'Black Mirror' And 'Electric Dreams' Prove It: The Anthology Show Is Back

Jack Reynor and Geraldine Chaplin star in the “Impossible Planet” episode of the Amazon series Electric Dreams.

Christopher Raphael /Amazon

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Christopher Raphael /Amazon

Some TV genres are perennials. They’ve been around since the early days of television, and probably are never going away — weekly drama series featuring doctors or cops, for example.

Other TV genres are like locusts. They get buried, lying dormant, until they suddenly resurface. On prime time TV, the game show was dead for decades until Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? brought it back. And quite recently, Netflix’s Godless, like HBO’s Deadwood years before it, did its best to try and revive the TV Western.

But no genre on television, in this century, has had a bigger and better resurgence than the anthology series. In the early golden age of TV, these shows were performed live, with programs like Kraft Television Theatre and Goodyear Television Playhouse presenting great dramas like Rod Serling’s Requiem for a Heavyweight and Paddy Chayefsky’s Marty.

Then came filmed anthology shows, often hosted by the program’s creators: writer Serling, again, with The Twilight Zone, and director Alfred Hitchcock with Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Eventually, this genre lost out to the weekly dramatic series, where the same protagonist returned every week in a format that was easier to promote and prolong. But TV lost something in the process — the thrill of uncertainty, where anything can happen, and any character can be in real danger and even die, and stories can actually wrap up in relatively quick fashion.

Now, almost out of nowhere, the anthology series is back — and in some cases, literally is bigger than ever.

The modern standard-issue anthology shows are actually post-modern, and basically deal with themes of technology versus humanity. The best of them is Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror, which began in England and now is co-produced by Netflix.

Last year, an expanded Black Mirror episode won a pair of Emmys. This year, with an expanded episode called “USS Callister,” I expect it may do the same. It’s a wonderful story about a character trapped against her will in an alternate computerized reality — the same idea also explored, right now on TV, in a stand-alone episode of Fox’s The X-Files, and in an episode of yet another anthology series, Amazon’s Electric Dreams, based on the stories of Philip K. Dick.

Dick is the science-fiction writer who, some 50 years ago, wrote the stories that later inspired the movies Blade Runner, Total Recall and Minority Report. For this new series, which includes Bryan Cranston of Breaking Bad as one of its executive producers and stars, the old stories are adapted very freely — sometimes almost unrecognizably, but usually with impressive results.

One of the best adaptations, called “Safe and Sound,” is based on a 1955 Dick story called “Foster, You’re Dead.” The original story was about a high-school boy whose family buys the newest model of bomb shelter, only to have it prove instantly obsolete.

In this new TV version, Foster is a girl, and the new technology isn’t a bomb shelter. It’s a Siri-type artificial intelligence that is implanted into her head when she sticks some high-tech gel in her ear. That’s the latest gotta-have consumer item in this version — or is she just imagining it? Because, in this story about paranoia, the voice in Foster’s head may just be … a voice in Foster’s head. Especially when it instructs her to do some crazy-sounding things, like searching for anthills or planning an act of terrorism on her own high school.

The beauty of the anthology series is that anything could happen — even to a character like Foster. In the past few years, TV has taken this idea and expanded it, coming up with extended narratives, lasting 10 episodes or so, that end, then return with all-new casts and stories.

The FX network is the pioneer here. Ryan Murphy has presented seven very different seasons so far of American Horror Story, and has just followed his superb American Crime Story entry, The People v. O.J. Simpson, with a new drama about the murder of Gianni Versace.

And Noah Hawley, with three dizzyingly different seasons of FX’s Fargo, has perfected this new form. It’s part series, part miniseries, part anthology show — and it’s thrilling.

And the best development of all may be that CBS, for its streaming CBS All Access site, has announced plans to present a new version of The Twilight Zone — a version produced by Jordan Peele, who just wowed everyone with the very Zone-ish movie thriller Get Out.

With news like that — and with the creative success of shows like Black Mirror and Electric Dreams, and extended dramas like Fargo — there’s no question whatsoever: The anthology show is back.

