It’s a new experience hearing Ty Segall without all the guitar pedals and gritty fuzz. Creating the general safe assumption that we can expect two or three releases a year from the prolific garage rocker, 2013 has been more or less quiet for Segall. There’s a reason for this, with the passing of his father last December (adoptive) from a long battle with cancer, the first we here from Ty all year came this August, in the form of Sleeper. An all acoustic collection, although his remarkable knack for melody has always been apparent, it’s finally the focal point of the songs, the lyrics taking more spotlight as well.
The opening title track sets a somber tone with powerfully struck chords and a self-harmonized croon from Segall. “A dream-sweet love,” he sings, evoking Dwight Twilley on the higher notes. He puts on a variety of voices throughout the album, as when adopting a British accent on “The Keepers” and “Crazy” — two of Sleeper’s finest tracks. The former is a rambling pop blues that would make Robert Pollard proud, the latter a fingerpicked ditty with startling falsettos and melodic flourishes. He gives advice to someone he addresses as “little one”: “Give your heart a brand new start/ Because he’s still here and he’s crazy.” The characters and romantic interactions on Sleeper range from charming to hilarious, with Segall settling into a storyteller role without being too lyrically direct.
The name, the album art, it’s pretty self explanatory what you’re going to get when the needle drops on this lp. This will be the only other release this year where we’ll see Ty Segall’s name. Though, you won’t be hearing his signature garage rock guitar squeals, instead he’s found behind the kit. With his new sludge metal band, Fuzz, Segall delivers the art of the headbang. Fuzz unsubtly celebrates the days of early metal yore, particularly in the spirit of fellow San Franciscan psychedelic freewheelers Blue Cheer and the assailing rhythms of Black Sabbath. The band’s self-titled record (released on Trouble In Mind) showcases Segall’s falsetto stylings over a stoner metal symphony, the prolific one taking on a different role, as the group’s drummer. Segall’s half-shriek swirls have become so distinctive that a label can put out a nameless 7″ and you’d immediately know it belongs to no other man.
What’s more immediately apparent is Dead Meadow’s embrace of thoughtful acoustic guitar-based compositions, as well as an increased experimentation with dubby production. “One More Toll Taker” is an airy duet between organ and folky guitar that calls to mind a ghostly eerie sunrise ceremony-like meditations, while a few songs later, “Burn the Here and Now” shimmers with a lush, cinematic palette of desert sky guitar tones at a narcotically slow pace. “Copper Is Restless (‘Til It Turns to Gold)” rides a pseudo-reggae bassline and is the band’s closest flat-out attempt at dub amidst the incredibly varied set of songs. Epic, lengthy, and ambitious, Warble Womb is so slow-moving and resilient in its vision that it never feels too heavy-handed or like it’s really even attempting anything overt. The songs dissolve into each other even at their most desperate, with clunky experimental interludes making a lot of sense when used to separate Dylanesque classic rockers like “Yesterday’s Blowing Back” from glowing psych pop nuggets like “Mr. Chesty.” While it’s not necessarily Dead Meadow’s masterwork, it shows a band growing into its sound and mellowing nicely without sacrificing any of its radiance by exploring less extreme territories.
Not only is Lee Ranaldo one of my favourite and most influential guitar players/artists of all time but I recently had the opportunity to meet him at a show show he and The Dust played at the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto. So, we’re going to cover the new release, and give a little bit of a feature on someone that has left a lasting impression on me musically and artistically and continues to do so, repeatedly.
Lee Ranaldo, first and foremost, an artist, a poet, a painter, a guitar virtuoso and somewhat of a cult hero. At least to me he is. Acting as one of the founding members of Sonic Youth ( do we need to mention they are one of the most lauded and influential alt rock acts of all time ? ) you could always tell if a SY tune was penned by Ranaldo because it was always the weirder ones. The tunes with the most jarring and explosive nature about them without relying on the feedback strain that Thurston and Kim were known for. This is however the man behind SY songs like “Pipeline/Kill Time” and “Skip Tracer”.
Sonic Youth was definitely about the sum of their parts and it’s awkward at best to be discussing them in a past tense existence. The dynamic of each member was so very integral to each and every creation of their output since their inception in 1981. Through the years there has been a few cast members that have come and gone, the likes of Richard Edson, Anne DeMarinis, Bob Bert, Jim Sclavunos and Jim O’rourke. The guts of Sonic Youth have always been the rhythm section of Steve Shelley (drums), Mark Ibold (bass & guitar), Thurston Moore (guitar & vocals), Kim Gordon (bass, vocals, guitar) and of course Lee Ranaldo (guitar & vocals). Being on the forefront of the noise rock revolution and pushing the DIY underground ethic of the genre more so than a specific sound is what made them such a cult act. It was never punk, nor was it grunge, it was too out there to be rock n roll. It was just art. And it was fucking amazing, every time.
So in 2011 after an extensive tour of their final album ‘The Eternal’ Ranaldo announces the band is “ending for a while” due to the separation of a wedded Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore.
