For all the attention that was paid to her 2012 break-through Tramp, Sharon Van Etten is an artist with a hunger to turn another corner and to delve deeper, writing from a place of honesty and vulnerability to create a bond with the listener that few contemporary musicians can match. Compelled by a restless spirit, Van Etten is continuously challenging herself. Now, the result is Are We There, a self-produced album of exceptional intimacy, sublime generosity, and immense breadth.
Most musicians are quite happy to leave the production end of things to someone else. It’s enough to live your music without taking on the role of producer as well. Yet Van Etten knew it was time to make a record entirely on her terms. The saying goes “fortune favors the bold” and yet this boldness had to be tempered. For this, Van Etten found a kindred spirit in veteran music producer Stewart Lerman. Originally working together on Boardwalk Empire, they gently moved into new roles, rallying around the idea of making a record together in Lerman’s studio in New Jersey. Lerman’s studio expertise gave Van Etten the freedom to make Are We There the way she imagined. Van Etten also enlisted the individual talents of her band, consisting of Heather Woods Broderick, Doug Keith and Zeke Hutchins, and brought in friends Dave Hartley and Adam Granduciel from The War on Drugs, Jonathan Meiberg (Shearwater), Jana Hunter (Lower Dens), Peter Broderick, Mackenzie Scott (Torres), Stuart Bogie, Jacob C. Morris and Mickey Freeze.
It is clear from the opening chords in the first song, Afraid of Nothing, that we are witnessing a new awareness, a sign of Van Etten in full stride, writing, producing and performing from a place that seems almost mythical, were it not so touchable and real. Always direct, and never shying away even from the most personally painful narratives, Van Ettten’s songwriting continues to evolve. Many of the songs deal with seemingly impossible decisions, anticipation, and then resolution. She sings of the nature of desire, memory, of being lost, emptiness, of promises and loyalty, fear and change, of healing and the true self, violence and sanctuary, waiting, of silence. The artist who speaks in such a voice is urging us to do something, to take hold and to go deeper. Living in this way, the questions of life remain alive, as close and steady as breathing. Many of the ballads of old are as dark as pitch, and people for whom the issues of life and death were as vivid as flame wrote them. You could turn off the electricity, remove all the instruments and Sharon’s voice and words would remain. They connect her to the mystic stratum which flows just beneath the everyday, which is rarely acknowledged as the forces of distraction sweep our attention away.
Leonard is the second single from Tramp, the new album from Sharon Van Etten.
The shimmering sound of Sharon Van Etten’s Jagjaguwar debut album, Tramp, both defies and illuminates the unsteadiness of a life in flux. Throughout the 14 months of scattered recording sessions, Van Etten was without a home -- crashing with friends and storing her possessions between varied locations. The only constant in Van Etten's life during this time was spent in Aaron Dessner's garage studio.
The shimmering sound of Tramp both defies and illuminates the unsteadiness of a life in flux. During the 14 months of scattered recording sessions, Sharon Van Etten was without a home - crashing with friends and spreading out her possessions between various locations. The only constant during this time was when Van Etten returned to the garage studio of The National’s Aaron Dessner.
The resulting album is an assured and strident one, and Tramp showcases an artist in control of her powers, incorporating vivid arrangements and instrumentation into the songwriting. It is a startling collection, filled with as much defiant rock as pious, minimal beauty. There are declarative hymns and remarkably sultry numbers. Tramp features many stupendous guests, as well, including Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner, Julianna Barwick, and Beirut’s Zach Condon, and Dessner himself.
For Simon Joyner's tenth proper album, he's joined by his working Omaha band, the Fallen Men. What they've created is a dark, rock-and-roll, beginning or ending of an era, seven leaf catalogue of people (skeletons) and their troubles (blues). Sounding like Doug Yule-era Velvet Underground, Dylan with the Band (or is it Neil Young and Crazy Horse?), and Sister Lovers damaged Big Star, this is unlike any other Simon Joyner record.