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The Thistle & Shamrock: New Year, New Music

This week’s episode of The Thistle & Shamrock features music by Appalachian musical duo Anna & Elizabeth.

Brett Winter Lemon/Courtesy of Anna & Elizabeth

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Brett Winter Lemon/Courtesy of Anna & Elizabeth

Lift your winter spirits and warm your heart with the New Year’s brand new releases, with artists including Anna & Elizabeth, Open the Door for Three, and Matthew Byrne.

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Our Top Discoveries From globalFEST 2018

Clockwise from upper left: Jupiter & Okwess, Iberi Choir, Mariachi Flor De Toloache, Ava Rocha

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Not matter how much of a music geek you may be, globalFEST is a music festival of discovery for everyone. Now in its 15th year, it’s a celebration of music from around the world.

This year’s festival featured extraordinary Congolese music from Jupiter & Okwess, Brazilian avant pop from Ava Rocha, a twist on traditional Irish music from Jarlath Henderson, modern Iranian songs and poetry from Mohsen Namjoo, and so much more.

The gathering happens in just one evening. This year a dozen bands performed on three stages in midtown Manhattan at BB King’s Blues club, its smaller sister-venue in the same building called Lucille’s and at the Liberty Theater directly across the street.

I was there globalFEST this past Sunday, along with around 1,500 people, including NPR Music’s Anastasia Tsioulcas, Afropop Worldwide’s Banning Eyre and WFMU’s Rob Weisburg, home of his show Transpacific Sound Paradise. On this edition of All Songs Considered we share of favorite discoveries from globalFEST 2018.

Artists And Songs Featured On This Episode

Cover for Kin Sonic

Jupiter & Okwess

  • Song: Musonsu
  • from Kin Sonic

A hands-down favorite for all of us, this band from Kinshasa, fronted by veteran vocalist Jupiter Bokondji made its U.S. debut at globalFEST with a joyous, super-high energy set that matched the charming lilt of Congolese soukous with propulsive, exhilarating speed.

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Cover for Axis Of Solitude

Mohsen Namjoo

  • Song: Ghashghaee
  • from Axis Of Solitude

He’s long gone been called the “Bob Dylan of Iran,” but there’s no one who does quite what singer, songwriter, and setar lute player Mohsen Namjoo does: a clever melange of Persian classical singing and instrumental music with theatrical, rock-inflected bays and yowls.

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Cover for Patrya Yndia Yracema

Ava Rocha

  • Song: Boca do Céu
  • from Patrya Yndia Yracema

The smokey-voiced Brazilian singer, songwriter and filmmaker Ava Rocha brews up an intriguing blend of tropicalia, rock and performance art — it almost seems as if she’s channeling both Diamanda Galas and David Bowie

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Cover for Delgres

Delgres

  • Song: Mo Jodi
  • from Delgres

This trio connects the dots between the musical styles — and often-tragic histories — of three points in the French-speaking world: Guadeloupe in the Caribbean (an overseas region of France), New Orleans and Paris in a raucous, rollicking setup of guitar, voice, sousaphone and drums.

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Cover for La Dame Blanche

La Dame Blanche

  • Song: Yo Quiero Trabarjar

On paper, this shouldn’t really work: Afro-Cuban music, hip-hop, dancehall, cumbia and classical flute. But thanks to La Dame Blanche’s serious musical chops, the Woman in White from Havana by way of Paris pulls off this stylistic hat-trick with outsized swagger and style.

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Cover for Grand Tapestry

Grand Tapestry

  • Song: Atma
  • from Grand Tapestry

An intriguing new trio from California marry the centuries-old traditions of Hindustani (North Indian) classical music with — of all things — rap. But they back up this foray with huge virtuosity: vocalist Eligh’s partners in this venture are sarod player Alam Khan (son and disciple of the master musician Ali Akbar Khan) and Salar Nader on tabla.

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Cover for (Single)

The Iberi Choir

  • Song: Two Salamuri
  • from (Single)

The Iberi Choir brings to wider audiences the glorious, ancient tradition of polyphonic choral singing from Georgia — the one in the Caucasus, not the one in the southern U.S.). Dressed in long leather boots topped with imposing, long black chokha coats, the group’s six singers and instrumentalists are powerful musicians, but their music is achingly sweet.

