The Lucky Sperms: Somewhat Humorous by Jad Fair and Daniel Johnston is being released hot on the heels of the Jagjaguwar reissue of Jad and Daniel's once-sadly-overlooked opus It's Spooky (originally released in 1989.) It is a timely reunion of two of the most compelling and idiosyncratic songwriters to emerge from the post-punk rubble of the late-'70s. Their initial collaboration on It's Spooky seemed too good to be true. This time they have entered into the proverbial bat-cave with co-conspirator Chris Bultman and have created a piece of heaven on earth.
Recorded and produced by Jad Fair, The Lucky Sperms: Somewhat Humorous is made up mostly of songs composed skeletally and separately by Bultman, Fair and Johnston. With Bultman being the x-factor notwithstanding, what makes all of Jad and Daniel's shared works so special is the natural chemistry between them that is so readily apparent upon first listen of the record. There is an unrefined playfulness in their work, a playfulness not much unlike what was present on Bob Dylan and The Band's Basement Tapes.
Both Fair and Johnston have enjoyed long careers making music in their own unique way. They have forged their own paths and created their own mythologies, borrowing little from anybody else. Since 1977, Fair has--with his iconoclastic band Half Japanese, as a solo artist, or with collaborators Yo La Tengo, the Pastels or Teenage Fanclub--defied convention while continually tapping that primal-root-without-inhibition that most every artist strives for. Johnston, likewise, has unflinchingly plowed forth for the past twenty years with his own artistic vision. Since the early days of hawking his boombox-recorded cassettes on Austin, Texas, street corners, through his classic mid-period Shimmy-Disc albums, through the major label fiasco and to now, as he is at long last re-emerging as a public artist, Johnston has been making a clear case for his being one of this past quarter century's most important songwriters. He is nothing less than a visionary. It is no surprise, then, that each of Jad and Daniel's trademark personalities are in full-regalia on this new record. (How could such large personalities be anything but?) It blissfully follows--true to the form of all of their past works--that The Lucky Sperms: Somewhat Humorous is another chapter in a magical trip through the child-like universe of two kids at heart. On it, both of them uninhibitedly walk you through their best fantasies and worst dreams.
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Everything is coming together in Julie Doiron's world, from embracing her electric past, to embarking on a new and energetic phase of her solo career with some of the most upbeat and inspiring songs of her recording career. I Can Wonder What You Did With Your Day — which arrives on the heels of the album Lost Wisdom, Doiron and her bandmate Fred Squire’s recent critically-acclaimed collaboration with Mt. Eerie — presents listeners with an album that reflects both her continued growth as an artist and a renewed optimism as a songwriter as well. As has often been the case, Doiron’s songwriting is rooted in what’s happening around her.
More than any other songwriter, you can tell exactly what's going on in her life. Direct and painfully honest, she lays it all out in her lyrics. "I just sing about what's happening," she admits, resigned to her style. "I don't know how to do anything else. I don't know how to write any other way. I've wanted to... I've tried! Because sometimes I feel like maybe I shouldn't be so direct, but I don't know how."
In addition to this new perspective, Doiron has made an album which showcases a thick distortion and melodic pop not heard since her days with indie heroes Eric's Trip in the '90s. It's part of a desire to get back to her electric days with that band. The past couple of years have seen Eric's Trip regroup for triumphant reunion tours, and a rekindling of her work with Trip mainstay Rick White (who produced her 2007 Polaris Prize-nominated album Woke Myself Up, and returned for this album). I Can Wonder was recorded at White's isolated home studio, just northwest of Toronto. Doiron handled the electric and acoustic guitar parts, Rick played all the bass and keyboards, and Fred Squire performed all the drums and some lead guitar. Squire, who comes from Sackville, New Brunswick, is Julie's bandmate in another of her projects, Calm Down It's Monday.
Originally released in 1997 by Sub Pop, Loneliest In The Morning was Doiron’s second solo release and her first release as Julie Doiron (having dropped the moniker Broken Girl). This re-issue comes complete with three bonus tracks: “Second Time” from split 7” with Snailhouse and the tracks “Who Will Be The One” and “Too Much” from the 7” release Doiron recorded with the Wooden Stars. Loneliest In The Morning — an album Pitchfork described as “catchy enough to knock Liz Phair upside the head” — is a critical piece to the Doiron catalog and given the wonderful relationship Doiron and Jagjaguwar have forged over the last decade, this re-issue is particularly significant.