The song cycle begins with a cobblestone street inviting a man in an open window to splash the bricks below, to the cadence of It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding), and ends with a man walking down the street waiting for the rain to wash him clean. In between is all the news fit to sing. Joyner knows it takes a worried man to sing a worried song and the songs here are certainly worried, peopled by bruised lives, but make no mistake, this is not hopeless music
The early 90’s lo-fi explosion coincided with and was precipitated by the emergence of hundreds of small independent tape labels, many of which onlyexisted long enough to release one compilation. It was during this heyday that Simon Joyner contributed some of his finest material to various intrinsicallylimited edition releases. Beautiful Losers: Singles and Compilation Tracks 1994-1999 collects all such compilation appearances and the few singlesmade during these years, including the perennial favorite “One for the Catholic Girls” and “Burn Rubber”, recently covered by Bright Eyes.This was such a prolific period for Joyner that he usually contributed his best songs of the moment to whoever requested a track, instead of reservingthem for his proper albums. You’ll find here varying degrees of sound quality and various approaches to songs, from solo acoustic to full band, but whatties the collection together is the strength of the material. This isn’t filler. The same themes that haunt his large scale work are explored here: death, love,the politics of time. Fans of Joyner’s albums can now stop searching for the impossible to find cassettes and out of print 7” records.We’ve compiledeverything here, even the songs Simon would rather forget. For those unfamiliar with Simon Joyner’s music, this compilation is a good place to start as itserves in the same capacity as the original compilations and 7” records, to introduce the ambivalent audience to the ambitious songwriter.
Room Temperature was recorded in the winter of 1992 in a small room above a carpet store in Omaha, Nebraska, with two microphones and a cassette four-track recorder. Despite being his second full-length release, this was Simon Joyner’s first fully realized album, the one that first caught the interest of British DJ John Peel, who played it so often he single-handedly created a European audience for the Midwest singer-songwriter. Populated with sometimes harrowing and desperate stories of the complex workings of the human heart (in conflict with itself), the stark record features Joyner solo on all tracks. This marks the influential album’s first appearance on vinyl.
In over a decade of artistic exploration, Simon Joyner has never been content to make the same record twice. Lost With The Lights On is Joyner’s ninth album, and it is a sprawling document in the grand tradition of the post-Dylan singer-songwriter epic. It begins with the narrator declaring “I got sick in the rain on some holy day, dreaming of St. Teresa and I lost all your pills after they spilled out of the bottle into my possible futures.” Joyner is a benevolent guide and he wants to see us succeed, so he’s got to show us all the burned out basements and blown bridges and the traps along the way so we know how to survive them when they come for us, and they always come for us. By the end of the album, the narrator of “Forgotten Blues” can’t see out his window, he can only see his reflection in it. Simon Joyner was born in New Orleans and ended up some time later in Omaha, Nebraska where he has lived for the last two decades, writing and making music. He is an influential local hero with a devoted international following. “Simon Joyner, in one huge, gorgeous gesture, singledhandedly takes American song into his hands and reshapes it into a previously unimaginable creature, a gorgeous thing that lives and breathes on the floor in front of your stereo speakers, and that has eyes into which you can and will look for hours on end, seeing in them things you always wanted to see but had never had the courage to look at directly.” - John Darnielle, Puncture
Originally released in 1997 and having sat in storage unit purgatory (growing finer) for the greater part of a decade, Jagjaguwar proudly unearths and re-distributes this visceral British take on American outdoor spirituality.
"VEIL (For Greg) is a carousel ride inside a digital rock tumbler, a battle between gnomes and mercury termites for a maple tree's soul, and the reflection of a pile of Moog turtles in a bathroom mirror's swamp sweat. Throbbing Gristle reimagined as zen garden desk accessory." — William Gass
PLEASE NOTE THIS TITLE IS ON BACK ORDER WHILE WE WAIT FOR THE REPRESS. JAGJAGUWAR & Death Waltz Recording Company are proud and excited to release a true masterpiece into the world with the soundtrack to Panos Cosmatos' BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW. Posited as a "lost film" of the 1980s, the picture is inspired by classic dystopian fiction and the obscure SF movies one used to see lining the shelves of the local video store. As such, the brilliant soundtrack blends seamlessly amongst its influences; Tangerine Dream, Wendy Carlos, and of course John Carpenter, with the latter's mark heard on the oppressive synth percussion of the main titles and the evocative melodies heard throughout. Created by Sinoia Caves, the ongoing project of Jeremy Schmidt, a disciple of the long-form cosmic synthesizer soundscape, and member of Canadian psych-and-prog-spiritual pioneers Black Mountain, this recording also features guest appearances by Joshua Wells, drummer of Black Mountain.