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Cover art for Jarlath Henderson

Courtesy of the artist

Jarlath Henderson

  • Song: Fare Thee Well Lovely Nancy
  • from Hearts Broken, Heads Turned

Making his U.S. debut, the vocalist and uilleann pipes pipes player from Northern Ireland, now based in Glasgow, frames his beguiling voice with an array of electronics, keyboards, bass, guitar and fiddle. His intimate, affecting set was another big All Songs Considered favorite from this year’s edition of globalFEST.

Cover for Mariachi Flor De Toloache

Mariachi Flor De Toloache

  • Song: Let Down

The winners of a Latin Grammy for Best Ranchero/Mariachi album just a few weeks ago, the all-female, brilliant Flor de Toalache mix mariachi with World War II-era close harmonies and original songs. In their globalFEST set, they even threw in a cover of Nirvana’s “Come As You Are.”

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Are Photos Of 'Beautiful' Africa The Best Response To Trump's Vulgar Slur?

Victoria Falls between Zambia and Zimbabwe. Photos of beautiful scenes from Africa and Haiti have been flooding the internet in response to President Trump’s reported slur.

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Westend61/Getty Images/Westend61

By now, you’ve likely heard about President Trump’s reported remark last week that the U.S. should bring in more people from Norway instead of “shithole countries” like El Salvador, Haiti and African nations.

The reaction was swift and loud. Citizens (and allies) of those countries filled social media pages with photos of idyllic beaches, city skylines and shiny structures in so-called “shithole countries.”

This is Cote d’Ivoire in West Africa and Abidjan remains one of the hidden gems. #MyShitHole#ShitholeCountries#Trumppic.twitter.com/JIPGynaHGl

— KhayelihleKhumalo (@KhayaJames) January 12, 2018

Welcome to my beautiful country #ERITREA. #Africa
@realDonaldTrump does this stunning country looks a #shithole to you? #MyShitholepic.twitter.com/ewbMaz0iKZ

— ERITREA IS BEAUTIFUL (@TravelToEritrea) January 13, 2018

They shared impressive lists of personal achievements that ended with: “I’m from a #shithole country.”

I’m a future Doctor.
I’m a medical student.
I have 3 degrees.
I speak 3 languages.
I‘m published in Psych-Oncology.
I’m a member of Zeta Phi Beta.
I’m from a #ShitHole country! 🇸🇸 pic.twitter.com/NXeQCjhLTH

— Señorita 🌸 (@AF_ROdisiac) January 12, 2018

But before long, backlash to the backlash began to surface.

In a widely shared opinion piece for Al-Jazeera, South African writer Sisonke Msimang called the alleged comment “racist” and “tacky” … but truthful at the core.

“Poor people do not leave their countries because of wanderlust: They leave because life feels pretty “s***ty”,” she wrote. “This – it seems – is a more important reality to address than whether a discredited man who is a known provocateur has hurt some feelings.”

1. Power cuts.
2. Bad roads.
3. Bribe taking police.
4. Youth unemployment.
5. Farmer/herder massacres.
6. Boko Haram.
7. Niger Delta environmental pollution/militancy
8. Teachers owed salaries for months
9. <10% female literacy in some states.

Nigeria is a #shithole

— Onye Nkuzi (@cchukudebelu) January 14, 2018

Sure, people in even the poorest places display enviable joy and determination, but she says the pretty landscapes and long lists of accomplishments gloss over terrible daily realities faced by those who have been left out of development success stories.

“The “Africa as paradise” social media posts are a sort of creative non-fiction then,” she wrote. “Of course, the Cape Town skyline is beautiful, but we also know that life in Crossroads or Nyanga or any of the many sprawling townships that ring that city, is hard.”

In addition, the posts that show off African development often featured the work of outside actors, according to Teddy Ruge of Uganda who is the CEO of Raintree Farms, an entrepreneur and a development critic not known for pulling his punches.

