Music is why we do this. It is a form of freedom that has the power to deliver messages no matter the state of the world or the people who inhabit it.
Coultrain’s 2015 EP, Side Effex of Make-Believe: Divided for Love's Sake, is a richly layered musical journey with macabre undertones throughout. Aaron Michael Frison, the voice behind it all, reminds me a bit of Bilal. Both artists are never satisfied being confined to a genre. The creativity he shows under the banner Coultrain is something I gravitate towards as I continue to revel in the freedom music offers.
One of the reasons I enjoy The Music Den project is that it allows me to explore deeper than I normally would. I know I am going to write about an artist, so I make more of an effort to see them outside of a playlist. This led me to a short film with only 400 views called Coultrain: Phantasmagoria: The Spectator. Frison created it to commemorate the release of Phantasmagoria. More than anything I could ever write, this 5-minute film describes his work perfectly.
My artist discovery path is a bit unusual. I focus intensely on the album I initially find, hesitating to move to other albums. Sometimes they just don’t have the same feel and that throws me off. This caution does not last long if the artist resonates deeply with me, but some artists never get past it. Coultrain does not fall into the latter category. He has such a strong voice in both the literal and figurative senses. Every bit of Coultrain persisted through his other albums Jungle Mumbo Jumbo and most recently, 2021’s Phantasmagoria. Coultrain will be a permanent part of my music library.
Electric Wire Hustle has an otherworldly feel about their music. As the name suggests, strings are interspersed in mellow tempered beats. Troublemakers on the album The 11th Sky is one of the earliest tracks I came across. I remember it well because Mara TK delivers profanity so smoothly that it stunned me. An effortless F bomb, graceful strings, and bass that make my Fostex TH 900 MK2s happy to exist, hold this song as one of my favorites on the album.
Blackwater from Love Can Prevail is a more somber take on electronic music that shows the range of the New Zealand duo. In what I can only describe as the smoothest distortion I’ve heard; robotic dissonance tells the story. Guitar strings—electric wire—cry throughout the track, whaling especially passionately during the “love can prevail” breakdown that eventually closes the song.
Sade is often seen as the frontwoman Sade Adu, but it is actually the name of the entire band. If you have ever seen her live, or the multitude of live concerts she has recorded, you’ll know her band is second to few. They released two albums without her. A self-titled album in 1996 and Stage (2) in 2004 were released under the name Sweetback.
Sweetback used this newfound freedom to bring laser focus to their craft. The album Sweetback features iconic voices such as Maxwell and Amel Larrieux. You Will Rise is one of the most powerful songs on the album. If you ever need a song to free you from the depths, this is the one. The track opens with a hearty, long-held saxophone note, immediately followed by an energetic and reassuring bassline. Amel Larrieux’s angelic voice enters with a beautiful rift and delivers a story that is both encouraging and heartbreaking all at once.
Softly Softly sees Maxwell—one of my all-time favorite artists—grace the track with his smooth as silk vocals. Maxwell can go from falsetto to power in the same breath, so when he needs to deliver something impactful, it’s like a leaping jab from nowhere. This is truly a song where you have the freedom to focus on the music or the lyrics independently of each other. That is an underrated quality in a song. The lyrics cut as deeply as the track wafts softly.
The closing track Powder is a beautiful instrumental track. One of many on the album, but this one I can just leave on repeat and use to focus. I can meditate atop the track, sorting through life itself, or I can have it playing while editing photos and writing.
Though today is a day of freedom for us in America, I wanted to focus on the freedom we all enjoy with music. Battle cries and anthems laid the foundational track of my journey and will continue doing so long after it is complete. Music shows me who I am, who we are, where we came from, and where we’re going.
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