Schmidt's score is many things - haunting, uncompromising, intense - but is always a fascinating listen. Incorporating touchstone elements such as mellotron choirs, glacial analogue synthesizer pads and arpeggiators, Schmidt artfully navigates the various sonic sensibilities of the 70s-80s genre aesthetic. What emerges from this schematic realm of the 'almost familiar' evolves and manifests as a work of striking originality, an ominously beautiful, otherworldly and terrifying score. Simply put, BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW is an astounding piece of work and must not be missed. Do you read me?
Gracing the cover of Brooklyn band Small Black’s new record, a mysterious woman walks alone on the dunes at dusk, amid pockmarked sand. She's the subject of a found photo, one of many rescued with the warmth of a blow dryer and a fireplace, by singer Josh Hayden Kolenik after Hurricane Sandy flooded his family’s Long Island home. The faded image offers clues and invites viewers to construct their own narrative, one that escapes even the picture’s taker, Kolenik’s father. To put it simply, Best Blues is an album about loss, the specific loss of precious people in our lives, but also the loss of memories and the difficult fight to preserve them. “I spent months trying to scan all these images & letters, most covered with ocean dirt, and in doing so discovered what people often find in their family’s past: that they are a hell of a lot like those who’d come before,” says Kolenik. The chorus of standout “Boys Life” echoes this sentiment with the refrain “pictures of youth/picturing you,” over a track that itself was an old demo re-discovered by accident by the band, during a late night jam session at a cabin in Upstate NY. The compassion of the record collects itself in the soft repeating mantra-esque hook in "No One Wants It To Happen To You".
The group’s third full length release, written & recorded at their Brooklyn home studio, nicknamed 222, showcases a band still evolving, and embracing the unpredictable. Kolenik (keys, vocals), Ryan Heyner (guitar, keys, vocals), Juan Pieczanski (bass, guitar) and Jeff Curtin (drums) have been recording, writing, and often living together, throughout the life of the band, establishing a closeness that has allowed them to achieve easy creativity and unspoken chemistry. After a year of recording, that band enlisted mixer Nicholas Vernhes (War on Drugs, Deerhunter) of Rare Book Room Studio to help complete the record.
Best Blues finds the band in their sweet spot: the smoky intersection of considered & vulnerable songwriting and loose, almost nonchalant ambience. The addition of piano flourishes, trumpet (Darby Cicci of The Antlers), hidden acoustic guitars and Kaede Ford’s ethereal vocals provide new dimensions to the band’s already expansive sonic palette. Cut-to-the-chase rippers “Back at Belle’s” & “Checkpoints” embody & build on the group’s signature gritty yet focused electronic sound. While the more pastoral tracks, such as “Between Leos,” & “XX Century,” skeletally based on recorded improvisations, find the band painting a more nuanced, assured aural portrait. The repeating of the line “twentieth century” on closer, “XX Century”, serves as a coda for the album, offering a simple summation of what Best Blues’ intent has been from the opening Casio stab: an attempt to re-examine the past, but also one to let it go.
Small Black's Real People EP follows the band's 2013 critically acclaimed album, Limits Of Desire. Sonically, the New York band continue with the pristine electronics they mastered on their last full length and features guest vocals from Frankie Rose on two of the five tracks.
FUN FACT: The title track drew inspiration from one of our generations greatest folk heroes, Colton Harris-Moore aka The Barefoot Bandit.
The cover of Brooklyn-based Small Black's second LP, Limits of Desire, features a photo of a man and a woman embracing on either side of a ladder, completely naked, divided by its triangular arc. They're close, but they can't get any closer. It's a moving depiction of connectivity and interaction in the 21st century and it serves as a sort of source code for the record.
