Richard Youngs' impressive body of work continues to mount. It resembles, unwittingly for sure, a slow zig zag march towards some Hegelian musical ideal in the distant horizon. Youngs, the leading wizard of droney and minimal psychedelic folk, has unleashed Airs of the Ear, his new opus invoking new magic looking for new ears to ensnare. Building on his esteemed recordings Advent (1990), Sapphie (1998), Making Paper (2001) and May (2002), Airs of the Ear goes beyond merely residing in what is the essential ecology of Richard Youngs — the spiritual nexus between the oft disparate realms of traditional folk and the avant-garde; it now embodies this ecology. Acoustic instruments coexist perfectly with electric ones, while neither class of instrumentation is ever trumped by the other contraptions on the record, namely ring modulation, the square wave or the theremin. Perfect balance is almost achieved. There is harmony, true emotional resonance, even on what is Youngs' most captivating work on the record, "Fire Horse Rising". Despite the ever-escalating nature of this song, where Youngs powerfully and repeatedly invokes "...and I don't understand, ...and I don't want to know...", the listener is never allowed to feel overwhelmed or be pushed out of that special meditative and trance-like space. The spell is never broken.English born and bred, but residing in Glasgow, Scotland (where Airs of the Ear was recorded), Richard Youngs has remained busy over the last two years. In addition to his recent Jagjaguwar offerings, Youngs has remained a very active collaborator (releasing albums with Makoto Kawabata of Acid Mothers Temple, Simon Wickham-Smith, Neil Campbell, Sunroof!, Vibracathedral Orchestra, as well as being featured on the latest Damon & Naomi live album Song to the Siren on the bonus DVD).
May, recorded at various times in Harpenden, England, is Richard Youngs' solo meditation. His music is magical, but not in the sense that it merely conjures up fantastical imagery or "transports the listener to another place". None of that is really happening. Richard Youngs' spell lies in the transformative qualities of his music. From so little we get so much. It is minimalism without pretense, songwriting that abhors artifice. It resides in the spiritual nexus between the oft disparate realms of traditional folk and the avant-garde.Following in the same spirit of his more celebrated solo works, Advent (1990), Sapphie (1998) and Making Paper (2001), May is, like Sapphie, just acoustic guitar and Richard Youngs' voice. Like the others it has an unmistakable "drone-like" quality that has, over time, become one of Youngs' trademarks. But what sets May apart is that it is almost a conventional record; six songs, just over 36 minutes, no song over 8 minutes. If you listen carefully enough to the plaintive, stripped-down and gentle rumbling of the songs on May (and squint hard enough), you can almost discern a semblance of verse-chorus-verse structure. And, for sure, May derives much of its glory from the traditional and the hymnal. If there is a "psych" or "trance-like" quality to Youngs' music, it is charged only by internal endorphines, natureês most underrated drug-mechanism at work. Richard Youngs treats his body of work very much like his own body. He is very careful with what he lets in.
Richard Youngs' first three-song "full-length" release shone down like a beacon from above. It opened with a chorus of tape hiss and a patently English-sounding piano. Eventually there was a British man pleading in song for mercy, for pardon, or, at the very least, for conviction to a lesser charge. This was ADVENT and it was 1990. Youngs had just introduced himself to the universe at large through his No Fans label.Fast forward to the New Year, 2000. Youngs is back on the stool, this time in Edinburgh, Scotland, with long-time collaborator Brian Lavelle engineering. Youngs has another three songs in him, and they show him to be a much wizened, more patient man. Distilled to only piano and vocals, the album is epic to say the least. Opening with "Warriors", a 19-minute journey the size of Scotland, the song pleads, "Warriors see through battle lines." The second song, "The World Is Silence In Your Head", is vintage Youngs fare, offering further evidence that there is significant kinship between him and the ranks of the late-60's to early-70's progressive rock set such as Peter Hammill and his Van Der Graaf Generator, as well as first wave Yes and King Crimson. The song is as sprawling and imaginative in its mythology as the most inspired of prog's deep canon ever got. Yet it tells the tale in less than three minutes and with only one phrase and one instrument, with unprecedented clarity and precision -- not to mention poesy. Certainly it warrants that Youngs be crowned the king of the progressive minimalists. He preys on the most meditative tendencies in each of us, and he finds the essence in each of his songs (throwing out the rest) which endeavours to put erstwhile listeners in a trance-like state.
Jagjaguwar is proud to announce the reissue of one of the most important unheard treasures of the last half decade of the twentieth century. Originally issued in 1998 by Oblique Recordings (its second and final release), SAPPHIE was Richard Youngs' fifth solo full-length and quite a unique album in his already unique oeuvre.Made up of three acoustic tracks -- spanning over 37 minutes in length -- featuring just classical guitar and voice, SAPPHIE is quiet and introspective. The songs feel like an intimate journey by hand through a song cycle of loss and renewal. Within the context of his massive and ever-growing body of work, SAPPHIE is his most song-based and arguably his most personal. Fans of reclusive sages like Nick Drake, Anne Briggs and Robert Wyatt will most appreciate the timeless quality inherent in Youngs' songs.In regard to his more experimental work -- with collaborators Brian Lavelle and Simon Wickham-Smith, for instance -- Melody Maker has called him no less than the "grand-meister of contemporary British improv, spiritual son of Eddie Prevost and Maddy Prior; gentle manipulator of English hymn-notics and religious incantations; protege, challenger and radicaliser of folk, blues, rock, minimalism and improvisation; translator for the sea and the rain and the sky; ambassador to war and peace, to love and anguish," and "poet-seducer of souls."