Julie Doiron began her career in music in 1990 at the age of 18 in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada playing bass in Eric's Trip, a folky yet psychedelic band that were to become the undisputed underground darlings of Canadian music. Eric's Trip were the first of many maritime Canadians signed to Sub Pop and found international recognition, releasing several albums and touring widely. Following 1996's Purple Blue, Eric's Trip announced their breakup and Julie Doiron embarked on her solo career, first releasing songs as Broken Girl and soon under her own name starting with Loneliest In The Morning, which was recorded in Memphis, TN with producer Dave Shouse of the Grifters. She has released seven full-lengths and three EPs, including the Juno Award-winning Julie Doiron & the Wooden Stars album.
We all are driven to doing certain things and making certain decisions in our lives for any number of reasons, be it ambition, fear, greed or love. The last purpose is perhaps the most identifiable to most of us, and so it is no great mystery that that which drives us can both reward us immensely and plummet us into the greatest depths of inconsolable sadness and regret. On Julie Doiron’s first album of new material in over two years, she addresses in her signature intimate songwriting style both the heights and the fallout in a way that forces the listener to reexamine their own loves.
One of the most important and greatest loves in Julie’s life is that towards her family. The first half of Woke Myself Up details the joy and awe that her family has given her. Immediately, one knows that her unabashed and unaffected lyrics are coming from a woman truly moved. The second half sees Julie making mistakes, blowing second chances, and coming to terms with the sad truth that one cannot live up to expectations set by herself or those she loves. The harrowing untitled final track (recorded and added to the album at the eleventh hour by Doiron) may very well be the most affecting of Doiron’s performances ever committed to tape.
Also important to the recording of this album was a reunion of sorts with her musical family. Founding Eric’s Trip bandmate Rick White produced and played on the entire album, and a handful of the songs contain the entire original Eric’s Trip band nucleus that took the Canadian indie underground by storm 15 years ago. Working with an old friend and collaborator like White was key to this album’s intensely vulnerable and emotionally raw tone. What’s captured is timeless and universal, in the same way as Cat Power’s Moon Pix, Leonard Cohen’s Songs of Love And Hate, and Joni Mitchell’s Blue.
Goodnight Nobody finds an unguarded Julie Doiron, efficiently but undeliberately creating her first masterpiece in only a few days time at three different locations. Ploughing through the studio in just a few days with a gangly crew of musicians, the result is a collection of songs that all are “allowed” to speak for themselves. Their instinctive “rawness” remains intact, not cooked out by incessant knob twiddling or second-guessing. With the help of friends like Herman Dune (who also perform as her European touring band) and ex-Eric’s Trip collaborator Rick White, she has taken the textures of her first widely released full-length Loneliest in the Morning and mixed them with the crystalline vocal performance of her most recent full-length Heart and Crime. Goodnight Nobody is the end product, the best of both worlds, downcast and moody pop tunes right from the heart, aimed straight at the heart. Even though she is described frequently in the press as an “indie-diva” or “chanteuse” of the highest power, Julie Doiron fits these well-intentioned approbations only in that she is a woman singer comfortable in her own skin. Under-reported are her signature guitar-stylings and her singular mastery of conveying mood and sentiment in song. For fans of Cat Power, Leonard Cohen and Hayden.