Limits of Desire is Small Black's most accomplished album yet. It's a crystalline realization of a sound they've been building toward since their self-titled EP in 2009. Now a full-time four piece, Josh Hayden Kolenik (keys, vocals), Ryan Heyner (guitar, keys, vocals), Juan Pieczanski (bass, guitar) and Jeff Curtin (drums, percussion), the band have moved way beyond the hazy home recorded sound of their previous releases toward a full-fledged, but still self-produced, clear approach. Where 2010’s New Chain was a lesson in maximalist pop, Limits of Desire finds the band trimming their sound to the essentials, yet hitting new and unexpected heights with the addition of live drums, electric guitar and trumpet to the existing Small Black palette. Tonally the songs sweep and glide over lush keys, bolstered by lyrics that illustrate the semi-abstract moments of lost opportunities and misread signs, hinted at by the cover image. The title track whirls softly, and channels luminaries Tears for Fears and The Blue Nile, anchored by Pieczanski's punchy bass as Kolenik sings: "Other lives droned/ far from the grass where I lay/ each eye stared out the opposite way." As much as the record is about looking for deeper connections, it's also about avoiding real life, if only for a moment—getting out of your own head just long enough to calm down and find perspective.
“Free At Dawn” and “No Stranger” do what fans have come to love Small Black for, only better. They’re smart pop bangers tinged with a specific brand of melancholy that slowly build to night-affirming climaxes. While "Breathless” ups the tempo, over synth stabs, with lyrics that tackle apathy and uncertainty with catchy grace: "I'm standing in tomorrow's way/ future's fine/least it seems okay." It paints a concise portrait of a generation struggling with unlimited freedom and malaise.
The band builds on a rich history of synth pop by making a thoroughly modern album, on both the front and back end. One that seeks out cohesion, connection and calm in a world that won’t sit still. Limits of Desire doesn't attempt to provide any solutions, but coming to terms with not finding the answers feels infinitely more fruitful.
On the heels of Small Black's debut full length, New Chain, comes their 7-inch for "Photojournalist", featuring a cover of Best Coast's "Sun Was High (So Was I)."
"Photojournalist" finds the band building on their signature sound of hazy synths, kaleidoscopic melodies, and Josh Kolenik's hushed vocals, by thickly layering hook upon hook over a propulsive drum beat.
The b-side houses their dreamix of Best Coast's stoner love anthem "Sun Was High (So Was I)."
New Chain is the debut long-player from New York’s Small Black. The Brooklyn group have succeeded in melting together locked and popped drum-shudder, gauzy spirographic synths and subtly contagious, half-remembered melody into ebullient bursts of evocative, subliminal and thoroughly modern pop. The songs are equally informed by the rhythmic bounce and stylistic swagger of more left-leaning contemporary radio rap and R’n‘B as it is the submerged kaleidoscopic swirl of the early 4AD dream factory. Formed at the tail-end of 2008 as a bedroom recording project, Small Black first made waves with their eponymous debut EP.Throughout it, Small Black allowed their addictive, stay-gold hooks to unfurl themselves gradually over repeated listens. And now, slightly more immediate and polished than its predecessor, Small Black's new album New Chain remains a continuation of this contrasting ethos – a delirious smudging of the lines between melancholy and nostalgia, tension and celebration, unabashed pop music and experimentation. A thinker’s party record? A party-hardy thinker’s record? Not sure. All we know is that New Chain is one of the most involved, intriguing and effortlessly human collections of organic pop music you’re likely to hear this or any other year.
After months of thawing out in an uncle's attic, Small Black emerged with one of 2009’s catchiest debut releases. The Small Black EP, as it is called, melds strange beats, dreamy synths, tape hiss and laid-back melodies into pop jams. Teaming up with longtime collaborators Juan Pieczanski and Jeff Curtin, the band then fleshed out their bedroom sound, combining both live and sampled drums, live bass, keyboards and samplers for their live performance.
Now 2010 sees Small Black teaming up with Jagjaguwar for a deluxe re-mastered release of their debut EP with two extra songs added, “Kings Of Animals” and “Baby Bird Pt. 2.”