In lieu of the increasingly unlikely Sonic Youth reunion, fans of the alternative pioneers are left to pour over the solo releases from the band’s members. But with each new release the individual players appear to spiral further away from each other in sound and direction. Thurston Moore has his Chelsea Light Moving http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_qmIvFuF8r4 with it’s punk rock edginess which is a little closer akin to Sonic Youth territory and just a pinch more anthemic. Then there is Kim Gordon’s new project Body/Head, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Mxwq7SBsX8 which definitely still maintains the odd wispy vocal and noise rock avant garde that Gordon brought to the SY fold. In the end however, both of these projects haven’t done much in the way of giving Sonic Youth fans a reason to be jaw dropped.
Now that that connection has been severed, we’re left to pick at these new shards wondering how these individual pieces could possibly connect to make a Daydream Nation or a Murray Street. With Body/Head and Chelsea Light Moving, we can see the connections. With Lee Ranaldo’s latest solo effort, it’s become apparent, he was clearly the George Harrison of Sonic Youth. (I just went there, yes)
Lee Ranaldo continues to course his own trajectory into the outer reaches with his newest record, Last Night on Earth. Written almost entirely on an acoustic guitar in his dark and powerless New York home in the days following hurricane Sandy, Last Night on Earth has since been fleshed out into an expansive and densely layered collection of unrestricted noise-rock indie jams. Ranaldo’s six string prowess sits front and centre throughout with multi-tracked solos intermittently puncturing the wall-of-sound production.
His first endeavor since last year’s Between The Times and The Tides, dealt in stories about peripheral characters and scenes from throughout his life, ones that he never had the opportunity to slow down and consider up to that point. Times and Tides was a straight account of a now 57-year-old Ranaldo’s first reactions to seeing the world through a lens he hadn’t had access to since he was 25. Whereas he directed focus towards the lyrics on that record, his primary efforts are geared towards fleshing out musical shapes that were never fits for Sonic Youth on Last Night on Earth, his tenth solo LP, and an introduction to his new backing band, The Dust. Featuring non other than Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley, Tim Luntzel on bass and Alan Licht, guitarist for the NY band from the nineties, Run On.
Last Night features warm, extended guitar pop tracks (nine total, most between seven and 12 minutes in length) inspired largely by the Grateful Dead in structure, and often in tone. It’s an especially melodic effort from Ranaldo, and while his DNA still plainly bleeds through with the occasional masterful guitar freak-out, he sounds comfortable and easy as ever here.
The songs on Last Night on Earth feel like they are approaching the world heart first, a sentiment you could never express about a Sonic Youth album. It’s because this album feels free of the internal tension that Ranaldo and Thurston Moore could stir up together. It could be because he conceived of these songs initially on acoustic guitar, but credit must be shared with his co-guitarist here, Alan Licht.
A longtime friend and cohort of Ranaldo’s, Licht brings the same loose-limbed psychedelic energy that made his work with Run On so enticing. His ringing chords on “Ambulancer” keep Ranaldo’s passionate lyrics of watching a loved one pass away connected to earth, and his syrupy leads feel like the soul soaring that we associate with death. Earlier on the album, Licht finds ways to leap out of the dense wall of multi-tracked guitar lines and Steve Shelley’s busy yet sturdy drumming with some, cutting a vein of ice through the otherwise heated “The Rising Tide.”
The loose, free spirit of Last Night is to be expected considering how quickly the songs were written and recorded (his previous solo effort Between The Times and The Tides was released just last year). And for the most part, it suits Ranaldo. His lyrics are far more discursive and poetic, and grapple more strongly with existential issues. Musically, it can make for inspired moments like the wowing extended coda of “Blackt Out” or the Grateful Dead-like “Key-Hole.
“Home Chds,” for instance, slowly and delicately shifts from an acoustic slow-burner to an accelerated, wobbly fuzz solo, while the mid-section of “The Rising Tide” finds Ranaldo in much more familiar form, stretching out a guitar screech over a furious rhythm section. Key moments, “Ambulancer” and “Blackt Out” demonstrate Ranaldo’s ability to effectively marry musicianship and song writing. Here he echoes Michael Stipe’s existential themes and vocal delivery but eschews this approach for delightfully shambolic and distortion heavy solos. Energetic but unhurried, sprawling but never directionless.
The Obits – Beds & Bugs
The Obits seem to be able to consistently walk a fine line between ramshackle and sophistication. The Brooklyn four piece have woven a sound and tone akin to Televison, The Wipers and The Electric Prunes. Beds & Bugs gets a little weirder without venturing out and away from the rusted guitar noise with just enough extra fuzz. Perhaps the only element their previous effort Moody, Stranded & Poor was lacking.
