Friday, December 4, 2015

Lubomyr Melnyk: Rivers and Streams

Ukrainian pianist and composer Lubomyr Melnyk has spent his career developing a method of performance called "continuous music." In pieces that stretch anywhere from 10 minutes to nearly an hour in length, Melnyk delivers a sustained flurry of high-speed arpeggiated notes. By holding down the sustain pedal, he allows tones to ring out indefinitely, creating droning ambience and phantom melodies.

The pursuit of continuous music has brought Melnyk impressive chops—his website boasts that he is the fastest pianist in the world—but little in the way of critical recognition or financial reward. In interviews, he has expressed some disappointment at falling through the music industry's cracks, his playing too unorthodox for the classical establishment and too traditional for the experimental music community. However, in the last several years, Melnyk has begun to connect with a larger audience through releases on small labels like Unseen Worlds and Erased Tapes, which concentrate on modern classical and electronic music.

Rivers and Streams is Melnyk's third release for Erased Tapes. In execution, it's not too different from his previous works for the label. The music is busy and technique-intensive, but tuneful and meditative. As Melnyk plays, his melodies meld together, shifting in tone and volume. Because he allows the piano to resonate, the sound blurs, turning concise and complex patterns into aural fog. According to the composer, the album is a meditation on water—not a huge stretch given the steady, trickling, ambient nature of Melnyk's style. The performances are enhanced via co-production from label founder Robert Raths and London-based composer, Jamie Perera, who modestly augment Melnyk's arrangements with guitar.

Informed by the work of American minimalists like Steve Reich and Terry Riley, Melnyk's music draws on repetition and also a certain degree of impromptu inspiration. However, those composers—Riley in particular—often employed alternate tunings and distinctive harmonies that helped to distance their compositions from Western classical music. Melnyk's music is just as expansive, but more conservative in its approach to harmony. He's more overtly romantic. Listening to the plaintive minor key melodies on "Parasol", you can understand how, for some, the pianist's sensibility might have crossed the sometimes-thin line that divides minimalist classical and new age.

However, this is less of a liability than it might have been in the past. New age is no longer the reviled genre it once was. And there are other, more appropriate modern parallels. Melnyk's shifting chords and rising crescendos will click easily for those who follow post-rock bands like Godspeed You! Black Emperor or Explosions in the Sky. And in continuous playing, sustained repetition, and simple harmony you can also hear him as a more organic cousin to the burbling synthesizer music of '70s groups like Tangerine Dream or Ashra. This is not machine music, though. It's very human—serenity delivered through sustained concentration and ecstatic energy, via a lifetime of practice and perfection rather than the twist of a knob.

Zora Jones: 100 Ladies EP

 Zora Jones has described 2010 as her year zero. She saw DJ Rashad spin for the first time at a party in Montreal, where it was pretty much everyone's first encounter with footwork in a club setting. She and her friends ended up spending a week with the Chicago DJ, and he gave them a batch of tracks he'd produced with his Ghettoteknitianz crew. It opened up a whole new world for her. "That folder is still one of the main folders I go to for inspiration," she told The Fader. "Those tracks are so crisp to me and so influential. 2010 was the year for me."

You can hear the late Rashad's influence on Jones' debut EP, 100 Ladies—or at least, you can deduce it. Many of her tracks move at 160 BPM, smack in the middle of footwork's sweet spot. But in the past five years, Jones has also established her own sound, one that's indebted to footwork (and also to grime), but irreducible to either of those genres. It's several steps removed—and that's a direct result of the work that she's put in.

The title of the Austrian-born, Barcelona-based producer's EP is a reference to a pact that she made with herself: to make 100 tracks before she released anything. This isn't the first thing she has unveiled; there have been collaborations with Sinjin Hawke and DJ Taye on FractalFantasy (the imprint she runs with Hawke, which began life as an online outlet for audiovisual productions), and she's posted the odd solo track to her SoundCloud account. But this is her first extended statement, and the singularity of her vision is immediately apparent.

Aside from the occasional anchoring 808 kick, she favors thin, silvery sounds: brittle rimshots, tinny hi-hats, and 808 toms tuned toward their upper limits. Her main instrument is the voice—resampled, stacked in dizzying fifths, pitched up near dog-whistle frequency, and painted on in bright, loopy brushstrokes. Put together, these elements combine to suggest club music injected with helium and sent bobbing high overhead.