Jagjaguwar is proud to release the long lost Julie Doiron album Broken Girl, expanded to include her first two 7"es. It was originally released in 1996 (in a scant edition of 1000) by Doiron after her band--the psychedelic folk group Eric's Trip — had crumbled around her, under the temporary moniker "Broken Girl". The name did nothing to hide her feelings regarding the breakup of her band and the relationships that she shared with its members; neither did the songs on the record. The twelve songs from the original album come across like an epitaph for a departed lover. Broken Girl was a watershed for Doiron, showing her to be the sort of songwriter and performer that Eric's Trip only hinted at. Achingly beautiful and showcasing her vocal style and personality as a songwriter, the reviews immediately put her in the same class as Leonard Cohen in terms of importance as a Canadian solo artist. The album was self-recorded in the same home-y manner as the classic Eric's Trip albums which helped--along with albums by peers Sebadoh, East River Pipe and Smog — define the bedroom aesthetic of the early '90s. While some rock scribes would call it lo-fi, the fidelity of the recordings that Doiron and her Eric's Trip mates employed in the first half of the '90s was clearly the most appropriate medium. The close-mic'ing of everything from the vocals to the swirling guitars and peaking drums created a sense of real intimacy (while avoiding a lot of the awkward pitfalls that so many confessional songwriters run into) and suburban claustrophobia. Rolling Stone wrote, "Fellow Canadian songwriter Leonard Cohen once titled an album Songs From A Room. Montreal-based Julie Doiron apparently took up residence there and removed whatever furniture was left behind."
Will You Still Love Me? and Julie Doiron and the Wooden Stars are the two much-acclaimed albums that Julie Doiron released on Tree Records in 1999 (the latter was also released on her own Sappy Records imprint in Canada, where it won the 2000 Juno Award-the Canadian equivalent to the Grammy-for best independently released record of the year). Having been out of print for the greater part of two years, Jagjaguwar is proud to reintroduce them to the record buying public in newly packaged form, with upgraded booklets that include lyrics for the first time. Also, the Julie Doiron and the Wooden Stars CD will include a compressed version of her video for the song "Dance Music", accessible to fans with personal computers. After a solo album on Sub Pop (her home for the previous decade with Eric's Trip), Doiron found a good home in Tree, for whom she first released Will You Still Love Me? As the inaugural EP, it was also a creative spring-board for Doiron, a mini-album that has endured as a fan favorite. Adored for its sparse, no-nonsense demeanor, the EP offers a first glimpse at what has become Doiron's signature style, the moody union of vocals and guitar whose unified tone both expresses and evokes a timeless longing for a comforting, primal maternalism.
One writer puts it best: "Fellow Canadian songwriter Leonard Cohen once titled an album Songs From A Room. Montreal-based Julie Doiron apparently took up residence there and removed whatever furniture was left behind." Heart And Crime is the follow-up to the much acclaimed Julie Doiron and the Wooden Stars (winner of the coveted Canadian entertainment award, the Juno, for 2000) and comes hot on the heels of the French-sung Jagjaguwar release Desormais. Like her previous records, Heart And Crime abhors unneccessary accoutrements. It relies on naked and minimal arrangements to propel familiar themes of self-doubt, hope, longing and sadness. The tone of intimacy throughout the record is like that which comes after three bottles of wine; a solitary singer with guitar, singing to herself, accompanied only by the sounds coming through the wall. Described frequently in the press as an "indie-diva" or "chanteuse" of the highest power, Doiron fits these well-intentioned approbations only in that she is a woman singer comfortable in her own skin. Under-reported are her signature guitar-stylings and her singular mastery of earnestly conveying mood and sentiment in the body of song. The latter is where she outpaces contemporaries like Edith Frost, Mia Doi Todd, Catpower, Elliot Smith or Beth Orton. Doiron seems destined for the pantheon of important singer-songwriters of this generation, and her affective powers are significant. According to another writer, Doiron's "moody minor key whispers make Joni Mitchell seem almost giddy by comparison."
Julie Doiron is the most entrancing chanteuse at this North American block party. Fans of her work as a founding member of early '90s hyper-moody Eric's Trip will be thrilled with this latest chapter in her unfurling body of work. Desormais is the French-language record Doiron has always wanted to create. Although the full-length is mostly sung in French (all but one song), it still contains all of the hallmark characteristics of Doiron's songwriting; it is a record that contains music of spartan beauty while the songs all tend towards moodiness but hedge themselves by steadfastly remaining understated. Whether or not you understand the French tongue, Doiron's stylized guitar and vocal melodicism are so lyrical that they transcend the need for translation. It is no surprise that this Acadian songwriter from Montreal, Quebec, is often compared to songwriters of a previous generation. Perhaps the most appropriate comment made by any writer is how Doiron's "moody minor key whispers make Joni Mitchell seem almost giddy by comparison."