“Show me a road that your country with your taxes paid for and was built by your people,” Ruge says. “Yeah, it’s certainly there in some places, but that’s not the norm for the continent. The norm for the continent is ‘Let’s have somebody else fix our issues.’ “

Ruge goes so far as to say that after decades of inaction and dependence on aid, Africans shouldn’t be surprised by the negative perceptions.

“If we fixed our own problems, we wouldn’t be called a shithole.”

Trump’s alleged comments were an easy opportunity to rant on a soap box, he says, but wouldn’t that energy be better spent “ganging up” on their own leaders to demand better governance, policy and implementation?

Still, Ruge, Msimang and Maxman all agree that the Trump administration is ignoring clear data if it thinks people who immigrate to the U.S. from poor countries take more than they give. They also believe that solutions will only be reached by sustaining thoughtful, constructive conversation on the underlying causes of poverty, vulnerability and migration, even after the Twitter firestorm subsides.

“To characterize any place in hyperbolic, negative ways is unhelpful always,” Maxman says.

Joanne Lu is a freelance journalist who covers global poverty and inequity. Her work has appeared in Humanosphere, The Guardian, Global Washington and War is Boring. Follow her on Twitter @joannelu.

Editor’s note: NPR has decided in this case to spell out the vulgar word that the president reportedly used because it meets our standard for use of offensive language: It is “absolutely integral to the meaning and spirit of the story being told.”

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Are You Participating In This Year's Women's March?

Talk to us

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NPR’s Leila Fadel covers issues of race and diversity and is based in Las Vegas, where thousands of women are expected this weekend for the anniversary of the Women’s March on Sunday.

She wants to hear from you, as she’s curious to learn what you think has changed over the past year, and what you’re marching for this year.

Your responses will inform Fadel’s reporting and may be published online, or the audio may be used in one of her radio pieces.

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North Korea's Olympic Hopefuls Include A Pair Of Figure Skaters

Ryom Tae Ok and Kim Ju Sik of North Korea perform during their pairs short program in Oberstdorf, Germany, on Sept. 28, 2017.

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Christof Stache/AFP/Getty Images

When South Korea hosts the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang next month, a combined North Korea-South Korea women’s hockey team — the countries’ first-ever joint team — will attract a lot of attention. So will the sight of athletes from the two Koreas, divided for some 70 years, marching together in the opening ceremony on Feb. 9.

But even before recent border negotiations led to these shows of unity, the only North Korean athletes who qualified for the Games — a figure skating pair — were already making headlines. With International Olympic Committee approval, they will likely compete in Pyeongchang, despite missing a registration deadline.

Most North Koreans are unable to leave the totalitarian country, but skaters Ryom Tae Ok, 18, and Kim Ju Sik, 25, have competed around the world. Last year, in Japan, they skated their way to a bronze medal at the Asian Games. They also competed in last year’s World Figure Skating Championships in Helsinki. And in Germany, they placed sixth in an event that qualified them for the Winter Olympics.

“They were smiling and hugging and celebrating,” says Jun Michael Park, a Seoul-based photojournalist who was shooting images at the qualifying event for The New York Times. “It was really kind of touching to see those kinds of human interactions.”

When the duo gave a press conference and no translators were available, suddenly Park was thrust into the role of simultaneous interpreter.

“I was really nervous just coming into contact with the North Koreans because I’m not allowed, technically,” Park said.

South Koreans are forbidden by their government to even place phone calls to North Korea because of a Cold War-era law that’s still on the books. But they, and now the rest of the world, are paying attention to this pair.

Few details are available about their personal lives.

“It’s almost impossible for people outside the country to know how they grew up as athletes or about how the North Korean infrastructure is supporting the athletes,” says Seong Moon-jeong, a researcher who studies inter-Korean sports at South Korea’s Institute of Sports Science and briefed South Korean diplomats ahead of the latest talks with North Koreans about the Olympics.

“Pair figure skating became huge in North Korea ever since Kim Jong Un came into power. In North Korea, the sports the leader is interested in get a lot of attention and support,” Seong says.

This weekend, the International Olympic Committee is meeting near Geneva to decide whether Ryom and Kim can compete in next month’s Games. Photographer Park, a believer in sports diplomacy, says he’s rooting for them.