Of the album's seven tracks, only two come anywhere close to resembling established forms. "Zui", with its shuddering 808 patterns and stuttering monosyllables, wears its footwork influences proudly on its sleeve, and the lurching cadence of "Too Many Tears" sounds like an outgrowth of the "weightless" style of grime favored by Mumdance, Rabit, and Murlo. Again, though, her wordless vocal melodies stand proudly apart; they're eerie, shapeshifting things, part violin and part warbling bird, and their effect is spellbinding.

The EP is bookended by its best tracks. The footwork-tempo closer "First Light" pumps away like Philip Glass rearranged for tin whistle, Gameboy, and chipmunk, while the opening "Oh Boy" forsakes drums entirely; it's just wordless vocal trills pitched up into icy configurations accompanied by the hollow hum of whirly tubes. Despite their novelty, both songs remain unusually moving; for all the flyaway nature of her sounds, her compositions carry real emotional weight. They offer the equivalent of a solid musical form being melted down and channeled into tiny, sidewinding rivulets; it will be fascinating to see where these streams carry her next.

Underworld: Second Toughest in the Infants

At this point it seems that Underworld are remembered, at least by casual observers, as the rave act most like a rock band. There's nothing really harmful about this interpretation, but acting like a rock band—a euphemism for "had a frontman"—isn't really what separated Underworld from their peers. After all, the Prodigy and the Chemical Brothers both worked in the album format to great effect, and, like Underworld, their live shows and general demeanor had more in common with Oasis than with, say, Spiral Tribe. In fact, what truly makes Underworld unique, and what coincidentally most closely aligns them with rock bands, is that they took themselves really seriously; their ambitions leaned to the serious and important. Unlike most people—lots of ravers included—they thought these things could be achieved using the rave template.

Second Toughest in the Infants is the band's second, spectacular attempt at making big, important rave music, and their second with young fusionist DJ Darren Emerson helping steer the ship (frontman Karl Hyde and Rick Smith had been making music, in one style or another, since the early '80s). It was reissued for its 20th anniversary this November, in both two- and four-CD editions, remastered and bundled with exclusive and/or unreleased extras. You can see the band posing in the album title, a funny little comment made by Smith's nephew that conveniently reads like poetic word soup. You see this, probably, before you realize the album opens with a 16-minute, three-part suite entitled "Juanita : Kiteless : To Dream of Love" and follows that with a 15-minute, two-part suite entitled "Banstyle/Sappys Curry". There it is, comrades: a heaping helping of Big, Important Music. If you want funny voices and funny haircuts, the Prodigy are in the tent to the left.

The great thing about mid-'90s Underworld is they made this beat-poetry-cum-rave-anthem splice work against the odds. Their secret was to act as if Hyde was not a vocalist at all but rather a particularly charismatic sampler: spitting out short, repetitive phrases that were afforded little more purchase on a track's mix than any other melodic curlicue. As an album, and as disc one of this reissue, Second Toughest holds up marvelously, dominated by the shapeshifting opening tracks but also featuring fan-favorite "Confusion the Waitress" and the stupefying "Pearl's Girl", perhaps the fist-pumping-est epic in a discography chockablock with them. "Stagger", the tormented kosmische saga that closes the affair, betrays the band's album-centric aspirations and beats Thom Yorke to the meandering electro-ballad by a decade.

The band's profile raised considerably with Second Toughest, which roughly coincided with the release of Trainspotting, the film making prominent use of non-album track "Born Slippy.NUXX". The track's popularity, and its association with the movie, perhaps unfairly tethers the band's sound to the '90s, though there's some comfort in remembering a time when music this loopy and progressive could dominate (European) airwaves.

Disc two reproduces all of the exclusive material from the absurdly good Pearl's Girl EP—five long pieces over 35 minutes that would stand as most band's best work even before adding the worthy reworks of the title track—and adds "Born Slippy (Instrumental Version)", which functionally has almost nothing to do with the more famous NUXX version, as well as "Born Slippy.Nuxx (Deep Pan)", an intriguing but ultimately boring remix.