Available for the first time on vinyl, Julie Doiron and the Wooden Stars is Doiron's most critically acclaimed album, going so far as to win the 2000 Juno Award — the Canadian equivalent to the Grammy — for best independently released album of the year. Combining elements of rock and jazz a la Joni Mitchell's early '70s work, Julie and the Wooden Stars somehow translated the coldness of the Canadian winter into one of the warmest and most tender records to be produced in the Eastern province in years.
Ladyhawk's kiss-of-death evokes the devilish sounds of Goats Head Soup guitars, the honey-slides and howling of Neil Young in his darkest hours, and the phantoms that haunted Roky Erickson at the Holiday Inn. Recorded over a period of two weeks in an abandoned farm house behind the shopping mall in the band's childhood hometown of Kelowna, British Columbia, Shots is an album filled with the cold creaking and ghostly echoes of the old house in the dead of winter. Like a party for the last house standing in a sea of strip malls and condos, surely near the end of its time.
Life is full of ups and downs. Sometimes you get up just to get down again. Sometimes you run just to feel the wind against your face, and sometimes you stand still to watch things crumble around you. Vancouver's Ladyhawk knows this. And they got up - way up - and entered a recording studio for a day-long session between tours in the first half of 2006. Perhaps they then soared too close to the sun, like moths drawn into the flame, only to fly again into the shadows, their wings singed. And then maybe, gathering their burned and broken instruments about them, they limped their way home, rearranging the pieces and sounds haphazardly, letting them all lay as they fell.
The end result is the sound of four brothers breaking something down to create something new, reaching into the fire again. It is a shattering 6-song march called Fight For Anarchy, all unmuzzled and jawing out, nothing edited or expunged. And on it Ladyhawk show that, like Spoon, Dinosaur Jr. or Tom Waits, they have the ability to conjure growls, snarls, and storms of sound into musical lightning, never striking the same place twice.
Ladyhawk's core is bracing rock. Neil Young's Tonight's The Night is the hailstorm on the hood of The Replacements Let It Be, while distorted guitars invoke the thread and swerve of Silkworm and Dinosaur Jr. Helped along the way by Amber Webber (vocals) and Josh Wells (percussion, organ, singing) of Black Mountain, it will be hard to find a more hauntingly beautiful set of rock music than this debut. It was recorded and mixed, with the help of Black Mountaineers Wells and Matthew Camirand, in the "Karachi Vice" clubhouse, in the back of a furniture factory, amongst chicken and fish processing plants. With some of the more “inexpensive” ladies of the night scattered about, it captures the bottlenecked frenzy of their much-loved live show. There, each night, these grown-up kids at heart fall over, get right back up, cry on shoulders and fold the day in halves, watching the sun come up over the dashboard.
"Ices" is a celebration of flight, levity, and the conviction that you can leave earth. You take wing in an airplane, you go to real places when you dream, you have out-of-body experiences, you get high, you lose yourself in someone else.
When we started work on these songs, I was beginning a gradual move to California, constantly traveling back and forth from New York. I was experimenting. I was falling in love. Our studio in the Hudson Valley was full of electronics and computers and the sounds of future ships sailing through the vastness of space, and I sometimes forgot where I was. The first songs we wrote were called "flying 1", then "flying 2", and so on, which eventually evolved into songs on the album. Flight became a metaphor for the ignition of the imagination. The process created a lightness in me, a freedom and positive energy that I'd never before felt or explored.
This recording session became a two year music and spiritual retreat with my psychic twin brother, Eliot. A private journey during which we abandoned old habits and familiar sounds. We got really geeky and experimented in our studio. We obsessed over sympathetic magic, "Ancient Aliens", and the NBA. We allowed everything we loved to find its way in: Persian percussion, hip-hop beats, lo-fi, hi-fi, Pakistani pop, Link Wray, Jason Pierce, gospel, dub. We developed new systems; we worked with synthesis, software, and samples; we became producers. The Hudson Valley was home base, but I wanted to keep flying. I wrote songs in California, recorded vocals in Atlanta, and worked with Clams Casino in Brooklyn. For the first time, Lia Ices felt like an inclusive project with its own identity, not just a name.