“Taste the Diff” and “It’s Sick” lash out with wiry guitars and big choruses. “Spun Out” goes surfing, while “Malpractice” dips its toe in the neo-blues swamp. Instrumental “Besetchet” and the prog-y folk of “Machines” are the only calm moments on Bed & Bugs, but seem to be present for that reason alone. The guitar interplay on songs like “Operation Bikini” and closer “Double Jeopardy (For the Third Time)” is gripping in the moment. It’s not too easy to overlook the vocals of Froberg, whose nasal rasp continues to be as wonderfully unruly as the guitars.
It’s a damn fun listen and would make a good party record, fans of The Strange Boys, Thee Oh Sees and Deerhunter would all settle in nicely here. Just another great release from your friends at SubPop.
The Ketamines – You Can’t Serve Two Masters
You Can’t Serve Two Masters, the follow up to last year’s Spaced Out is a much more focused and even more entertaining release by Paul Lawton and The Ketamines. It’s keen on progression instead of just simply stirring up trouble. It’s an album full of succinct pop influenced garage pysch rock and quickly goes for the gut.
What stands out on You Can’t Serve Two Masters, is the execution: great hooks are left alone to work their magic, most notably on the intoxicating title track and the bouncy “Lawncare”. It’s not simplistic, however: as the members of Ketamines are allowed room to find their own footing,You Can’t Serve Two Masters reveals itself in layers. “So Clean” is a perfect marriage of a scuzzy hook, while still employing sunny undertones. The spacey stomp of “Don’t Stop” is is as close to anything on Spaced Out, but even then it’s a fun enough listen that no one will get too bogged down in.
“Spaceships” even showcases a sensitive, humiliated side, something of a rarity in a genre known for cocksure callousness. But Lawton and Ketamines have always explored dichotomies, and You Can’t Serve Two Masters is no different. “Thank Me Forever” continues in exposing Lawton’s sweet side, an indication that we truly won’t know what will come next from the band.
You Can’t Serve Two Masters is one of the better psych listens of the year; its ability to surprise is so engaging that it reminds us never to judge a book by its cover.
Pearl Jam – Lightning Bolt
Here’s a band that over their career have done a great job weeding out the fair weathered fans. More so after the first two releases. The years and albums following seemed to always have a new course in their orbit. They have managed to wedge themselves in and create their own corner in American rock, on a world class level. Those who have always had a soft spot for Pearl Jam know that with each release they’re in for a treat.
Into their 23rd year now, what hasn’t Pearl Jam done ? A band that has been able to change from album to album yet always feel the same, in the most comforting ways. On their tenth studio release Lightning Bolt divides easily between two halves. Out of the gates we’re hit with an aggressive “Getaway” and directly into “Mind Your Manners”, the first single. Which showcases some of McCready and Gossard’s most frantically driven riffs since Vitalogy’s “Spin The Black Circle”. There’s an abundance of urgent rockers here, the title track and “My Father’s Son” as autobiographical as “Alive” was. Vedder’s hardcore Ramones worship is alive and well in the album’s opening half, that’s for sure.
Gossard’s “Let The Records Play” bounces between country twang and 70’s glam rock with the lyric about a dude who cures his pain with LP’s and a vaporizer. While Ament’s bass pulses a dreamy melancholy “Pendulum”. A tune that evokes Edgar Allen Poe and has been opening set lists on the current leg of their tour. McCready’s leads on the first of a few four ballads (and follow up single) are some of the most melodious, heartfelt and memorable moments on the album. “Sleeping By Myself” taken from the Ukulele Songs album Vedder released, gets the full band treatment. There’s a hint of Nick Drake on “Yellow Moon” and “Future Days” is a fraught but uplifting love song.
Pearl Jam have become their heroes, but, like Springsteen, clearly do not want to become fat Elvis. So on their 10th LP, they over think, over emote and overreach — fruitfully. If the party line on 2009’s Backspacer was that it was PJ having “fun,” Lightning Bolt is the sound of anger and brooding depression. In Pearl Jam terms, this is reason to be happy.
Dodos – Carrier
There is an eerie foreshadowing provided for the fifth release by their previous albums titles, Visitor, Time To Die, No Colour. The Duo from San Francisco the Dodos fifth album titled Carrier is their most subdued and solemn album inspired by the passing of guitarist Christopher Reimer, who joined Dodos for a brief time during his departure from Woman. He past in 2012 at a tender age of just 26. Though Reimer doesn’t play on Carrier he certainly is a spiritual player for both Meric Long and Logan Kroeger. The album lingers and resonates in ways that give it a unique place in their discography, a promising path forward rather than what can initially be heard as a return to Time to Die’s soft-focus indie pop.
Of the more apparent changes here is that Long has made the transition to electric guitar almost full time. Though Dodos broke out on Visitor as an acoustic-and-drums duo and returned to that format on No Color, they’re not wedded to that setup, having incorporated electric guitars in a live setting and even a full-time vibraphonist on Time to Die. The strange thing is that they might be the first band to ever plug in for the sole purpose of rocking less. You can sense a tentativeness in the shift towards a gentler minimalism– both the first song “Transformer” and the first single “Confidense” begin as calm and quiet meditations, Long singing in a hushed, lower range over sprightly fingerpicking before giving way to the kind of percussive jams that we’ve come to expect. But those sections end up feeling mismatched and you sense that while Dodos were ready to do away with their old habits.