Such gimmick-free sentimentality can often prove too difficult to finagle, but "Despicable Dogs" is a guaranteed soul-stirrer. -- Pitchfork (Best New Music)
South's self-titled debut is one part mood-music for the masses. For bookworms, it is an exegesis on the great ambient-rock moments of the 20th century. Some would call it the soundtrack to vacancy. Repetition has never been so substantial.Incorporating such things as tightly wound loops and arpeggiation into their music, South redefines these devices through songwriting and orchestration to arrive at something that is intricate but simplistic in tone. Aside from the sweeping sounds of the keyboard, everything is done organically. It is when other instruments are added and time signatures are layered that South's sound is discovered.South are three well-heeled souls from Richmond, Virginia: Patrick Phelan and Nathan Lambdin, the principle songwriters, and Tod Parkhill, who contributes drum parts. They are joined on-stage by a larger supporting cast which has grown with their music: most often Bryan Hoffa on bass, Jess Bittner on vibraphone, Peter Neff (a Pan American and Labradford contributor) on hammmered dulcimer, and either Via Nuon (Drunk, Bevel) or Rick Alverson (Drunk, Spokane) on keyboard.
Little Hours is the patient sheen of stillness after a short, violent burst of intention. The lingering, resonant decay of a nail being hammered into wood. A piano laden marriage of small hopes and quiet violence. In Church Hill, a borough of Richmond, Virginia, there is a small yellow cottage. Next to the cottage is an austere replica of a mid-nineteenth century, white Federal period house. The members of Spokane hand built the structure over the course of 2006 while recording and revising their first new album in four years, Little Hours. The record is both a document of and an aural parallel to that difficult, meticulous process. In the emotional vein of folk singer Jackson C. Frank with the textural emaciation of composers Zbigniew Preisner and Morton Feldman, the songs themselves are hinged on concepts of failure and stillborn ideas, on the conflicted process of building or birthing a cerebral image into the world. There are the echoes of insistent cats running through the skeletal frame of the house, pillaged, infant birds in their mouths, left half-dead at the foot of the hole where the stair would be. Little Hours is packaged in a vinyl sleeve with both record and CD inside, 50 of which are handmade and numbered. It features the core ensemble of 2003's Measurement, which MOJO magazine called "a uniquely enthralling treasure", along with contributions from members of Brooklyn's orchestral, minimalist band Gregor Samsa,
Spokane is not for people who want to belong to something. On Measurement, their fourth full-length, a shift emerges from the terse, melodic strings that have marked their previous recordings, to a sparser terrain occupied by long, empty spaces and tenuous ambiences. With the addition of Robert Donne (Labradford, Breadwinner, Cristal) on bass, Rick Alverson and Courtney Bowles reduce their songs to an unsentimental narrative, stripped of excesses, resisting the grandiose crescendo that has become so popular in thematic and orchestral music. On “Temporary Things” Alverson and Bowles hollowly imbue the phrase “Should we talk about something else” with an unsettling domestic familiarity. “Addition”, sung solely by Bowles, searches relentlessly for an accountable presence: “There’s something you’re not saying”. And “Protocol” evolves from dependable clockwork into a harrowing, indecipherable whine. In its subtlety and patience Measurement vacillates between the vulnerable and the cold, between resignation and meek defiance, ultimately assuming its own unique place of surety and quiet definition. On “Cities”, a couple laments “Oh Convention / The willing wait out on the lawn / I never wanted to be one / I never wanted to be one”. Undertaking the sort of fragile examination the “closed-space” novels of Samuel Beckett explored, Measurement takes the minutiae of daily life and magnifies it. Mixed by Brian Paulson (Slint, Uncle Tupelo, Wilco). Recorded by R. Alverson and Bryan Hoffa.
Able Bodies is Spokane's fourth release in the brief space of 2 years. The most accomplished, varied and haunted of their recordings to date, it is a darker, more dynamically textured departure from the subtle arrangements of 2001's The Proud Graduates, all the while retaining the signature stillness that pervades the band's work. Bringing to mind the resonant and brittle ambience of the 4AD label in its heyday, these intricate and deliberate compositions accumulate an impression of what the London Sunday Times calls Spokane's "uniquely sinister beauty".
One night, midway through the production of the record, the band's car lost control and twice overturned on the interstate mid-way between Richmond, Virginia and Indiana. The members of Spokane narrowly escaped serious injury. However, the incident left an indelible effect on the band and their recording. The album title and the title track were conceived and written the following week, exploring a sentiment of displaced vitality, the seeming unpredictability of fortune and misfortune, and the close link between fate and dislocation.
