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Bryce Vine - Carnival Music Album Reviews

The debut full-length from the “Drew Barrymore” singer isn’t designed for conscious, focused listening. This is music for poolsides and basements.
Bryce Vine describes himself as “OutKast and Blink-182 got drunk with the Gorillaz.” Perhaps a more apt comparison is KYLE taking bong hits with Dave Matthews Band, or Jason Mraz sniffing poppers with Doja Cat. At 31, Vine is at an unconventional age for frat-rap prominence. He established a fanbase nearly a decade ago, as a contestant on “The Glee Project,” a reality television show based off the Ryan Murphy high school drama. His real rise came with 2017’s “Drew Barrymore,” a swirl of neon synths that went platinum, possibly by being added to every “Chill Vibes” playlist in existence.

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Jefre Cantu-Ledesma - Tracing Back the Radiance Music Album Reviews

The experimental ambient musician's latest work is his most beatific and generous yet. It features a rotating cast of musicians, and feels like it is hovering off of the ground.

In the current gig economy, the job of “musician” feels more transitory and short-lived than ever. So it should come as no surprise that an experimental artist like Jefre Cantu-Ledesma returned to school a few years ago to further his education. He emerged with a Masters in Divinity in Buddhism and Interreligious Engagement, which seems less like a new path than a deeply empathetic shift in approach. At a time when some ambient music can feel like it’s drafted solely for inclusion on a “chill” playlist to anesthetize the overworked, Cantu-Ledesma’s explorations have been steering towards deeper waters. On Tracing Back the Radiance, his most profound work to date, he finds them.


Spiritual seeking was always at the root of Cantu-Ledesma’s work. His very first release was named after a breathing technique in yoga, and here he name-checks the writings of Chinul, a Korean Buddhist monk from the 12th century. It’s also the album in which his presence is hardest to place. His signature guitar work is nowhere to be found; he is instead credited with vibraphone and effects processing. Multiple players appear across the album’s three long compositions, with contributions from a veritable all-star cast: Bing & Ruth’s David Moore, harpist Mary Lattimore, pedal steel guitarist Chuck Johnson, Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Fly Pan Am member Roger Tellier Craig, Forma’s John Also Bennett, and others. But even the deepest listen makes individuation nearly impossible, so skillfully does Cantu-Ledesma erase distinct instrumentation and egos. Instead, everyone and everything moves as one deep breath, and the music feels like it’s hovering inches off the ground.

The quietly glowing “Palace of Time” features flute, piano, synth, and violin and credits five performers. Not much happens, but not much needs to; its serene sound world is established from the hushed opening moments and you want nothing more than to reside within it. Ledesma has cited the works of ’70s Italian composers like Giusto Pio and Lino Capra Vaccina, but what first springs to mind is “He Loved Him Madly,” Miles Davis’ epic ambient piece from Get Up With It. That piece was a brooding, funereal meditation, almost nihilistic in its composition, never building upwards, but instead hovering in the void, a brushed snare drum fluttering about the sonic space like a bat. A similarly spare, rustling percussion appears here, but if anything, “Palace” is the photonegative of that iconic work, less Mark Rothko more like Agnes Martin, a nearly empty space suffused with gentle light.

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“Tracing Back the Radiance” is similarly slow moving. Simply put, it’s ineffable, seemingly capable of lowering your heart rate and instilling calmness with every listen. Even on playback during a crowded commute, not always discernible amid the din, it seems to lessen tensions. Violin, synthesizer, voice, and Johnson’s drifting pedal steel are all listed, but attempting to trace the origins of such sounds feels futile, akin to painting a landscape while standing in a white mist. A previous review of Cantu-Ledesma’s work noted a fragility, suffering, and “anxiety-tinged optimism.” On Radiance, Cantu-Ledesma pushes beyond such dualities towards a space that unifies it all.


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