Long and Kroeber as instrumentalists often was the hook on past records, rather than a certain melody or lyric. As the songwriting process has been completely inverted. Whereas previous records evolved out of instrumental jams, the lyrics on Carrier came first. But much like the six-string switch-up, it has the exact opposite effect that you might expect. Long hasn’t become a wordier or more poetic lyricist, in fact, Carrier is Dodos’ most plainspoken album. There seems to be a “first thought, best thought” approach as he asks cosmic, open-ended questions that strike to the heart of the human experience or sensible, legible fragments that can fleshed out over equally inquisitive music.
Valerie June – Pushin’ Against A Stone
Let’s get the name dropping out of the way early. Another stellar album produced by Dan Auerbach at his Nashville studio. It features a cast of Jimbo Mathus, Richard Swift, Booker T. Jones and Auerbach all backing up Valerie June‘s Pushin’ Against a Stone, her fourth album to date. The only way to describe it is ‘organic moonshine roots music’. June moves from country twang, to blues, through gospel territory and folk, she isn’t shy to show her motown soul side either. Truth be told many other records before have tried to squeeze a varied amount of traditional styles into one package, only to gave it seem cluttered and unfocused. But there’s a vision and a direction to June’s record that is rare and hard to come by.
It’s always treading dangerous ground to talk about “authenticity” when it comes to any style of music. But there’s a reason why artists from Memphis, for example, have played such a crucial role in the creation and development of so many genres. The city was the focal point of an area steeped in blues, gospel, country and soul talent, and artists who had the largest capacity to absorb those sounds invariably sounded like no one else.
It surely must have been tempting for whoever has been giving June advice, to make her stick to a single approach. However, Pushin’ Against The Stone is a rare case when a young artist’s natural instincts are spot-on. As both a singer and songwriter, June is a major talent with unlimited potential. A talent that may just make a few year end lists.
Califone – Stitches
After the breakup of his former band Red Red Meat, frontman Tim Rutili formed Califone as a solo project. Rutili’s solo effort soon became a full-fledged musical project with a regular and rotating list of contributors, including many former members of Red Red Meat and some members of other Chicago bands. Since 1997 Rutili has been releasing his brand of Americana under the Cailfone guise. Music that has always been rooted in this tension between technology and humanity. Now at the eleventh release Stitches leans a little more heavily on the human element. It’s not strictly a singer-songwriter record, though the focus on Rutili’s vocals and the songwriting is more pronounced than usual, like on “Movie Music Kills a Kiss,” where the song is framed simply by a plaintive acoustic strum, stinging slide-guitar asides, and a trickling piano. At times, Stitches sounds more like a collection of demos for a Califone record than a Califone record, which suits the starkness of the material. After all, people don’t head to the desert unless they’re hiding from something, and the demons that Rutili describes on Stitches seem particularly druggy and apocalyptic.
The lyrics are cryptic and hallucinatory. Even when it’s not always clear what Rutili is talking about on Stitches, the music evokes an unsettling spiritual reckoning. All personal tragedy and affliction is born of the distance between the reality of what is and the imagination of what might be. Or at least it would seem that way from several listens. In total, Stitches is exactly the sort of Americana record that can act as antidote for what’s happening in the genre right now. At a time when “hey!” folk has fully infiltrated rock radio, and made questionably bearded banjo players the guitar shredders of this generation, somebody has to stand up and represent how truly weird and wondrous this music can be. Stitches isn’t a record designed to bowl anybody over. It eschews easy Mumford-like payoffs. Like desert sand, it slowly washes over until it finally crushes you.
It’s been ten years since their debut release, Canadian chamber pop group Esmerine are just releasing their fourth album Dalmak. the quartet, comprising co-founders Bruce Cawdron (of Godspeed You! Black Emperor) and Beckie Foon (of Thee Silver Mountain Zion), as well as recent additions Brian Sanderson and Jamie Thompson, spin a fine web of noise. It’s fragile, tempestuous, pensive and sprawling, as they experiment with languid strains of clinical harmony, exploring avante-garde themes in neo-classical music, electronica and post-rock.
After lengthy tours of Europe brought Esmerine to Turkey – Istanbul specifically – the group were invited for a residency in the city. A significant portion of Dalmak was then recorded and written in the ancient metropolis, and the band were joined by a spray of Turkish session musicians for various tracks. The word ‘dalmak’ itself is Turkish, roughly translating to ‘to be absorbed by’ or ‘to dive in’; the LP is about the foursome submerging themselves in an utterly different culture, and also about trekking into your mind on voyages of self-discovery; there’s a meditative aspect to the album, between titans of hysteria and goliath frenzied welts.
