Artist Spotlight: Anekdoten

Though they may have started out as a King Crimson cover band, Sweden’s prog rock statesmen Anekdoten have moved long past their humble beginnings. The band took the phrase “cult following” to new levels with 1993’s Vemod and 1995’s Nucleus, cementing itself as a considerable force in the  prog rock underground. Abrasive, angular and undeniably authentic, Anekdoten had carved a niche all its own. Since that time, however, the band’s aggression died down and gave way to an expanded sonic palette on 1999’s From Within and 2003’s Gravity, a change that culminated on 2007’s serene A Time of Day.

Flash forward to 2015, and Anekdoten has risen from the dead with their newest album, “Until All the Ghosts Are Gone.” The band’s sixth album finds them in a mood of consolidation, bringing their brand of grounded progressive rock into the new decade. Sure, it plays as close to the canon as ever, but the craftsmanship is exceptional. Featuring guest spots from Theo Travis (Steven Wilson) and ex-Opeth keyboardist Per Wiberg, Anekdoten has crafted yet another exceptional entry into the modern progressive library.

More information regarding the band can be found at their bandcamp page.

Artist Spotlight: Marriages

Treading the waters of shoegaze, sludge, and post rock, California’s Marriages churn out an interesting mix. Their first release, 2012’s excellent “Kitsune” EP, found the band carving an immediate niche. No one else sounded quite like it. They still don’t, as far as I’m aware. “Kitsune” effortlessly summoned a primal, ethereal shroud of noise that defied convention. In a word, it was fantastic. Its a wondrous occasion, then, because we’ve officially been graced with a debut.

“Salome,” the band’s debut album, marks a rather important shift from the band’s first outing. Less abrasive, less noisy, and less, well, everything, “Salome” proves a successful attempt at scaleback. But that’s not a bad thing, really. Here, Marriages seem content to ride on the strength of its songwriting alone. The band’s efforts at sonic weightlifting, impressive as they were, aren’t necessary anymore. We know what it feels like to be pummeled into the dirt. With “Salome,” we’ll learn just what it feels like to float through the air.

More information regarding the band can be found at their official website.

Artist Spotlight: Mike Vennart

The name Mike Vennart probably doesn’t mean much to most music listeners, but for fans of rock, electronica and progressive music, it certainly should. Best known for his work with the now-defunct Oceansize, Vennart and his bandmates blazed a figurative trail of fire across the progressive music scene, carving out a cult niche for themselves as one of the underground’s best-kept secrets. From the energetic curiosity of “Effloresce” to the abstract excursions of “Frames,” Vennart and the Oceansize collective tore down barriers that few rock bands even knew existed.

Since the band’s split in 2011, Vennart has funneled his creative energies into the post-progressive electronic soundscapes of British Theatre with the help of former Oceansize guitarist Richard “Gambler” Ingram. Together, the duo crafted a pair of remarkable EPs, hitting an early stride with “Dyed in the Wool Ghost,” a poignant mixture of alternative rock and “Amnesiac”-era Radiohead. Recently, Vennart has begun a funding campaign for his first solo record — a project that seems primed to consolidate the artist’s talents into an expansive compendium of his ambitions. It may be too early to say if the record will be an Oceansize-level classic, but one thing is clear: Mike Vennart isn’t going away anytime soon. And we’re all better for it.

More information regarding Mike Vennart can be found at his official bandcamp page, and details regarding his upcoming solo record can be found here.

Artist Spotlight: Wovenhand

David Eugene Edward’s music has always carried genuine importance, but as a solo performer operating under the Wovenhand moniker, Edwards has made his art something vital. From 2003’s stunning debut “Blush Music” to 2014’s “Refractory Obdurate,” the enigmatic and devout performer has weaved a seemingly effortless string of weighty records. Fusing darkened, murky overtones with the rustic beauty of the countryside, Edward’s has secured an identity all his own in what many fans affectionately call “gothic country.”

The zealous fervor with which Edward’s delivers his sermon-like lyrics may turn away some of the most secular listeners, but those in flight would miss the point. Regardless of one’s religious stance, the dedication and fiery passion with which Edward’s performs is nothing short of awe-inspiring. Few albums better capture the purity of Edward’s belief better than 2006’s “Mosaic,” an album that speaks volumes about the human heart and its capacity for devotion. With Wovenhand, Edwards effectively, and repeatedly, captures what so many of us look for in our lives: something to believe in, whatever that is.

More information can be found via the artist’s official website.

Artist Spotlight: Grouper

It’s not entirely shocking that Liz Harris’s Grouper hasn’t achieved much in the way of commercial success. Built on a sturdy foundation of drone, folk and ambient, the Portland-based artist has crafted a rather labyrinthine catalog of music. Difficult as it may be for the average listener, digging deep into the murky depths of Grouper’s uncompromising sound just may reveal the hidden depths – and the ethereal beauty – Harris so often strikes.

Last year’s “Ruins” stands as one her best recordings yet. The record, composed primarily of Harris’s ghostly voice, plaintive keys and ambient soundscapes isn’t the type of album to leave an immediate impression, but does stand a fair chance of winning over audiences with enough time, patience, and an ear for subtlety. It’s a gorgeous record front to back, and one of the best-kept secrets of 2014.

More information regarding Grouper can be found at Kranky Records’ website.

Artist Spotlight: Earth

Admittedly, I’ve not been one for drone music. I’d always associated the genre with some irrational repulsion – the type that sent my younger self retreating to the thin walls of my bedroom at the sound of my neighbor’s lawnmower. Sure, there were exceptions, namely the variety of epic moments throughout the Godspeed discography and the occasional mixed-genre ambient recording, but that all changed when I heard Earth’s 1993 recording, “Earth 2.” That record opened my eyes to the unique quality, and the unique power, of drone.

Since that time, I began working forward through the band’s discography, one album at a time, until I discovered their opus: last year’s “Primitive and Deadly.” While this newest recording may have largely left the rumbling repetitious notes behind, it’s ventured onward into new sonic territories. For Earth’s latest phase, post rock, post metal, stoner and psychedelia are all part of a grander design to capture the essence of the very ground they tread. It’s strength, consolidated in musical form – a mission they’ve always seemed intent to fulfill regardless of musical style. Earth’s plans for future expansion are anyone’s guess, but the safe bet is that the result will be something to remember.

More information regarding Earth can be found at the band’s website.

Artist Spotlight: Agnes Obel

Admittedly, I’m a late comer to the music of Agnes Obel. I only discovered the Danish songstress via her second studio album, “Aventine,” but that was more than enough leave me hooked. Composed with impeccable grace, stunning atmosphere and serene beauty, it’s the kind of record that lures you into its soundscapes with peculiar enchantment. In a word, it’s a fine album – one of the very finest released in 2013.

As Obel weaves through the record’s compositions, it becomes increasingly clear that there’s a near-mystical synergy between the musician and her instruments. Each piece reacts as if it holds a palpable connection to its handler, knowing the tendencies, techniques and tricks Obel employs to craft her alluring soundscapes and complies accordingly. It’s a wondrous thing to hear as she lays down the gorgeous “Fuel to Fire,” a slow-burning ballad led by low-end sweeps and Obel’s crystalline vocals rising high, but never so far as to leave the orbit of her grounded, earthy aesthetic.

If you’ve yet to hear Obel’s latest record, do yourself a favor; stop what you’re doing and launch your music player of choice. After all, there’s no time like the present to experience great art.

For more information, you can visit the artist’s webpage here.