Disc three offers a full slate of unreleased material, some of which ("D+B Thing", "Techno Thang", "D'Arbly St") gives away its throwaway nature by its title. "D'Arbly", meanwhile is seven minutes of downtempo lounge noodling. Only an extra version of "Pearl's" and "Bloody 1", yet another loopy 16-minute epic (Underworld could do no wrong in this format in the mid '90s), rescue this disc. Disc four offers seven (!) different versions of "Born Slippy.NUXX" (often simply titled "Nuxx"), several of them live. The main takeaway here is that you do not, in fact, want Hyde's scintillating vocal melody to continue for the entire runtime, no matter how much you think you love the opening minutes. But the disc also illustrates how much Underworld has in common with a jam band, iterating over long passages, massaging a track into form.

Second Toughest marks the last time Underworld's blend of ferocity, earnestness, and expanse felt transcendent. By the time they returned with Beaucoup Fish in 1998 they seemed more like an institution than a contender. But there's an absolute trove of potent material associated with Second Toughest; lesser bands might've mined this period for two or even three albums. The remasters sound great, and the two-disc version makes exploration reasonable for the unfamiliar, though both the original album and the essential Pearl's Girl EP can be had for a song in your local used bin. For the fanatic, the four-disc version offers a couple of gems and a thorough examination of the genesis of the band's most famous track, i.e. exactly the type of thing you might hope for from a not-explicitly-necessary reissue. Underworld made a point of going deeper, and carrying on for longer, than most bands would dare; they're worthy of a reissue that does the same.

iLoveMakonnen: iLoveMakonnen 2

The sense of intimacy social media allows with stars can be tricky. Even in the most naturalistic and organic-feeling social media moments—a Snap of DJ Khaled extolling the virtues of water and cocoa butter; unscheduled Twitter rants that turn into full-blown hip-hop feuds—an element of pre-meditated performance still exists. These guys wouldn't be successful entertainers without that instinct.

iLoveMakonnen is one of a few genuinely engaging artists on Snapchat. When he Snaps himself covered in blankets in a cold hotel room, or of himself confronting pre-show jitters, his personality comes through so clearly it's hard to not feel moved. He's always seemed like a genuinely unique and humble guy, maybe somewhat performatively so. But what social media isn't in some way performative?

This matters in perceiving Makonnen's art because his relatability has always worked in his favor, even when some of his songs threaten to go off-the-rails, since his limited voice can only take him so far. He seems like a guy you know. "Tuesday" was a giant hit because it nailed something about the melancholy one feels when out on a weekday—it feels liberating, because so few people are out, but it can also be a stark reminder of the aimlessness that comes when you're unemployed, or depressed, or, in the conceit of the song, dealing drugs on the weekend. But those details didn't matter. We've all had a Tuesday (or Wednesday, or Thursday) night end far later than it should have. And it struck the kind of relatable chord that Drake does well, which naturally led to his golden co-sign.

Fast-forward a year and after this spring's experimental but quietly compelling Drink More Water 5 mixtape, and Makonnen has released the official follow-up to his first EP on OVO Sound. Some of these songs have floated around for a year or so and are staples of his live performances. But more than even the first EP, which delivered a handful of great hip-hop-indebted pop songs, this sequel EP bursts with a confidence that's earned after you go through the hit-song-now-what? grinder. Compared to his last mixtape, the hooks are sharp enough to cut glass, and the sequencing ensures that every facet of Makonnenfrom Heartbroken Makonnen to Riotous Makonnen to Warble Makonnen to Onomatopoeia Sex Jam Makonnenalternates every song.

On the lights-down, open-curtain starter "Forever", Makonnen hits the ground running: "I remember when you said you needed a love that lasted forever," before the ominous beat finally drops. The open-throated ballad kicks off his second EP as ably as Tom Cruise scaling a mountain during the first moments of Mission: Impossible 2. By the time Santigold shows up to memorably rap a few bars, the hooks (literal and figurative) have sunken in—Makonnen is aiming for the fences with his pop instincts.

However, the record is at its best in the contemplative heartfelt-loner love songs, like "Second Chance" and "Being Alone With U", in which Makonnen embodies his hip-hop-Morrissey role. Closer "I Loved You" perfects this formula with a stark piano on a trap beat. Makonnen offers formulaic Drake-isms like "I know you think about me when I'm not around," but they feel fresh in context because we feel like WeKnowMakonnen.