“You know, there should be more interactions, more human interactions. And maybe that will lead to better understanding,” he says.

As he translated the North Koreans’ words into English for throngs of press in Germany last year, he could hear differences — reflecting the division of the Korean peninsula — come through in their vocabulary.

I think their form of the Korean language is maybe a little bit more pure. In South Korea, we have lot of English words or foreign words that we use without even thinking about,” Park explains.

The regime will direct how much foreign exposure North Koreans will get at the Olympics. Historically, Pyongyang has used international showcases as propaganda opportunities.

But Seong, the sports researcher, says any cultural exchange is good for the North Korean people. With it, they will “have the international viewpoint that they cannot get otherwise,” Seong says.

In one way, the North Korean figure skaters are already showing international savvy. Their short program is set to music by the Beatles. The song’s opening line: “I read the news today, oh boy.”

NPR Seoul producer Se Eun Gong contributed to this story.

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Pop Culture Happy Hour: 'The Florida Project'

Actress Bria Vinaite plays 20-something single mom Halley in The Florida Project. Her daughter, Moonee, is played by Brooklynn Prince.

Marc Schmidt/Courtesy of A24

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Marc Schmidt/Courtesy of A24

Writer-director Sean Baker shot his 2015 feature Tangerine on an iPhone. He returns with The Florida Project, which isn’t shot on a phone but still feels organic and close to the ground. It tells the story of Moonee, a 6-year-old girl who lives with her mother in a motel that exists in the low-income shadow economy adjacent to Walt Disney World — all the stuff that sounds like it might be part of the Magic Kingdom, but isn’t.

In this episode of Pop Culture Happy Hour, Gene Demby is with us for a talk about the film — which all of us liked very much — and its thoughtful approach to the community where these folks live. We talk about the work of Brooklynn Prince, who plays Moonee, and Bria Vinaite, who plays her mom, as well as an unexpectedly softhearted performance from Willem Dafoe as the manager of the motel. He both enforces the rules and tries to look out for his economically (and otherwise) fragile guests and all their rambunctious kids.

A note: The Florida Project has had a little bit of a confusing rollout, but it is still playing in some theaters right now, and it shouldn’t be too long before it’s streaming. It’s well worth seeking it out.

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For His 'Roll On Slow' Video, Glen Hansard's New York All-Nighter Gets Animated

In the years since his Oscar-winning work with Marketa Irglova, Glen Hansard has re-positioned himself as a restrained balladeer, releasing a pair of solo albums (Rhythm And Repose and Didn’t He Ramble) that double down on the singer’s sweet side. But Hansard has also spent a couple decades as lead singer of The Frames, an Irish rock band with loads of anthemic fire in its belly. He’s due to let loose a bit.

On Friday, Hansard releases Between Two Shores, which makes good on that promise. “Roll On Slow,” its new single, doesn’t so much amble as rumble along, with horns that build and billow — a sound that locates a neat midpoint between Hansard’s warmly agreeable recent material and the white-knuckle belters that pepper his past catalog. “Roll On Slow” also comes with a gorgeous animated video, directed by Piotr Kabat, that nicely captures the new song’s buoyant swells and notes of alienated longing.

“The video attempts to bridge the gap between animation and film,” Kabat writes via email. “While it’s entirely hand-drawn, the organic and grainy look is inspired by classical movies shot on film. In terms of story, we wanted to convey the vibe of a solo night out in New York — getting kicked out of bars and hanging out in front of liquor stores ’til sunrise just to escape from your own demons.”

” ‘Roll On Slow’ was written while I was living in a former women’s refuge called the Florence Mission on Bleecker Street in New York City,” Hansard writes. “My girlfriend was away in Europe and I was drinking too much. I was walking home from [a] bar at dawn, which was happening a few too many mornings in a row. The song is simply about missing your girl and being unable to take care of yourself.”


Between Two Shores comes out Jan. 19 via Anti.

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Two Artists, Two Different Paths In Exploring The Indigenous Roots Of Latinx Music

Simuchi Xeenoj (Princess of the Comcáac Nation) and Zoraida Romero.

