and traveling across America – a The myth-making romantic bit that comes up in every profile of them, but Segarra admits they can barely remember it.
Their last album The browser explored their Puerto Rican heritage lyrically as well as musically. It colored their sound with new elements, but life on earth feels like a fresh start.
Segarra also changed as a person – they told Pitchfork that they were “trying to create a new path in [their] brain”. Reading interviews, they encourage people to consider this their first album, and there’s an overall feeling of becoming a new person, but not necessarily leaving the past behind.
On Wolves, they sing “You’ve got to run babe/ you know how to run” over an insistent drum loop. It’s an echo of their itinerant past, and through the album, that sense of flight is tied to the immigrant experience in America.
life on earththe overall philosophy of is specific, coming from Segarra’s reading of the 2017 militant text Emerging strategywho theorizes about “radical self-help and helping the planet”, viewing all life on earth as intertwined.
They hypothetically asked the Guardian “How do we stay present, how intensely do we feel the joy and not just the crushing weight of it all?” The album presents responses in the form of empathy. An example is “Jupiter’s Dance”, which they claim provides support for migrant children.
In 2019, Segarra visited ICE facilities in Louisiana (i.e. Immigration and Customs Enforcement). With the organization freedom for immigrants, they helped free two men from the compound. In the song “Precious Cargo”, they tell the story of a family of imprisoned migrants, before one of the men they helped joins them, telling his own story.
life on earth is a particularly heavy thing to call an album, but its substance justifies it. They’re not heavy songs though, they’re easy to digest and uplifting – Segarra has a voice with a wearyness that speaks of a difficult past, but their songs aim to be dynamic. Joy in the face of oppression is the whole idea.
At one point in the song “Nightqueen”, poet Ocean Vuong can be heard in a snippet that gives the album its title, saying “As a species, as life on Earth, we have been dying for millennia” , says Vuong. “But I don’t think the energy dies. It just transforms.
Ambient Tones by Jet Jaguar
Many years ago, when I was studying music production, a tutor told me that he thought the future of music would be based on sound more than melody or harmony – he thought every possible combination of notes had been made, so the only progress left was in the area of timbre and tone.
To look at music that way, as if it were a vast, partially unknown continent, is something I still consider, and I think time has partially vindicated it – songwriting is still developing. reinvent, but it is true that there are no more limits when it comes to sound design.
Wellington musician Michael Upton AKA Jet Jaguar has pitched his tent in this particular area. There are traces of melody to be found, but his music is mostly about creating new sound spaces.
His 1999 self-titled debut album was built around the fusion of hip hop, dub and electronic production, and is emblematic of a booming “New Zealand sound” that came with the necessary gear becoming more affordable.
In recent years his work has drifted into more abstract realms, focusing on real-world sounds, sometimes manipulated into something new, sometimes presented as they are. This new album Room tones signals a return to the structure.
His earlier release was Registrationand in the notes to it, Upton wrote that he sees his music as a diary. Registration was the culmination of his interest in ambient music – tracks revolved around a hum of apparatus, or thunder, with place names in some tracks, like “Vanuatu, With a Fridge” and “Storm in Lisboa”.
When I interviewed him in 2018, he told me about a frog pond recorded in Vietnam, and how he used his recordings as a starting point for composition. If they came from trips abroad years before, that was even better, because those sounds provided an unknown starting point. The tradition continues here on tracks like “Ōokayama Cats At Night”.
This is Jet Jaguar’s second release to be released on Shimmering Moods, an Amsterdam label. According to their website, they offer music that “provides the listener with a soundtrack for daydreaming, city or nature walks, creative activity, meditation, or invites them into fully focused listening.”
It certainly matches the music on Room tones. “Tonal Drift” sounds exactly like its name, built around a drone that gradually changes over its duration, seemingly simple yet carefully calibrated in its lush depth.
Michael Upton writes in the liner notes for this album: “In sound work for movies and so on, recording a ‘room tone’ is where you record the space where the action is going to happen, but during that nothing happens. I’m always interested in music where not much happens, so “Room Tones” made me laugh – a collection of recordings that are barely there but still serve a point? The name clicked.
As Michael says, not much is going on in this music – on the surface, of course. Listen closer and there’s a rich tapestry of detail on every track. The idea that this music reveals itself slowly seduces me, and on Room tonesas always, Jet Jaguar creates sonic spaces in which it is very pleasant to get lost.