Jagjaguwar Correspondent is proud to announce the release of a new recording of the internationally renowned poet Robert Creeley. Captured on tape at his home in Waldoboro, Maine in the summer of 2000, the poet reads a selection of new and previously uncollected poems. This marks the first occasion in which Mr. Creeley has appeared unaccompanied on a CD, his work read in all its bare and vital intimacy.His landmark importance as a modern and uncompromising voice in the 1950`s and 60`s has continued through subsequent decades with work as crucial and innovative as in those formative years. He has been a distinct and relentless documentarian of age and its changing perceptions. From the tender, inquisitive addresses of a father to his growing children to meditations on growth, memory and reality, these fifteen pieces reveal a poet in maturity. Among them is a 25-part poem in response to the paintings of Francesco Clemente.
William Carlos Williams said of Creeley, "The subtlest feeling for the measure that I encounter anywhere except in the verses of Ezra Pound." Michael McClure wrote, "He is a genius of the sensorium as Kerouac was and a master of the ear as is Miles Davis." Listen and you'll know why.A 32-page booklet of text, photographs, and author's note accompanies the CD.Among his numerous books are The Collected Poems of Robert Creeley 1945-1975 (University of California Press, 1982) and Life & Death (New Directions, 1998).
At its heart, Hundred Acres - the third full-length from Wisconsin singer/songwriter S. Carey - finds him grounded and confident, writing the strongest songs of his career. More direct than ever, there is a wellspring of confidence in this new batch of songs that allow for ideas to remain uncomplicated while laying bare the intricacies of life.Written in between touring schedules and the growth of his family, Carey produced Hundred Acres at April Base in Fall Creek, WI with support from his regular crew and contributions from the likes of Rob Moose (yMusic), Casey Foubert (Sufjan Stevens) and Sophie Payten (Gordi). He employed a smaller, more focused scale of instrumentation than on his previous albums while writing mostly on guitar instead of his go-to piano. Using more traditional song structures instead of the Steve Reich-ian repetitions of his past work, a new balance is struck that creates something unique. The result is a collection of poetic yet clear-eyed songs that both stand brightly on their own and tightly weave together to create a powerful album.
S. Carey's work is hugely beatific, restorative panorama or beauty - perfect given how landscape and the wonder of nature inspire much of Carey's imagery. His new album 'Range of Light' takes its title from the name that 19th century naturalist John Muir gave to the Sierra Nevada, and follows suit with a dazzling array of musical light and shade, drawn from Carey's love of jazz, modern classical and Americana. Like a weathered mountain range changing shadow form and color, or the ebb and flow of a river's current, S. Carey's music is simultaneously restful and rhythmic, complex and simple, and always evolving.
Hoyas by S. Carey is a hospitable statement about love, longing and the celebration of knowing it well. You will find the familiar S. Carey modern classical repetition pushed into the vernacular of electronic music and beat making. This is the warmest electronic music you'll ever meet. The beats swing, stutter and pulse while each instrument retains a heightened awareness of its form and function within the larger family of voices.
Hoyas was mixed and produced by the Grammy Award Winning team of Justin Vernon and Brian Joseph of Bon Iver.
The debut album from S. Carey, All We Grow, is the result of a young lifetime immersed in music. As a band member of Bon Iver, Sean Carey witnessed a flip of his formal training to step firmly into a worldwide-touring rock band. His performance degree in classical percussion and his love for jazz drumming prepared him for a central role in the inspiring force of the Bon Iver live show.
All We Grow is a convergence of Carey's Waltz For Debby-era Bill Evans inflected jazz tendencies, and traditional rock band experience, taking leads from Talk Talk. It also retests the waters of modern classical composition, investigating the moodiness generated by percussive repetition in a manner familiar to fans of Steve Reich.
Sarah White lives in a postal address area outside of Charlottesville, Virginia, called White Hall. She has lived most of her life in either Virginia or West Virginia, never more than a stone's throw away from the Blue Ridge Mountains. But she isn't a hermit. She isn't a disconnected member of society living in a wood shack evading technology or a person of poor length of bone who was found under a rock and is now being pushed on you as the poster child for "the new and truly authentic," as a reminder of what American music "really" is at its roots. Sarah went to college. She lived for some time in San Francisco and has travelled the world many, many times. And maybe why her music immediately strikes a chord is that it is informed by so many, many different, disparate musical traditions. BLUEBIRD isn't a folk record, although at times it makes you feel like Sarah has in her collection Hazel Dickens' or Smithsonian-era Lucinda Williams' records. It isn't a country record, but it makes you think maybe she was raised listening to Emmylou Harris. Finally, it isn't something that comes close to what you would consider rock, although the "rock" or "pop" sections of record stores is where it will end up. Like Marianne Faithfull's BROKEN ENGLISH record, BLUEBIRD is a fish out of water. And perhaps on this record Sarah has become, in one body and mind, the communion of Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge, ala FULL MOON.
Transferred directly to CD straight from an audio cassette tape received in the mail one day, ALL MY SKIES ARE BLUE is an unpolished, naked collection of songs recorded to four-track over a three year period. It covers a wide gamut of moods and sounds, moving quickly from the dense, rumbling tones of "dredge" and "halloween," through the ugliness-embodied in "shit," to the well-orchestrated, slightly more hopeful and extremely beautiful "I'm down." It hits full stride with "acres," a song as vast and grand as its title suggests. A remarkable debut by an artist who is truly a diamond in the rough.
One of music's most astute cartographers of the heart, able to squeeze enormous sentiments into especially small spaces, Sharon Van Etten offers up documents of surrender and disappointment, admission and longing with this 5 song EP, I Don't Want to Let You Down.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.