Erika Maldo/Courtesy of the Artist

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Erika Maldo/Courtesy of the Artist

Over the centuries, the mestizo music of Latinx culture emerged from the collisions — by choice, chance or force — of Africans, Europeans and indigenous peoples. Today, we highlight two different artists’ paths in exploring the First Nations and pueblo originarioroots of Latinx music.

In a Skype call with Alt.Latino, Bolivian-Spanish rapper Hector Guerra describes how before he first travelled to from Spain to Mexico about six years ago, he sensed, during a chamán-led meditation, that he should travel to Mexico, in order to meet another elderthere who could guide him towards a new path. Fast forward to 2018 — after spending time with indigenous peoples in several areas of Mexico — Guerra’s debut of the video for “Vida” is the fulfillment of following that vision.

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“Vida”, the second single from Guerra’s upcoming third album Desde el Infierno, visually and sonically features Zoraida and Princess Simuuchi Xeenoj, of the Comcaac or Seris people of Sonora, Mexico. The song’s lyrics, as well as its cover photo by Jorge Fraile, all highlight cosmovision, the Comcáac people’s philosophy of gratitude for each day of life and love of nature.

For Guerra, the journey has been about learning from the elders of the Comcáac Nation, whom he calls grandparents or abuelos, and sharing their teachings, designed to elevate the spirit. The song, which features Chilean indie artist Mariel Mariel on vocals and was produced by Ozomatli‘s Will Dog and Justin Porée, speaks of gratitude for each day, listening to your heart and enjoying life.

Moving much further north, all the way to Montreal, rapper Akawui, whose background is Mapuche, is exploring his First Nation musical heritage, from the perspective of a Canadian musician with Chilean roots.

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Akawui grew up, thanks to his musician father, steeped in Andean rhythms and songs. Having noticed similarities between the Andean tinku dance and First Nations rhythms, Akawui began to learn drumming with Jesse Achneepineskum and the Redtail Spirit Singers, of which he is now a member. For his composition “Deshaia,” Akawui incorporated their drumming and chants into one of his compositions.

The tune takes its name from a word in the language of the Secwepemc people, and refers to taking the first step to conquer one’s fears. The video for “Deshaia” also features traditional dancer Owen Skahionwiio and his son Nashtyn Mayo.

As we experience this fascinating trend in Latinx music across the continent, it is heartening to know that colonization was not able to extinguish sources of ancestral wisdom. And certainly the singers’ chants in Anishinaabemowin in “Deshaia” offer excellent advice for these trying times: “Listen to the elders, let’s dance and sing! That is what the creator calls for.”


Hector Guerra’s “Vida” is available now — the album it comes from, Desde el Infierno, will be available January 19 on Kasba Music.

Akawui’s “Deshaia” is available now on iTunes.

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Songs We Love: Lea Bertucci, 'Patterns For Alto'

Lea Bertucci’s Metal Aether comes out Feb. 9

Alex Philipe Cohen/Courtesy of the artist

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To create her wide-ranging music, New York-based artist Lea Bertucci has used a wealth of instruments and compositional techniques. But her primary creative tool is the saxophone, and on her new album, Metal Aether, she delves into it perhaps further than she ever has. Using a musical vocabulary that a press release says is “based on a spectral, psychoacoustic, and non-linguistic approach to the instrument,” she devoutly mines the kaleidoscopic sonic possibilities of the saxophone, augmenting it with touches of electronics, field recordings, and processed instruments such as piano and vibraphone.

On the album’s opening track, “Patterns For Alto,” Bertucci unleashes a cascade of overlapping saxophone lines, with each small repetition spawning a new wave of curling, blending sounds. Her playing deftly combines force and restraint: each cycle of notes builds quickly to a crest, but Bertucci is careful to maintain control throughout, often pulling back or even descending down to silence. It’s as if her song is a stream that’s both natural and human-made, freely flowing yet clearly directed by a patient hand. As a result, “Patterns For Alto” is both hypnotic and exciting. It’s easy to chill out to Bertucci’s rolling sounds, but also impossible to tune them out.


Metal Aether comes out Feb. 9 via NNA (physical, digital).

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