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Ernest Hood - Neighborhoods Music Album Reviews

A newly reissued private-press curio from 1974 captures the bygone sounds of daily life in Portland, Oregon, in dreamy, proto-ambient form.
In 1975, the Portland, Oregon, musician Ernest Hood pressed his lone solo album, Neighborhoods, in an edition of a few hundred. He passed out copies primarily to friends, and the album, a curious blend of found sounds and proto-ambient, disappeared into the Pacific Northwest mist. Newly reissued by Freedom to Spend (in a much improved pressing, spread across two discs), it’s not the first such rarity to be pulled from the ether in the 21st century, as YouTube’s algorithm accumulates millions of plays for once obscure jazz and new-age records. But it might be the most uncanny, an album that kindles a sensation not unlike watching home videos of your own childhood.

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Carla dal Forno - Look Up Sharp Music Album Reviews

The Australian multi-instrumentalist and songwriter’s second album finds a home in the shadowy space between post-punk, trip-hop, and lo-fi folk.

Autumn is the most charged of the seasons, and the most melancholy. As English novelist Kate Atkinson wrote in Human Croquet, the air can feel laden with “an aromatic shadow… the fragrance of last year’s apples and the smell of the insides of very old books with a base note of dead, wet rose-petals.” This same haze is conjured in almost everything recorded by London-via-Australia artist Carla dal Forno. A multi-instrumentalist and detail-obsessive, she records albums that, were they images, would be heavy with fog and sepia. She writes, generally, about the longing that precedes and follows relationships, the kind that casts a sillage of tension and want around the surrounding days.


Look Up Sharp, dal Forno’s second album and her first on her own Kallista Records, doesn’t depart from her past work so much as coalesce the haze into more of a shape. Dal Forno imprinted on post-punk, and she found a fitting home for her early records amid the doomy, dubby shadows of her former label, London-based Blackest Ever Black. But there’s an equally strong current of folk influence to her music, specifically the stark, lo-fi records of Virginia Astley and former labelmates Gareth Williams and Marie Currie. The midpoint of the genres is a shadowy space occupied by goth-folk singer-songwriters like Emma Ruth Rundle or Laura Sheeran, or the cello-and-violin mood pieces of former 4AD session musicians Martin and Kimberlee McCarrick. This is where dal Forno is at home, and newly assured.

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The arrangements—starting with the first lead bass notes of “No Trace”—are more muscular. Her vocals move from foreground to background, though there are still moments where you might swear you’d heard the voice of Broadcast’s Trish Keenan: the soprano brushstrokes of “No Trace,” the trip-hop murmurs of “Push On,” or the austere, layered choral opening to “Don’t Follow Me.” Her lyrics are more direct, even pointed. Single “So Much Better” isn’t just direct for dal Forno; lines like “you were a disaster, I’m glad I caused you pain” would be blunt coming from anyone. (“I had to trick myself that it was a bit of a joke that I was writing these lyrics down,” she said of writing the track.) It’s a calm anger, though: The song moves slowly, with deliberately paced bass and measured, almost deadpan vocals, like a grudge held so long and rehearsed so often it’s become an internal rhythm. “I’m Conscious” is less conflicted: “I crave drama,” she sings, and the track she conjures delivers. It’s as if, seeing romantic disaster approaching like thunderheads, she’s decided to go storm chasing.

Dal Forno can afford such candor; her arrangements are flush with subtext as is. “Took a Long Time” and “Push On” bloom with “Teardrop”-esque percussion shudders. “Don’t Follow Me,” a lyrical nod to the Cure’s “A Forest,” suspends dal Forno’s vocals above a grotty low end like thick moss. And the instrumentals on Look Up Sharp are characteristically palpable: a string solo on “Heart of Hearts,” the most McCarricks-like track here; the late-night meditations of “Leaving for Japan” and “Creep Out of Bed,” one neon and one smoky; the stark foreground-background arrangement of “Hype Sleep,” where clock ticks, live-wire buzzes, and longing woodwind fade in and out around a heavy, perseverating lead bass line. It is, as they say, an extremely big mood, and dal Forno is by now an expert at setting them.

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