Where a lot of the album focuses on a very particular culture and region, it’s a portion of ‘white space’ if you will, where your ears can rest. Not that it’s dull by any measure, but it requires less active listening than, say, ‘Barn Board Fire’. ‘White Pine’ is another cut that’s less about the Turkish inspirations and more a showcase of Foon’s prodigal cello talent. A pitter-patter of repeated motifs collude with strings that pirouette and sashay like ballerinas. Gradually, the cellos and violins engorge. What began life as minuscule anxious threads rapidly becomes something colossal and all-encompassing. Esmerine summon music to drown you, relying on minimalist techniques to build a claustric effect. They ultimately craft gorgeous, sparkling experimental noises that blur the line between post-rock, minimalist electronica and Turkish folk. It’s a humbling concoction that’s all too easy to get lost in.
Tim Hecker – Virgins
Tim Hecker one ups his own paradigm shifting approach to noise, ambience and the echoes in between. The seventh full-length release for the Canadian experimental electronic producer was recorded live in Montreal, Reykjavik, and Seattle. Virgins is Hecker’s most enigmatic and thought provoking material to date. His sound signature may still be instantly recognizable, but there is no denying that he has moved significantly farther down the path toward something else with this release. Each Hecker record features drastically manipulated instruments; with this one, he causes not just instruments, but otherwise static things—spaces, echoes, shadows—to exhale and speak.
The devastating “Live Room,” for instance, emulates the way thoughts surge accelerated through a paranoid mind, all arpeggio pianos, creaking doorways, and fabric tearing. An unsettling thump halts the gentle billowing keys in “Black Refraction,” like a stuck needle hitting phantom grooves at the end of a record. The record’s title tracks, “Virginal I” and “Virginal II,” swell and flatten with keys that are just out of tune, producing an effect that’s simultaneously disorienting and nostalgic, like unearthing a letter from a dead lover.
Never quite retreating from his signature techniques, with no reason to do so, Virgins finds angular ways to stun and pleasure and is unmistakably Hecker’s vision, it’s the listeners experience.
Numero 049 – Iasos: Celestial Soul Portrait
In 1989, a psychology professor at Plymouth State found that Iasos‘ music bore striking resemblance tot he sounds of near – death experiences. By the mid 1970’s before ambient’s ‘furniture music’ and the coming of New Age, Iasos made in-roads into both aborning genres. In dialogue with Vista, a benevolent extra-dimensional muse, Iasos conducted groundbreaking experiments with tape reversal, feedback and electronic processes, working with early commercially available synthesizers. Translating Vista’s tones for Earthling ears, Iasos midwifed new genres and transformed compositional possibilities for contemporary musicians, all while living as an eccentric on Sausalito’s only telephone equipped houseboat. Spotlighting the first decade of his output, Celestial Soul Portrait features unseen photos, never before heard tracks and insights on the life and “crystal giggling energy” of Iasos, the other Greek god of 70’s exploration into music’s electronic stargate.
Now that we have that part out of the way and you’re still probably wondering “what the fuck”? I’ll explain. The above statement was the little sticker on the top right hand corner of the record when I noticed it on the shelf at my local record shop (Vinyl Alibi). It was enough to make me purchase, with curiosity exploding inside of me, I couldn’t wait to get this home and drop the needle on it. A glass of wine in hand and eagerly awaiting the first tones as the vinyl turned on the platter … maybe it was 30 seconds in … perhaps a bit longer… I don’t recall, but I do remember feeling the smile roll across my face as the tears streamed over my cheeks. I was listening to the most beautiful album I had ever heard.
Before ambient and New Age were so named and codified, the “Paradise Music” of Iasos—represented here by 13 selections transmitted between 1975 and 1985—brought Earth-transcriptions of a vast and galactic soundhealing to a planet much in need.
You should also know, Numero is known as Numero Group. Each release being titled Numero with a numer attached to it. Beginning with 1 all the way to here at 049. A label with a wealth of delicious sounds. The first half of their output focuses strongly on soul, motown and R&B that has been lost, misplace and generally unheard. The later portion of their ever growing catalogue begins to delve into other territory. Ranging from punk explosions to grunge pre grunge, country treasures and ambient electronic regions. Below is a link to their site and just under that will be some Iasos to entice you further.
Last Days – Satellite
Satellite is the 4th album from Graham Richardson’s Last Days. Richardson who is now well known for his cinematic electro-acoustic pieces that effortlessly invoke an almost inconceivably tangible imagery has this time around turned ever inward for Satellite’s core inspiration. While Richardson credits the album with certain personal themes in tow he’s more apt to let the listener gather their own meaning of the album’s affinity of satellite and stars. The song New Transmission features vocals by Beth Arzy (Aberdeen, Trembling Blue Stars) and could very well sum up the album’s apex while delivering the most pop affected Last Days song to date.