Spokane is composed of songwriter/singer/guitarist Rick Alverson, drummer/vocalist Courtney Bowles and violinist Karl Runge. Able Bodies was recorded by Dan Burton (of Early Day Miners and Ativin) in Bloomington, Indiana in December of 2001. Cellist Molly Kien and violinist Maggie Polk, who contribute to Spokane's string section for this record, also play with Papa M.
Spokane's second full-length THE PROUD GRADUATES finds quietness abundant in the most unlikely places. Written and produced by Rick Alverson (former frontman for Virginia-based band Drunk), this record, like the CLOSE QUARTERS EP recently released by Spain's Acuarela Records, is a more dynamic expansion of the terse, melancholic and at times minimal compositions explored on last year's debut full-length LEISURE & OTHER SONGS.These eight songs are like visiting the rubble of a home that once held commotion and laughter. Coupling the spare and orchestral, the album draws in tone from influences as diverse as Simon and Garfunkel's PARSLEY, SAGE, ROSEMARY & THYME, Leonard Cohen's SONGS OF LOVE AND HATE, The Cure's FAITH and Galaxie 500's ON FIRE. According to one writer, "like Talk Talk's Mark Hollis, Alverson's lines trigger emotions in your consciousness with the lightest touch."Assisting Alverson in the studio and on the road is Courtney Bowles, who performs backing vocals throughout the record. Also contributing to the record are old and new collaborators, including violinist Karl Runge and ex-Drunk cohort Bill Russell. Recorded mostly at home in Richmond, Virginia, this record was mixed in Los Angeles by Rich Costey.
Not all sediment settles at the bottom of the river. Some dirt stays in the water and becomes dissolved and suspended in the big, shapeless ocean. LEISURE & OTHER SONGS, the debut Spokane full-length, examines this sort of sedimentary existence. Written by Rick Alverson, shortly following his return from Albany, New York, after a failed attempt to find a home in New England, this album is resonant with the inability of finding permanence anyplace but where one finds oneself already: bending over a sink, sitting in a chair to tie one's shoes, or nodding resignedly to greet a neighbor. Musically, it is a lush and uniquely-mixed tapestry, involving a large number of instruments and players. It evokes the songcraft of Drunk, of which Alverson is a founding member, if it were less collaborative and more singularly arranged. It is a very strong work that comes solely from the much harder school of songwriting which strives to commingle music and words without sacrificing either.Spokane is Rick Alverson's new "more solo" project. Having been the principal songwriter for Drunk in the course of their four full-length records and two EPs, Alverson has decided to explore a more personal vision with Spokane. He is touring domestically as Spokane this fall and will be performing with Drunk this winter when the group tours Europe and the U.K. LEISURE & OTHER SONGS was co-produced by Patrick Phelan, who also contributed instrumentation.
Husker Du vs. Mission of Burma? Four young men from the mountains of Virginia who deliver in straight-forward fashion. Co-release with the Squealer label!
Sunset Rubdown was once the moniker under which Spencer Krug released low fidelity solo recordings. The project has long since evolved into a full band, and Dragonslayer is the third full-length recorded by the whole group. Besides Krug, it features the three musicians who originally signed on: Jordan Robson-Cramer on drums, guitar and keys, Michael Doerksen on guitar and bass, and Camilla Wynne Ingr on keys, percussion and vocals. And now, for the first time, newest member Mark Nicol can be heard on bass, drums, and percussion.
Sunset Rubdown's previous release on Jagjaguwar, Random Spirit Lover, was a studio-built album, in that much of it was written while recording (built up in separate layers, with almost all the vocals needing to be overdubbed). With the new album, the band wanted to try something completely different. It was a very conscious decision, and not a "natural progression." The result is an album that feels honest, natural, and straightforward. The musicianship is left in the open, unassisted by studio magic, and the songs are left to justify for themselves their own screwy pop-rock existence.
Dragonslayer was recorded in the fall of 2008. Sunset Rubdown hope that the true strength of this new album is a hidden complexity that emerges slowly from within the straight production and raw musicianship, and from what sounds at first to be an only slightly skewed approach to pop. They hope it's like that one friend of yours who looks unassuming and normal, but once you get to know him it's obvious he's basically crazy.