A sonic chicken soup for the soul

Photo by Gavin Whitner
Photo by Gavin Whitner

Warm sounds, embracing melodies, and the art of getting over a cold

Greetings from Los Angeles.

I write to you while slowly escaping the grips of some sort of fluey virus. It seems to happen every time fall comes around the corner—one moment you’re in your office working in front of your computer, and the next moment you’re in your office working in front of your computer, coughing on your keyboard with a stuffy nose and a sore throat. Life can change in an instant, and in this moment I find a strong kinship with some of the great trailblazers throughout history who pushed through their hardships to achieve greatness.

Michael Jordan scored 38 points against the Utah Jazz in the 1997 NBA Finals with a scorching fever; Terry Fox ran for a whopping 143 days across 3,339 miles on one leg to promote cancer awareness; Vincent Van Gogh made a lot of wonderful art with only one ear in the name of… romance? The comparisons between myself and these heroes are crystal clear as I write about music for my hometown paper wrapped under blankets, cocoa in hand.

My predicament has me thinking a lot about comfort. What sets me at ease when I’m feeling like garbage? Warmth? Comfort? A rich, eccentric dystopian narrative told across 22 chapters (this will make sense later)? My music picks for October all align with these qualities, assembling a sonic chicken soup for the soul – the perfect recipe to get us back to 100 percent.

For those of you who like a good old-fashioned jam, Nate Mercereau’s debut record, Joy Techniques, will satisfy your craving for kaleidoscopic guitar solos and infinite cyclical drumlines. Despite this being Nate’s first solo effort there’s a good chance you’ve heard his musings on other records—he’s jumped on just about every instrument for mega-artists like Lizzo, Jay-Z and Leon Bridges. You name it, he’s played it; Nate’s a renaissance man.

At its most dynamic points, Joy Techniques hits notes at the same heights as Jimi Hendrix’s famous rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Woodstock, finding comfort being equal parts bright and cataclysmic. However, the most compelling moments of the record are its solitary songs of introspection, perhaps best materialized in the form of his single “The Trees Are Starting to Have Personality.” Think the blue hues and fuzz of Boards of Canada meets the fusion musings of Return to Forever. Nate gives us something familiar wrapped up as something shiny and new. Allow your doctor to prescribe Joy Techniques with piping hot herbal tea and a slow-burning incense stick.

Now that we’ve got our liquids on deck, it’s time to regulate our temperature.  What better music to cozy up with than Kaina’s full-length masterpiece Next to The Sun? On its face, the album feels like a bear hug: tight, soft and affectionate. Kaina weaves jazzy, winding RnB tapestries, hitting similar wavelengths to Prince protégés King or to Beyonce discoveries Chloe x Halle. Upon a close listen with a keen ear, you may be struck with how personal her lyrics are. Songs about depression, self-worth, love and ultimately rising above it all, color the entirety of Next to The Sun to great effect, making a listen from front to back feel like an intimate conversation with a close friend.

“Joei’s Secret,” a short and sweet interlude, has quickly become one of my favorite cuts on the record; it makes way for a wonderful feature by fellow Chicago-based artist Sen Morimoto on their collaborative effort about comfort and self-confidence, “Could Be A Curse.” Next to The Sun is strong, warm, and will undoubtedly keep you shielded from the germs beyond your couch as we get this sickness out of our system.

We’ve almost got everything we need on our road to recovery, although one necessary ingredient for staying home with a cold or flu is good entertainment. It’s nice to be told a story in some form or fashion while being metaphorically parked on the side of the road for a few days. In this case, California-based space-crooner Salami Rose Joe Louis has what you need with her floating bokeh’d debut album Zdenka 2080: a conceptual sci-fi epic exploring a dying planet, government mismanagement and abandonment, and a hero who must travel through eight dimensions to reverse their damage and save the Earth. All of this—a story as intricate and consuming as it is outlandish—sounds birthed from a hit TV show on premium cable your co-workers might bug you about.

Narrative aside, Zdenka 2080 is aesthetically delicate in a way I haven’t heard before. Part jazz, part electronic, part spoken word, Salami Rose Joe Louis’s record feels soothing and maternal across 22 vignettes. In a subtle and suggestive way, the structure of the album fights against the grain of our tendencies to digest music single by single, inviting you instead to pull up a front row seat to a strange universe of Salami Rose’s own creation. Dip your toe in the tub and check the temperature of “Cumulous Potion (For the Clouds to Sing)” or “Octagonal Room” to get a feel for Zdenka 2080, or just press play on track one and get ready to dive head first into a journey both unique and pure. This is a story you’ll want to be told over and over.

They say the best remedy for getting over a sickness is rest, so I plan on folding up my laptop and doing just that, taking a beat and going through endless tissue boxes. A few final recommendations before I let you go: Put your ear to LA-based violinist Sudan Archives’ latest single “Confessions,” Adam Green’s newest Lee Hazelwood-esque Engine of Paradise, and Joyero’s fuzzy late-night full-length Release the Dogs. Of course, once I get my voice back, you can catch me on the airwaves in the witching hours from 3 to 6 a.m. on KCRW.

Signing off,

John Moses

Listen to the music at spotify