"Ices" as a whole is devoted to these certainties. While we have evolved, we are still animals. We respond to planets, patterns, and cycles. We require the sounds of our origins. We live in the future but stay bound to the primitive and primordial. We will always want tribe, we will always want rhythm, we will always need music to guide us into our deepest sense of what it means to be human. So we hear sounds from all over the planet in this album. We devour so much music, and with this album we allowed ourselves to claim bits from all of it.
Drawing a parallel between Lia Ices and Pink Floyd is much easier than anticipated — they share a love for space that is both palpable and patient. If you've been curious about a starting point with her, please start here. The A-side originally appeared on MOJO Magazine's tribute to Pink Floyd's mighty Wish You Were Here. Lia's take on the title track soars high and quickly nose dives back to Earth. The B-side takes a turn at "Late Night", the closing track to Syd Barrett's solo debut The Madcap Laughs. On it, Lia balances just the right amount of jangle-y brawn and off-kilter poise that one of our best love songs deserves.
Lia Ices' emotionally driven and experimental pop music is both avant-garde and timeless. A natural yet refined grace permeates her work.
Ices' voice floats and flutters around you, like the leaves from trees on a fleeting fall day, and the instrumentation matches that subtle dynamism. Grown Unknown is a walk in the park on a day of carnival, the most beautiful day so far this year.
Appearing as a guest vocalist for "Daphne," the only duet on the album, is Justin Vernon of Bon Iver.
Lightning Dust's 3rd proper full length finds its inspiration in skeletal synth pop, modern R&B beats, the films of John Carpenter and -- in accordance with Lightning Dust's only longstanding rule -- absolute minimalism. The core of Fantasy lies as much in the songwriting as in its sonics, and begins with tools familiar to Webber and Wells: her acoustic guitar and his Wurlitzer piano. They worked to distill the arrangements to just the few key elements that were necessary to make the feel right, and through countless hours of labor in The Balloon Factory - their Vancouver studio - the songs found their way to a sonic palette more squarely electronic than either expected.
Infinite Light, Lightning Dust's sophomore album for Jagjaguwar, finds duo Amber Webber and Joshua Wells (both of Black Mountain) calling upon the powers of classic pop arrangements and making the most of five days with a Steinway Grand piano. While Webber and Wells met through their involvement in what they described as two of the saddest bands in Canada, the songs written for Infinite Light found the two moving away from the uniformly downbeat. Rather, the songs were more suited to lush and melodramatic arrangements. Cue the strings. Moments of Infinite Light remind us of the glory days of musical theatre, with touches of Hair, Rocky Horror Picture Show and Tommy. Lightning Dust have delivered a cosmic record about the adventure in finding love and the journey in losing and rediscovering "the light."
Amber Webber and Joshua Wells have been playing together for many years as part of Black Mountain. They've toured the world and have played impenetrable space-rock to the unlikeliest of audiences. With an abundance of creative energy to spare, the two decided to start a separate project together, that they named Lightning Dust.
Committing themselves to a more simplistic approach with Lightning Dust, Webber and Wells also decided to escape the comforts of their familiar instruments and writing styles. On their self-titled debut, minimal and spacious arrangements and a moody, theatrical vocal-style aptly expose the demons, creating songs that creep into your bones with a haunting chill.
The album was recorded in a dank cave and a bright blue house, perhaps an unconscious yet obsessive protest of the sunny beach and beer world that surrounded them on the outside. But despite this unattractive external world, and while completing the album in small fits of insanity, the two were compelled to retreat to the coastal summer air from time to time, when they could take no more of the shadowy frame that they had decided to enclose themselves in.
Many of the songs on this self-titled debut began years ago as melodies which persistently floated around in Webber's head. And, conveniently, Wells was at a loss for words to accompany the piano songs that wouldn't leave him alone. Their creation Lightning Dust matched these lingering ghosts with each other, creating a special, lasting work that perfectly brings together the shadows with the sunshine.