"Trust Me Danny" is the EP's signature moment, a windows-down banger that pays homage both to Makonnen's producer Danny Wolf and a viral Vine. It encapsulates Makonnen's aesthetic as well as his target audience—fans and students of hip-hop who recognize that hooks need to sail for maximum effect for a track to land as a rap anthem. Makonnen isn't another "weird" rapper cashing in, making disposable jokes and internet references for a Twitter-ready crowd before everyone wakes up and goes, "Where are the hits? Where are the hooks?" On this EP, he's angling to be a real pop star, to step out of the OVO shadow (which hasn't produced a major pop crossover artist since the Weeknd) and onto the radio. It's hard to know if that'll happen, but coming with a likable persona, real pop-songwriting chops, and an established audience never hurt anybody.

Coldplay: A Head Full of Dreams

On the very first song on their very first album, Coldplay introduced themselves with a heartfelt declaration: "We live in a beautiful world." Fifteen years and some 80 million albums sold later, the British quartet haven’t elaborated on that philosophy—they’ve just amplified it. Where massive success has a tendency to make bands more jaded and aloof, Coldplay only seem more gobsmacked and in awe of life itself. Their songs aren’t just designed to uplift, they’re often about the very sensation of being uplifted. But on the band’s seventh album, A Head Full of Dreams, the band’s relentless campaign to raise our spirits is liable to induce altitude sickness.

Of course, there’s a perfectly logical reason for the album’s oversold optimism—A Head Full of Dreams is a reactionary retort to 2014’s Ghost Stories, a low-key response to a high-profile split that literally wore its (broken) heart on its sleeve. The new album, by contrast, is Martin’s unconscious recoupling record, the sound of a freshly single man stepping out onto the dancefloor to lose his mind and find new love. "You make me feel like I’m alive again," he sings atop the slinky disco of lead single "Adventure of a Lifetime", a lyric that succinctly sums up the spirit of the record like a movie poster tagline.

A Head Full of Dreams is Coldplay’s chance to reassert the eager-to-please exuberance that Ghost Stories deliberately downplayed, and prove that Adele isn’t the only artist who can mobilize a monoculture in 2015. Though written off by detractors as middle of the road, Coldplay’s centrist position is what ultimately makes them so singular—they’re the only rock band that could (and would want to) wrangle BeyoncĂ©, Noel Gallagher, Tove Lo, Norwegian Top 40 architects Stargate, Kendrick Lamar producer Daniel Green, alt-rock lifer Nik Simpson, and “Gimme Shelter” scene-stealer Merry Clayton on the same record. A Head Full of Dreams is emblematic of Coldplay’s burning desire to be all things to all people, rolling up symphonic Britpop bluster, club-thumping bangers, dentist-office soft rock, finger-snapping R&B, and even some trippy touches that remind you of a time when this band just wanted to be as popular as Mercury Rev.

But the album has bigger ambitions. By weaving a spoken-word reading of an inspirational 13th-century Persian poem and a sample of Barack Obama reciting "Amazing Grace" into the mix, the album essentially conflates Martin’s post-rebound optimism with an all-encompassing, heal-the-world mission. His relentless need to take us higher feels most genuine when we get a sense of what got him so low in the first place. "Everglow" and the Tove Lo collab "Fun" bring ultimate closure to the Gwyneth saga with a pledge to enduring friendship (and, to prove it, the former track features Martin’s ex on backing vocals). And despite bearing a title that isn’t going to dispel their poor-man’s U2 rep, "Amazing Day" is a sweet ode to blossoming, post-divorce romance that channels the winsome charm of early singles like "Shiver". Best of all is "Birds", a shot of taut, Phoenix-styled motorik pop that provides a rare moment of intensity on an album that’s all about arm-swaying, Super Bowl-crashing bombast.

Even when A Head Full of Dreams hints at experimentation, it inevitably drifts back onto predictable paths. The title track eases us into the album on a glistening groove but halts its momentum for a now-obligatory "woah oh oh oh" breakdown that sounds like it was focus-grouped into the song. When Martin sings "I feel my heart beating" on "Adventure of a Lifetime", the arrangement drops out, save for a throbbing bassline that mimics the sound of, well, take a guess. And the readymade, gospelized charidee-anthem-in-waiting "Up&Up" sees many of the aforementioned guests get together to sing, "we’re gonna get it together," before Gallagher delivers a send-off guitar solo that essentially turns the track into Coldplay’s Perrier Supernova. At one point in the song, Martin asks, "How can people suffer/ How can people part/ How can people struggle/ How can people break your heart?" He doesn’t profess to understand the root of all our problems, but he’ll do his damnedest to provide a cure anyway.