I instantly connected with its melancholic themes, nostalgic motifs and more importantly, organic ways. Richardson’s music exists somewhere outside of genres, always exploring the very personal themes of stasis and flux, escape and acceptance. diving deeper into electro-acoustic shoegaze, lo-fi electronica, and cinematic ambiance. This is immediately a more retrospective work, with casual walks down the memory lane, flashbacks to instructional records on good manners, and innocent bed time fantasies of orbiting the Earth in our protective space suits. This childhood dream pinnacles at the eleven-minute track titled “To The Sky” (a favorite on the album), where endless ethereal pads stretch into outer space becoming one with the infinite. With these thoughts I want to run out into the yard, lie on the grass, and stare into the starry sky, looking for the fading echo of long time dying planet. Instead, of course, we’re staring into glowing screens, obsessed with daily tidbits of another person’s life, unable to unplug and really live our own. And although these are only thoughts, they are indeed brought on by music of Last Days, a message well received through simple ways of music.
SMM: Opiate – Various Artists
SMM: Opiate is the second release in Ghostly’s SMM series, which is an ongoing exploration of the evocative possibilities of sound, with a focus on classical minimalism, electronic and drone composition, film soundtracks, and fragile imaginary landscapes.Opiate is the follow-up to 2011’s SMM: Context, and as with that record, it’s a carefully chosen selection of music, compiled over some two years from around the world.
As a whole, the compilation seems to follow a narrative arc, descending through a series of stages into near-complete stillness, and then slowly ascending back to where it began. As a whole, the experience is certainly evocative of the opiated sensation evoked by the record’s title — but really, it’s a compilation that invites you to find your own meaning in it, or simply to appreciate the beauty of its music and escape the world for a while.
||SIMON SCOTT – Water Shadow
||A WINGED VICTORY FOR THE SULLEN – Ti Prego Memory Man
||CELER – Nothing So Mystical
||BLACK SWAN – Passings, Heartbreak
||JIM HAYNES – This is Radio Sweden
||EN – White
||PJUSK – Dorsk
||FIELDHEAD – 37th
||NOVELLER – Bright Clouds Bloom
Four Tet – Rounds: 10th Anniversary Reissue
Kieran Hebden, Four Tet, his breakout third album Rounds gets an anniversary and a 180 gram reissue on two LP’s. Don’t ask why, seriously, you shouldn’t even be reading this if why is a question in your syrupy mind. But if you must know, Rounds is something you should own, as it may very well be Hebden’s masterpiece. The record opens with a series of quiet punchouts before the clanging of drums emerges every eight beats, leaving a trail of quiet keys in its way, finally developing that mishmash of sound into something more conventional just before the two-minute mark. “Hands” is a very good introduction to Four Tet’s world, where everything seems to be a bit chaotic and disorganized before a clear melodic pattern comes into focus as the track stretches on. He loops his own instruments excessively, but never does it feel like Hebden is running out of ideas: he fully understands the nature of a groove, how to ride it, when to deviate from it, when to simply throw surprises at you. “She Moves She” seems a bit conventional from the onset, but when you least expect it, he’ll toss in a quiet windchime breakdown, an aggressive-sounding burst of static-fuzz that you soon realize has been looped into the main melody—it’s all greatly compelling stuff.
Rounds is an end-to-end burner, as there isn’t a weak track in the bunch. The moody “And They All Looked Broken Hearted” starts out ominous, but the quiet shamisen work brought in part way through buoys the track from falling too far down in mood, while the closing “Slow Jam” offers a structure that’s more conventional in achieving emotional catharsis. The fiery “Spirit Fingers” is all uptempo build up with no climax, and “Unspoken” may very well be the closest thing the kids these days have to a trip-hop track in a post trip-hop age. It is a rewarding, rich album that holds up well after multiple listens. Perhaps what’s best about the album is that despite its release 10 years ago, it sounds just as fresh then as it does today, completely fitting in with our current musical landscape without missing a beat. Perhaps that compliment is more of a critique on the state of music today than it is on Hebden’s forward-thinking abilities, but no matter which way you slice it, Rounds is slowly building up its goodwill for “classic album” status without having to do much aside from just existing.
Darkside – Psychic
When worlds collide, the fallout’s rarely pretty, and it’s typically true for the modern bastardisation of music genres. For every positive fusion of style, form, and function, there’s inevitably a grating opposite; a haemorrhaging car crash of noise that make heads hurt and ears bleed. But in the cultured hands of Nicolas and guitarist Dave Harrington, it’s an exploration that runs deep and pulls with the insistent power of a black hole.
All dark atmospherics and empty space, Jaar’s spectral production for collaborative project Darkside creates the void where rhythm, and seemingly time, are allowed to infinitely float on. Subterranean melodies are chopped out by clean, minimal motorik beats, and door-slamming bass and broken vocals help drop the cold, dead-eyed chills on tracks like the ‘The Only Shrine I’ve Seen’ and the skewed, ritualistic creep of ‘Greek Light’.
Conversely, though, ‘Psychic’ is an album underpinned by control, and a record that’s ruthlessly – often impeccably – efficient in its construct. It means the lounge bump ‘n’ grind of ‘Metatron’ sits easy with the schizophrenic static of ‘Freak, Go Home’ and the rumbling, 11-minute slow-burn of opener ‘Golden Arrow’ never really threatens to reach a bombastic climax.