For all the record's eclecticism, Coldplay remain a band that put the "us" in "obvious," blowing up the simplest sentiments for maximum appeal. Nearly every song is about ascension and transcendence, be it through intoxicants (the BeyoncĂ©-assisted "Hymn for the Weekend"), rocket ships (the unlisted, listless slow jam "X Marks the Spot"), out-of-body experiences (bonus track "Miracles"), large ocean waves ("Fun"), rooftop stargazing ("Amazing Day"), winged creatures ("Birds"), or just sheer force of will ("Up&Up"—and this from a band that’s already written a song called "Up With the Birds"). But Martin has a tendency to sing of extraordinary, mind-expanding experiences in muddled metaphors ("My army of one is going to fight for you … my heart is my gun") and rote "high"/"sky" rhymes. And with his many wide-eyed ruminations on stars and moons and hearts and diamonds, it can sound like he gets his lyrical inspiration from a spoonful of Lucky Charms. Martin recently told the Wall Street Journal that he wanted "Hymn for the Weekend" to be the sort of single that would soundtrack a bottle-service bender at a nightclub and, essentially, that spirit of bonhomie permeates the entirety of A Head Full of Dreams. Except too often, the album’s pat platitudes place us on the other side of the velvet rope, left to ponder the sight of some self-satisfied people having the time of their lives.

Gloria Ann Taylor: Love Is a Hurtin' Thing

A month before the release of their debut album on 4AD, U.S. Girls dropped the video for the Slim Twig-produced single "Window Shades". For most listeners, it was a song about the emotional breakthrough of a woman finally confronting her unfaithful partner. But its production, with looped strings, piano, and hand drum, was startling to deep soul fans. "Window Shades" incorporated a licensed sample of Gloria Ann Taylor's 1973 single, "Love Is a Hurting Thing", a song found on a privately-pressed 12" called Deep Inside You featured one of the more anonymous spirograph sleeves from that era. Seen in the racks, the 12" might have looked like any number of local gospel or marching band albums from the mid-'70s, but this one came with a twist: a copy of the release, credited to Gloria Ann Taylor and Walt Whisenhunt's Orchestra, routinely tops four figures in online auctions, making it one of the most coveted soul/disco albums of its ilk.

Deep Inside You is the centerpiece of Love Is a Hurtin' Thing, Ubiquity's long-gestating compilation of highlights from Gloria Taylor's brief career, gathering five singles recorded between 1971 and 1977. For those of more modest means who've relied on mp3s culled from long-deleted music blogs, Hurtin' Thing fills in her discography as well as her biography. The mystery inherent in her music has led to some strange speculations online. Even her Discogs page puts her birthplace as Alabama, saying that she formed gospel group Sweet Honey in the Rock and passed away 10 years ago (no doubt conflating her with one Gloria Ann Taylor-James). As these liner notes clarify, though, Taylor was actually born in a coal-mining town in West Virginia and is still very much with us.

That Gloria Ann Taylor didn't become a household name isn't of much concern now. It's difficult to become a star, much easier to be star-crossed, to find your music lost to time. So the fact that she never made it is not cosmic injustice so much as the actual indifference of the universe. It was in fact at the start of Taylor's career as a soul singer based in Toledo that she had her best shot at stardom. Compared favorably to Aretha Franklin, she had a powerful, church-bred voice that caught the attention of one of James Brown's arrangers and associates, Walt Whisenhunt, fresh off of working on Doris Troy's "Just One Look". They became both musical partners and a couple.

The number of forgotten, obscure, or lost soul singers revived in the 21st century runs long and deep, the "personal sacrifice, failed relationships, and missed opportunity" that these notes describe are all attendant of this peculiar genre. But before allowing hard-knock biography to color the reception of Love Is a Hurtin' Thing, just listen to the opening seconds of the title track. A blistering psychedelic guitar solo, like something left off of Nuggets, flares across the opening 10 seconds, but 20 seconds in, we're awash in opulent strings, piano, and Taylor's voice, a powerful instrument that seem to be echoing from a subterranean tunnel.

As production choices for a potential hit single in the early 1970s go, it's baffling, one part psych-rock, one part Barry White's Love Unlimited Orchestra, all competing with the fresh wound of Taylor's voice. There's a raw pain and cavernous hurt in Taylor's every exhalation, the lyrics questioning how love could bring such joy and pain. And the music itself is bent on evoking all of the ecstasy and agony, the crazed jags of adoration and confusion that stems from a dysfunctional relationship.

"How Can You Say It" has Taylor talk about giving her lover her last dime, then finding tears on his pillow. That wrenching whiplash of emotions are scored by lush orchestration and percussion swaddled in so much echo so as to suggest the sound Lee Perry would get out of the Black Ark in a few years' time. Same goes for "Deep Inside of You", where the strings, vibraphone, and Taylor's voice are all doused in heavy reverb, and for an instant, everything becomes disorienting and indistinct.

No other soul producer in that era would smother their vocalist in so many effects or arrange backing harmonies at such cross purposes to the main melody. So while Taylor voices heartbreak and anguish, Whisenhunt's idiosyncratic productions suggest something close to madness. But his choices—which no doubt made mainstream success impossible—are staggering 40 years on. On the haunting dirge of "Burning Eyes", Taylor's voice frays before our ears, shadowed by a muted trumpet and a horn section that seems to have lurched up from a graveyard. "World That's Not Real" is ominous yet ephemeral, buoyed by xylophone and Taylor's desolate voice. Almost a minute in, the piano hits a chord that Oliver Wang at Soul-Sides once deemed "Death's ringtone," yet at that, the song briefly brightens, only to sidle back into darkness, perching at the edge of the void.

Harrowing and feverish as these sides are, the most uncanny song remains the seven-minute version of "Love Is a Hurtin' Thing", a befuddling megamix comprised of the original version of the track as well as chunks of previous singles "How Can You Say It" and "Music", all cobbled together in the studio by Whisenhunt. To the mix he adds more stinging wah-wah guitar, silken orchestration, and a re-recorded drum track not quite in sync with the original that trainwrecks the whole thing (no doubt an attempt to cash in on disco fever). With funds low, it had a minuscule press run and was soon forgotten. Yet somehow, it all works. It's glorious and bewildering, magnificent and forlorn, defiant and defeated, an emotional speedball. Heard in 2015, the music is as indelible and inscrutable as ever. Or, as Taylor once sang about love: "It's a mystery no one can explain."

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Diggs Duke: Civil Circus

Across several albums and EPs, the singer and composer Diggs Duke has channeled the greats of '90s hip-hop and soul, with a multifaceted sound touching lightly on D’Angelo and A Tribe Called Quest. In 2012, he caught the attention of British DJ and tastemaker Gilles Peterson, who included the musician’s "Nine Winning Wives" on Brownswood Bubblers Nine and signed Duke to his Brownswood imprint in 2013. Duke released long player Offering for Anxious on the label that year, and made what I thought was a nice splash on 2014’s The Upper Hand & Other Grand Illusions, a quick EP that dissected the power struggles in romantic relationships. 

On Civil Circus, Duke reverts to the soulful sound he employed on Anxious, yet the vibe here is firmly rooted in jazz. Album opener "Busker", with its mix of saxophones and live drums, works well in intimate spaces and carries a strong hip-hop knock. While some of the tracks are traditional in scope, others have an alternative slant that fit alongside artists like Thundercat and Flying Lotus, both of whom put esoteric spins on funk, EDM, and rap.

Civil Circus is full of shape-shifting compositions that make the album feel longer than its 26-minute runtime in a good way. The music feels remarkably spacious, and Duke’s songwriting is equally abstract and observational: Civil Circus conveys Duke’s innermost thoughts, no matter how vast or disconnected they might be. There’s a voyeuristic aspect to the album, and Civil Circus feels like a deep chat with a close friend. It’s almost gospel-like, and "Compensation"—a poem by Paul Laurence Dunbar—hits the theme head-on: "God, in his great compassion/ Gave me the gift of song." "Stoplight Lessons" speaks to the newness of life and uncertainty of growing older. "Old enough to crawl," Duke hums atop an acoustic guitar, "but speech evades your grasp."

The album's structure gives way to a loose instrumental procession toward the end: "Street Preacher" and "Bumper to Bumper" stamp the LP’s panoramic view; "Damn Near Home", with its light horns and scenic moans, sets the scene for album closer "We Don’t Need Love", which chides superficiality. It’s a fitting end for the album and the impressive career Diggs has built so far. Civil Circus is about being honest and vulnerable. It's about looking up to observe the small things that make life so fruitful, and taking the time to appreciate what's normally taken for granted.