Mazzy Star – Seasons Of Your Day
After a seventeen year hiatus Hope Sandoval brings back Mazzy Star, and they haven’t lost a thing in the interim. The fourth album Seasons Of Your Day, is so faithful to the established Mazzy Star sound. It’s almost hard to believe, there is no sign of age or intrusion of an additional influence. If word emerged that this record was actually recorded in 1997, a year after the release of Among My Swan, there would be no reason to doubt it. The tone and phrasing of Sandoval’s voice are exactly where we left them. David Roback, Mazzy Star’s musical driving force hasn’t been in the public eye but he remembers how to make a record sound good and how to write simple and effective chord changes. The craftsmanship of the songs—their mix of longing, weary resignation, and dusty cracks of sunlight—remains at a high level. To hear this Mazzy Star record is to understand why the modest and enjoyable Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions never really took off. It lacked the nostalgic feeling.
The reverb forming a halo around Sandoval’s voice on “California” is warm and haunted, Roback’s guitar tone on “Common Burn” is impossibly lonesome and beautiful, and the acoustic slide imparting a blusiness on “Sparrow” and “Does Someone Have Your Baby Now” cuts through yawning canyons of silence. The record is sonically impressive in an elemental way, and the songs are memorable and distinct. There was always some remove to the project, a certain formalism. Still, to my ear, none of these qualities detract from what makes Mazzy Star so listenable and appealing. Those first three albums have always been easy to put on and enjoy, and now we have a fourth to go with them.
AroarA – In The Pines
Andrew Whiteman is best known as core member of Broken Social Scene and the founding member of Apostle of Hustle, he’s always marched to syncopated beat of his own drummer. A globally minded rambler and magpie – like collector of creative sparks. He’s used his Apostle of Hustle vessel to explore and express esoteric interests in everything from Cuban music to Chilean activist and artist Victor Jara. With his latest endeavor Whiteman found inspiration in an unlikely place, The University of Pennsylvania’s online archive of spoken word recordings.
He Stumbled upon Alice Notley, a name he had heard in the past but yet unfamiliar with her work. She is a celebrated American avant-garde poet and Pulitzer finalist. While listening to her read the cadence in her voice resonated with Whiteman, as if hearing Sly Stone or Van Morrison for the first time. After seeking out her books he stumbles across ‘In The Pines’. Which Notley writes about a women undergoing treatment for Hepatitis C and the adjoining psychological struggles, AroarA have done their own translation of Notley’s work in a mixture of music styles with adept creativity.
Whiteman along with wife Ariel Engle make up the duo that is AroarA, based out of Montreal. The duo’s first release was an ep later this summer with just five songs, titled with numbers. As the full length has nine other songs titled with different numbers, as so the two release make up a 14 song collection (titled #1 – #14 in no real numeric order). Each of the 14 songs (with Notley’s approval) is a companion to the 14 poems found in Notley’s book of the same name.
In The Pine is a hauntingly lush, weird, whispery and percussive interpretation on Notley’s hallucinatory imagery done through multi layered vocals and patchwork instrumentation. Achingly gorgeous, Engle’s rich burnished vocals sit in fragile pockets of Whiteman’s ringing guitar notes or float over earthy piano samples and homemade percussion samples. Easily one of the most accessibly avant – garde releases in some time, Whiteman and Engle take you into the pines and lead you through the shadows and back again in an almost shamanistic journey.
Brendan Canning – You Gots 2 Chill
The second solo release by Brendan Canning, co-founding member of Broken Social Scene is a low stakes affair. Even the winking title You Gots 2 Chill comes off like a post-it-note reminder on the fridge door, something to keep oneself grounded. Perhaps that’s just what Canning needs these days. After scoring the synthy soundtrack to The Canyons and working on a mysterious interactive multimedia endeavor involving director David Cronenberg and a biotech lab. Given the scope of these projects, it’s easy to understand why Canning’s approach to his new solo record You Gots 2 Chill was decidedly laid-back and homespun: he put together his own independent label to handle the album’s release (named for his home street, tucked into the heart of downtown Toronto), drew the cover art himself, and recorded without help from any of his Broken Social Scene associates.
Every track is built up around a spine of finger picking acoustic guitar, most would be content to exist without any vocal or embellishment. Canning draws a rough-hewn, earthen beauty from the strings on tracks like the misty “Never Go to the Races” and the wistful “Last Song for the Summer Hideaway”. There’s a refreshing sense of humor present in the album’s song titles and sequencing: “Makes You Motor” chuckles at its unhurried mid-tempo groove, while the frisky “Plugged In” lives off the grid just like the rest of the record. The 14 songs are fleshed out without sacrificing Canning’s ear for gentle, slowly shifting melody.
By being so low-stakes the album’s collection of acoustic tunes fit just right as sweater weather approaches. They fit with comfort and intimacy, like an evening cup of tea.
Michael Feuerstack – tambourine Death Bed
There’s a sense of directness on Michael Feuerstack‘s latest album, Tambourine Death Bed, from the abandonment of his previous moniker (Snailhouse) to the stripped-down motif of his minimal folk sounds.Tambourine Death Bed is the handwritten, personal letters we crave in a world of digitalized, characterless e-mails. The intimacy of Feuerstack’s keen observations, whether in the flowers that grow in a city or the striking fact that “you’re too young to be so old,” hits listeners square between the eyes without any overcomplicated arrangements clouding the powerful significance of his lyrics. The record is constructed with layers of subtle detail and collaborative hands in the mix, including the Little Scream’s Laurel Sprengelmeyer’s voice wonderfully intertwining with Feuerstack’s on “Flowers in the City” and “Bones in the River.” Feuerstack might have shed his Snailhouse moniker, but his lyrics and understated songs are still blanketing us with the warmest of words and feelings.
Do Make Say Think – s/t (debut reissue)
Despite the occasional spurt of touring, it’s been years since we had a new Do Make Say Think release to spin on our turntables. While the band have yet to announce a follow-up to their 2009 set Other Truths, the long-running Toronto post-rock crew are about to give their back catalogue a boost via the first-ever vinyl pressing of their self-titled debut. The once CD-only set will be spread out over two LPs, with the four sides clocking in at around 72 minutes of music. The vinyl will be served up on 180-gram wax, and the original artwork has been adapted into a package featuring a custom window-cut jacket, two heavyweight sleeves and a 12″ x 12″ credit insert.
Constellation’s original press sheet for Do Make Say Think highlighted the band’s “spacerock-cum-swing approach to sweeping instrumentals,” further noting that the recording was spiked with “rhythm syncopation, reverb-soaked guitar, the occasional horn, and some of the finest saturated synth tones we’ve ever heard.”
I’ve always adored DMST, ever since I first them. The self titled release being the first. It’s an album that changed me in so many ways, the way I listen to music. I would not be stretching the truth to say that it was and still is one of the most influential albums in my collection. I’ve gone through a few cd copies over the years and while having the rest of their catologue on vinyl it’s a real treat to finally have this pressed on wax and in the collection.
Kronos Quartet with Bryce Dessner – Aheym
The National guitarist and Clogs member Bryce Dessner is set to release his recording as a composer. It’s a collaboration between Dessner and the avant-classical outfit Kronos Qaurtet, and it features the Brooklyn Youth Chorus.
Being a long time fan of The National and always gushing over the work of Clogs, I’m very much looking forward to this November 5th release. Below is a quote from Bryce about the album.
“David Harrington asked me to write a piece for Kronos Quartet for a performance in Prospect Park, Brooklyn. I live just two blocks from the park and spend many mornings running around it. The park for me symbolizes much of what I love about New York, especially the stunning diversity of Brooklyn with its myriad cultures and communities. My father’s family, Jewish immigrants from Poland and Russia, also lived near the park for many years in the 1940s and ’50s before moving to Queens. In discussing the new piece, David proposed to perform the work in Brooklyn, and then to retrace the journey of my grandparents and perform it in Lodz, Poland, a city where my great-grandparents lived and through which my grandmother passed on her voyage to America.
“‘Aheym’ means ‘homeward’ in Yiddish, and this piece is written as musical evocation of the idea of flight and passage. As little boys, my brother and I used to spend hours with my grandmother, asking her about the details of how she came to America. She could only give us a smattering of details, but they all found their way into our collective imagination, eventually becoming a part of our own cultural identity and connection to the past. In her poem “Di rayze aheym,” the American-Yiddish poet Irena Klepfisz, a professor at Barnard in New York and one of the few child survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto, writes: ‘Among strangers is her home. Here right here she must live. Her memories will become monuments.’
“Aheym is dedicated to my grandmother, Sarah Dessner.”
L. Pierre – Surface Noise
The vinyl crackle and string samples on Surface Noise are much wider than the ground they cover. After only discovering L. Pierre on his last release ‘The Island Come True’ I’ve been trying to find the way to approach this release. The bottom line is that you’ll enjoy this. It’s hard not to. It’s a gentle, withered, and mournful self-contained suite that you’ll find lovely at points and pretty at others, and the blanker spaces aren’t around too long until the points at which it sounds nice crop up again. It’s a nice-sounding record, and it’s occasionally pretty beautiful.
In these recordings, L. Pierre pays an affectionate tribute to the wear and tear of overplayed vinyl; the hiss, scratch and pop of records long loved but worn down. It’s the sound of survival, the echoes of a life lived well; moth eaten music of sadness and resilience, of beauty and backbone. Each track is then loaded with rich, string-heavy bars of ominous or overly-syrupy romantic orchestration. The transition between tracks is much smoother than on previous efforts, and the effect is a bit like listening to a skipping Elgar compilation that has gathered a thick skin of dust.